By Sunil Gavaskar
The importance of having a good cricket wicket to have a good game of cricket was emphasised by the Champions League matches in Hyderabad as well as the one day game between India and Australia in Nagpur. The pitches here were hard, had a good bounce and good carry to the wicketkeeper and batsmen could play their shots without worrying too much whether the ball was going to scoot along the ground or if it would turn and jump from any length.
The quick bowler who was ready to bend his back and the spinner who was prepared to give the ball a real tweak were rewarded by the bounce and turn respectively and because the ball would come on to the bat the good players were able to use that to play the big shots and hit the boundaries and entertain the crowd. Such pitches will always produce good cricket and the BCCI will do well by rewarding and encouraging such curators so that others too will look at following their footsteps and making pitches where both bat and ball have an equal say in the game.
Sure it is understood that India being a big country, the soil will be different from one region to the other.
The clay content, the moisture factor and the like will be different but there’s still some basics in preparation that should see that the pitches will be such that a good game of cricket is seen by all. The unseasonal monsoons in some parts of the country may have put paid to the preparations but if Hyderabad after such a deluge can still make such a fabulous pitch then there is no excuse for the others not to do so. The curator also must have the freedom to make the pitch as he knows best without interference from players and officials and while it's a valid point that home advantage shouldn’t be frittered away, a good team should do well on any surface. More than the international arena such pitches like the ones in Hyderabad and Nagpur should be used in the domestic first class as well as junior level matches so that our players get used to playing on similar surfaces when they go overseas.
What the curators of Hyderabad and Nagpur have shown is that where there is a will there will always be a way and if left to them, then the pitches all over India can turn out to be great ones for the game India loves so passionately.
The Champions League matches as well as the two one-dayers played so far have also shown the Indian umpires in good light. Ever since Srinivas Venkataraghavan retired from international umpiring there has hardly been any umpire of note from India in international cricket. Yes, there have been the odd ones who have umpired in international games in India where the practice is for one overseas umpire and one local umpire to officiate but for quite some time now there has been nobody in the elite panel of the ICC umpires.
The ICC appoints umpires to the elite panel based on the correct decision ratio of all the umpires who officiate in their games. The Indian umpires have been behind in this and so have not progressed to the elite panel. With the BCCI now having its own panel to mentor and help umpires in domestic cricket there should be some who should be able to make it to the elite panel sooner than later. They will also have the correct decision ratio factor since most, if not all, BCCI domestic games will be televised and so it won’t simply be a subjective issue of the captains and match referees report but also actual TV evidence of the correct decisions made.
The illness that unfortunately befell Mark Benson gave Shavir Tarapore the chance to officiate in the first two matches and he was superb. For quite a while he has been an impressive official but who for some reason or the other was being overlooked. There were two decisions he made in the first one dayer in Vadodara . The first was when he gave the Australian skipper Ricky Ponting out leg-before wicket to Ravindra Jadeja and the second was when he ruled Gautam Gambhir not out when almost the entire Australian team converged on him in appeal. The TV replays later showed that Ponting missed a ball that pitched just inside the leg-stump and turned towards the off stump and would have hit middle and off stump. Tarapore took some time before he raised his finger and it was courageous call indeed. Ponting was disappointed as all batsmen are when given out leg-before wicket, but he would have appreciated the decision once he saw the slow motion replays that proved that Tarapore had got it right. Maybe he was surprised because there are quite a few ICC elite panel umpires who balk at giving the Australian and England team captains out leg-before the wicket.
The decision to give Gambhir not out was even better because the Australians who have perfected the art of putting pressure on the umpires when the situation is getting tough all rushed to the umpire alongwith the keeper Tim Paine in claiming the ‘catch’ of a well set Gambhir. Once again slow mo replays with the snickometer showed that Tarapore had got it right as there was no deflection on the snickometer to suggest that Gambhir had got even a feather touch to the ball.
Both were fabulous calls and most importantly like most Indian umpires do, Tarapore did not go walk about after giving the decisions. It is this walking away from their positions after giving a decision especially the leg-before ones that give the impression that the umpire was in no position to decide correctly. This and the trigger happy method of raising the finger even before the appeal is completed that makes the umpire look bad. As Tarapore showed there is nothing wrong in taking one’s time before giving a decision.
Tarapore and Saheba have both been quietly impressive and have exercised good control over the game and in so doing have ensured that there are no ill feelings between the teams. It is bad decisions that create the ill feeling and don’t we all know it?