Third umpire: some thoughts

Published : Jun 23, 2001 00:00 IST


HAS the concept of the third umpire really fulfilled its expectations?

Cricket has had its share of controversies, with problems ranging from bats to balls, pitches to covers, etc. Many a controversy has surrounded umpiring.

The age-old complaint has been that umpires are either incompetent or biased. To me, the first statement could be acceptable to a point, but the latter, no way.

An umpire, be either at home or away, is always impartial. He is expected to execute his judgment to the best of his ability, that is, as much as his naked eye can see. There have been numerous occasions where an umpire has erred. But then, to err is human.

With the game being commercialised to an unbelievable extent, it was only a matter of time before the field umpires asked for help. So much is at stake in every match and tournament, that it's only natural that every player wants to win by hook or by crook. In a situation such as this, the think-tank at the helm had to devise a method to eradicate mistakes, or, at least, minimise them. This was how the third umpire concept was born.

The Sri Lankan cricket journalist Mahinda Wijesinghe is one who lays claim to this novel invention. The fact that the third umpire concept is alive and kicking since its inception in 1992 is good news for cricket.

In a day and age where modern technology has crept into the game for the betterment of it, the very concept is a logical one.

The question that arises out of the concept of the third umpire is whether it should go the whole way or should limitations be imposed on it?

Well, the argument certainly has two sides to it. If the third umpire is given complete authority over every decision, then one might ask what the very purpose would be of having two umpires in the middle. More importantly, are we absolutely certain that the technology now available is entirely error-free and the replacement of the umpire in the middle is fully justifiable.

There will always be arguments for and against it. I for one, while accepting that cricket will lose its richness and some of its value by letting somebody 100 yards away control the game with a button, support the fact that it not only needs to be closely looked at, but also monitored regularly, what with the advent of new technology.

A great amount of fuss had been made of batsmen who were dismissed off no balls which were not called in the recent Test between England and Pakistan.

At times I wonder what the fuss was all about when only an inch or two is involved and the batsman, in his own mind, played it as a fair delivery.

Some would, however, argue that when run out and stumping decisions are considered by the third umpire, then one or two inches does matter a great deal.

The important question therefore is, where do you draw the line?

The television viewer now tends to accept the 'skyline' or the 'mat' as gospel evidence when judging where the ball pitches or the point of impact in a leg-before decision, but it must be mentioned that the line, or the shaded area, could differ depending on where the camera is placed and is not always accurate.

This, I assume, is the reason why it has not been accepted to decide on such decisions.

Further, the technology used in different Test playing countries differs due to various reasons, mainly finance, and a consistent standard of technology cannot be achieved. Which brings me to my point that the third umpire will never be the saving grace of the field umpires.

I am sure all of us agree that there were good and bad decisions before 'slo-mo' came into cricket and these were by and large accepted without fuss and too much comment.

There is no doubt that the quality of umpiring today must be better than, or at least equal to, the days gone by, as the present umpires are being judged against technology.

The way forward is to come to some agreement with the television companies to avoid playing replays on television for the viewer on decisions where the umpire does not have the assistance of the third umpire, or at least restrict them to say one. This would ensure that there is far less controversy over decisions, and more importantly, make sure that the umpire is not the one who is judged.

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