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Role of umpires in ensuring spirit of fair play
by Gulu Ezekiel
Aug 21, 2010

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By Gulu Ezekiel

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Virender Sehwag was the victim of an act of churlishness and poor sportsmanship on the part of Sri Lankan off spinner Suraj Randiv at Dambulla on Monday.    Though both the bowler and his captain Kumar Sangakarra after the match have confessed the no-ball bowled by Randiv which denied Sehwag his century was deliberate, the two on-field umpires did not act and rule it so though they are empowered to do so under the laws of cricket under the heading of ‘Unfair Play’.

And irony of ironies, the last time umpires took such a decision --which could be termed subjective—in a Test match was in a situation where Sehwag himself was deemed the guilty party!  Yes, Sehwag was penalized for a breach in the spirit of the game in February this year on the final day of the second Test against South Africa at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata.

But in another ironical twist, it must be made clear that Sehwag’s act was nowhere as unsporting as that of Randiv and also that the Lankans have made a habit of this nasty practice which achieves nothing except to bring a bad name to them.   It occurred during the final tense moments of the Test match as the last pair of Hashim Amla, batting on a century and tailender Morne Morkel were at the crease, desperately battling to draw the match.

The Indian fielders were endeavouring to keep Amla off the strike and have a go at last man Morkel. Off the fourth delivery of a Tendulkar over, Amla struck the ball towards Sehwag and took a single. But in an attempt to keep Amla on strike till the end of the over and then have a full over at Morkel, Sehwag kicked the ball over the boundary line.

The umpires retained the single but awarded five extra to South Africa’s total as penalty runs as they ruled Sehwag had deliberately kicked the ball over the boundary, thus indulging in unfair play as per the laws.  Minutes later Morkel was out, India won the match by an innings, the series was squared 1-1 and the home side clung onto their Number One ICC world Test match ranking.

Now the question arises: could not the umpires at Dambulla have done the exact same thing, using their discretion to rule Randiv’s massive over-stepping as a deliberate no-ball, annul it and thereby grant Sehwag the six runs he hit off the delivery, allowing him to end on 105 not out instead of being stranded on 99?

No, according to the International Cricket Council. In response to an e-mailed query from this writer, the ICC spokesperson replied: “At this late stage I don’t think there would be any provision under the laws of cricket to reverse the no-ball and award six runs to the batsman. I believe Sri Lanka Cricket are conducting an enquiry into the incident. ”

However, on-field decisions have been reversed in the past. One prominent example was from the first Test at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad between England and the West Indies back in February 1974.

The players were walking off the field after the last ball of the second day’s play had been delivered and at the striker’s end, England wicket-keeper Alan Knott was in the process of pulling out the stumps. As non-striker Alvin Kallicharan moved out of the crease towards the pavilion, Tony Greig from his position at silly point threw the ball and hit the stumps, appealed and the umpire ruled Kallicharan run out.  Overnight discussions were held, England captain Mike Denness withdrew the appeal, the decision was overturned and Kallicharan was allowed to resume his innings on the next playing day. This was done in the spirit of fair play.

This incident too was been brought to the ICC’s notice. Their response? “But in that case [1974], the match was not finished. Decisions can be reversed but not once the result/scorecard of the match has been signed off by the umpires”.

This indeed is going by the letter of the law. But whatever happened to the spirit of cricket which the ICC holds so dearly?  The Sri Lankan board has acted swiftly in meting out punishments.  Don’t forget, the Lankans have won the ICC’s own ‘Spirit of Cricket’ Award in both 2007 and 2008. And besides, since ‘Unfair Play’ is now part of the laws of cricket, the Dambulla umpires were surely remiss in not carrying out their duties. 

 
More Views by Gulu Ezekiel
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