Targeting the umpires

IS over-appealing leading to the spate of very poor umpiring decisions in international matches over the last 12 months? An appeal should be a request to the umpires to consider whether a batsman is out or not out. Unfortunately, the aggression and velocity of most appealing these days is more a demand than a request and the frequency of these appeals appears in many cases to be orchestrated and designed to win a favourable decision for the bowling side.

To my view it is out of hand and the ICC must take stronger action to stem the rot. The punishment slapped on Brett Lee, for demanding a reason from an umpire as to why he hadn't given a favourable decision to one of his numerous appeals, is justified, but stronger action is necessary. The prevalence of bowlers asking or in some cases even demanding a reason why the umpire hasn't given a batsman out can only lead to confusion, anger and discontent.

I believe it is wise for umpires to be very careful in conveying their reasons for knocking back an appeal. It can be fraught with danger and embarrassment as David Shepherd, the world class umpire, found out in the first round of the 1999 World Cup match between India and Sri Lanka at Taunton, England.

India had scored well over 300 when they batted first and had taken three or four wickets cheaply when Aravinda de Silva flayed at a wide, overpitched ball outside the stumps. It seemed an obvious caught behind, but "Shep" thought otherwise. He rejected the appeal and signalled the ball had clipped Aravinda's pad.

It was an obvious mistake and Shep had made it worse for himself by signalling as he did. The replays showed that De Silva's legs were 12 inches away from the ball. In my view, appeals should only be answered with a Yes or No.

If the bowler continues to request more information and if the umpire is inclined to answer, he should only say, "In my view the batsmen wasn't out." End of argument, for the power lies with the umpire. Continual demands for more information can only lead to problems if they are answered, particularly if replays show, as with the Shep situation, his judgement was incorrect. Funny, isn't it, when a bowler gets an obviously wrong decision to go his way he never asks the umpire why the batsman was given out and is very happy to accept the bonus wicket.

When I was coaching Australia the players often asked me in the dressing room as to what I thought about umpiring decisions. I always tried to answer honestly, and interestingly enough when I was asked for further information I often replied, "Would you have been happy to be given out in that situation?"

Most times I got a very non-committal reply. It was hoped that the so called neutral umpires would improve the standard of umpiring in international cricket. Personally, I have always felt, that with a few exceptions, all umpires did their best and as such were neutral.

Umpires today have it tougher than ever before with the commentators very happy to express their views after a seemingly never-ending submission of replays from every conceivable angle. Quite often, I am still in doubt after viewing these replays, but not some of the commentators. Interestingly, we seldom hear or see some of the embarrassingly wrong or silly gaffes made by the commentators on instant replays.

There is no doubt that the players are less respectful to umpires than they once were. Perhaps this is because the changing world we live in is less respectful to authority in general. I wonder if bowlers who are verbally happy to chirp at umpires with such cracks as `Are you blind?', `How could you make that decision?', would enjoy it if umpires, after a bad ball, said things such as `Call yourself a Test bowler'? `Hell, my grandson is more accurate than you' or `What a lot of rubbish, how on earth did you get into the Test side?'

Players would quickly say that the umpire has no right to say these things, or that is not professional behaviour either. Perhaps, in over-appealing, the players are being less professional than they should be.

There is no doubt that Channel 9's television coverage of cricket is the best in the world. The new slow motion cameras are unique and enable viewers a new close-up perspective of the game.

I wonder, however, whether sometimes they concentrate on being too close to the action and lose the overall perception of the game.

For instance, these days it is almost impossible to identify which end the bowlers are opening from and where the field is placed. Often, even when a ball is nicked to second slip it is not captured by the major cameras and we have to wait for replays to pick up the real action. The same applies to spinners with fieldsmen clustered tightly around the bat. If the action is all defence it is okay, but when the ball goes outside the cluster you cannot get an instant total perspective of the action. The cameramen are brilliant in picking up the ball, but you still have to wait to pick up the overall situation.

Even with opportunities to the close fieldsmen, we have to wait for another camera at a different angle to produce the right picture. While there is a wide coverage as the bowler runs up, in the delivery stride the cameras move in so close that you can see the bowling arm from below the elbow to the fingers. Obviously, they are trying to get in as close as possible to the batsmen.

I find this most frustrating, for I like to see the bowler's action in full so that I can determine what he is trying to do. To me this is part of the joy of watching cricket, for you can get a better idea of the bowler's strategy.

Seeing the bowling arm from below the elbow doesn't give the full picture of the ball about to be delivered. For instance, you cannot see whether the bowler is falling away and opening his action, or indeed with no elbow in view whether he is bending it within the legal limit.

While we see hundreds of slow motion replays, we see very little of the final moments of a bowler's wind up or release. Interesting.