By Sunil Gavaskar
When Steve Davis raised his finger to signal Morne Morkel’s dismissal leg-before wicket to Harbhajan Singh, the first reaction was not just to follow Harbhajan as he made his victory run but also to see the slow motion action replay. India did not want to win with an umpiring error with so little time left for the Test to finish. The decision was spot on again and what Davis and Ian Gould have shown in this series and in the Kolkata Test in particular, is that they are among the top umpires in the world. It is never easy to officiate in India with its noise and crowds and the heat and the dust but these two have been magnificent.
The Eden Gardens crowd is more noisy than others and the sheer numbers also help to make it so. It is a tough job anyway and in the sub-continent even tougher but Davis and Gould were top class. Their interaction with the players was also great where they were friends but not necessary pals and the players were comfortable with these two and it showed in their reactions when a close call went against them.
What the close finish has shown is how crucial it is to continue having third country umpires officiate in Test matches. There were four leg-before wicket decisions given on the last day and all of them absolutely correct as shown on slow motion replays but just think if those very same correct decisions were given by an Indian umpire. The hullabaloo that would have been created would have been incredible and all kinds of allegations of home team bias would have been levelled. Those decisions made by a third country umpire got the respect it deserved and there was no overt reactions to them. There have been some suggestions especially in the media of the old powers that the time has come to have umpires from a country officiate in their country’s Test matches.
The current system of third country umpires has worked very well and helped ease tensions between teams when a bad call is occasionally made by umpires who are human too and it would be a major mistake for that to be changed just because there is a feeling in some quarters that the umpires should officiate in their home Tests. If the system has worked why change it. Even if the referral system is used it still won’t take away the finger of home team bias especially since only three incorrect referrals are allowed and so any more than that which could actually change the course of the game will invite criticism that it was home team bias that did it. It may not be with other country’s umpires but you can wager a small fortune that if its umpires from the sub-continent then the bias angle will be brought out for sure since any stick to beat the subcontinent is good enough.
What the win at the Eden Gardens also showed is that India does not need a turning pitch to win Tests. That phobia about hard bouncy pitches should be done away with forever now that the Indian team has shown through a superb all round performance that they don’t need help from a pitch to win matches. The win will also silence all those who would have been waiting to say that India squared the series by preparing a turner.
Last time when India had to win the final Test to level the series against South Africa they got a dry pitch at Kanpur and at the fag end of the summer it would be pretty much the same all over India and with the then coach screaming even before a ball had been bowled about the quality of the pitch the Proteas were demoralized and were out before even the first ball was bowled. This time around despite the usual guessing game in the media about what the Eden Gardens pitch would be like, the Proteas management did not react at all and so they went in to the Test positively as could be seen by that double century partnership between Petersen and Amla.
That they collapsed after that is a credit to the manner in which Harbhajan bowled to snare the solid Kallis into playing a slog sweep and then getting the out of form left-handers Prince and Duminy off successive deliveries. It had nothing to do with the pitch but simply superb spin bowling by the much maligned offie. He just does not get the credit he deserves despite taking over 350 Test wickets and that is a pity indeed.
In any other country Bhajju would be hailed as an all time great but in India he has many who just won’t recognize his deeds and achievements for his country. Yes he is a bit hot under the collar at times but that is because he is intensely competitive and wants to excel for his team. Yes he could do with a bit of mellowing down as is seen with Sreesanth another competitive player and who knows it may happen sooner than is believed. Just like Sreesanth has not lost any of his swing and pace by just turning back on his heels and going to deliver the next ball instead of wasting his energies giving a lecture to the batsman, so also Harbhajan will not lose his guile by just focusing on his bowling and not worrying if the batsman has played a good shot or a lucky one..â?¨â?
Yes sir, there was plenty that the Eden Gardens Test showed. India does not need a turning pitch to win. It’s bowlers especially spinners, can win on any surface and it’s batsmen do not need flat pitches to score. It also showed some of its fiery characters that patience indeed has its rewards and losing it only leads to loss of composure and confidence that only helps the opposition..â?¨â?It was a wonderful comeback by the number one team in the world and may they stay there for a long, long time to come.