Sometimes quacks can cure what doctors can’t. To assume they have answers for all ills is to however utterly disregard people who have spent specializing for years. In much the same way that every professional and every human being makes mistakes, umpires too cock-up. When the cock-up is on a bigger stage and ridicules the order of competitive merit, they look uglier and cricketing quacks like technology become witnesses for a remarkably widespread and narrow-minded witch-hunt.
The Sydney Test was on all counts of reference, an exciting Test match. There was, of course, outstanding cricket, uninhibited display of varied talent, personal ghosts being buried, new ones having born and a mudslinging contest which was big enough to draw players, spectators, officials and politicians. At what seems to be the end of a conflict, there are very few who have
emerged with their linen clean.
It is in this context should the plight of umpires be looked at. There are some truths that will never change and the most critical of them is that the umpiring was poor. On all factors, their performance was a failure. At a safe estimate, if they had had a spotless Test, India would have won at Sydney. Not only is the Indian team in a hopeless position in the series now, it is also very close to being deflated enough to want to get out of Australia by revolt than reason.
So here it is that technology brings itself into focus and seems to have won its long-standing dogmatic war against tradition and traditionalists. Be it the referrals or a more regular use of the third umpire, technology seems the one answer to counter umpiring inefficiency. But since when has technology become so accurate? Hawkeye is just a reference which is operated by an analyst and pitch-maps can be altered; so most cases of LBWs are safe in the umpires’ hands.
The Snickometer too is said to be imperfect and in any case, some of what it has shown in recent times is just hearsay. For both nicks and LBWs, there is no tool which is perfect to judge and the most crucial piece of technology (and perhaps the most accurate one) is the camera.
The camera is bi-dimensionally honest but demands a certain intellect from those who want to infer from it. The Symonds’-chances and Ponting’s and Dravid’s LBW were examples of what a camera can do. It is difficult to argue that an optical illusion might creep in somewhere in the frames it showed. But Ponting’s and Hussey’s chances down the leg-side and Clarke’s catch off Ganguly were not resolved by the camera (apart from of course the visual of Clarke grounding the ball while rolling). The camera looks down on the pitch from different angles at different grounds and it surely cannot tell a ball ten centimeters from the ground and one on the ground from all angles.
The edges down the leg-side were judged as nicks by the Snicko and one of Hussey’s LBWs were plumb according to Hawkeye. This means, on quite a few occasions, the umpire’s judgments were compared to technologies that themselves aren’t perfect. Decisions were deemed cock-ups based on technology which could be fundamentally cocked-up. An umpire is judged inefficient believing that a team of engineers had been efficient.
Cricket is a quirky sport and it demands too much from normal people. In the given scenario now, the engineers have a better chance of coming up with something foolproof than umpires getting all their decisions right, each day, each match. The sheer volume of matches these elderly men travel to and adjudicate is crazy. They know well that the respect they have from everyone watching is only as long as some non-cricketing entity called technology agrees with them. It is as if they are in a test invigilated by someone and they’d rather not be. Like pretty much for everything in contemporary cricket, the answer to this problem might lie in what Ian Chappell says.
Chappell has been constantly talking about improving umpiring standards. In all the cases of umpiring failure at Sydney, a good umpire in prime physical and mental health could have taken the right decision. That it isn’t impossible has been proved by Simon Taufel. His efficiency is outstanding, his movement around the field of play, according to many, is exemplary, he commands respect from players and peers and his presence in the middle makes umpires look indispensable to cricket. But how old is he and how old is Steve Bucknor?
Improving umpires seems to be the only tangible solution at present until such time as technology becomes reliable. In India, exams for umpires for first-class cricket happen haphazardly and after long-enough intervals to nip potential candidates in the bud. The only proper umpiring schools are in Australia and here we are watching cricket under the aegis of the richest cricket board in the world. The need is not just for providing good training facilities, but also to encourage younger people to take up umpiring. It is also perhaps important that some commonsensical changes are made to the playing rules.
Why should the field umpires ask for the third umpire’s opinion or why do you need referrals at all? If a decision is blatantly wrong, one call from upstairs would suffice. This means modern umpires need education with relation to the technology in use. The shadow formed by Symonds’ heel should have told the third umpire that his foot was in the air. The Symonds edge was clear enough and so was Dravid’s non-edge. A more rigorous involvement of the third umpire would ease the unnecessary burden on the field umpires. After all, it isn’t them who are in a contest.