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Spare a thought for the true men in White!
by Venu Bolisetty
Aug 15, 2007
Amidst the entire furor surrounding the umpiring in the previous two test matches between England and India; I was reminded of a poignant essay titled “The Umpire” by Neville Cardus. The Essay is a timeless classic for several reasons. First, it is written by Neville Cardus and anything written by him on cricket is a classic. Second, it is a homage to the umpire, whose contribution to the game at every level is often overlooked. And third, what is written in the essay about the reception given to the umpire during his time remains true and relevant to this day. There are many lessons to be learnt from this essay and surprisingly enough, a few of his suggestions are even more relevant today with the increased presence of technology.

Cardus writes that the umpire is much like the bathroom geyser: “we cannot do without it, yet we notice it only when it is out of order.” This is so true. When was the last time you heard an umpire's name being mentioned at the end of a grueling series where he performed well. My guess is never! I have heard a few commentators mention that the umpires have had a great series but the recognition they get pales in comparison to their contribution.

Towards the end of this essay Cardus makes a plea to every cricket lover: “He deserves all the help he can possibly be given. Is not his job difficult enough in itself without the addition of embarrassments which are the consequence of our hastiness and temper?” What the ICC has done is take away some of the additional help that could possibly be given to the umpire with regards to making decisions on the LBW. What is worse is that they have made available a service, HawkEye, which essentially makes a mockery of the umpire's decision and riles up the spectator against him. The ICC has committed the very same mistake that Cardus has urged us not to do.

There is already a system in tennis where a player gets to make a limited number of challenges on calls made by the chair umpire. The system that is used in tennis is the same system that is used by cricket broadcasters worldwide. The system has worked effectively in tennis without disrupting the flow of the match too much.

Some commentators have called for a system whereby both the fielding team and the batting team get to challenge a limited number of calls. An equal number of opponents to such use of technology have cropped up as well. For a long time I was ambivalent on this issue. Some tennis players, including Nadal and Federer, have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the system. Whether those doubts are anything more than sour grapes I don’t know. Even if the accuracy is an issue, the reason for a loss can now be squarely planted on an in-transient being or the team itself. Here is a challenge system that I think would work well.

The challenge system that I propose is simple and it borrows from tennis and (American) football. Each team gets three challenges to overturn the decision that has been made by the on field umpire. If a batsman feels that he has hit the ball when given out LBW, he could challenge the umpire's ruling. The only way that the decisions can be over turned is if there is “conclusive evidence” that the batsman indeed hit it. This is the protocol used in football and, in my opinion works very well. If the batsman is correct, the ruling is inverted and the batting team can keep that challenge. Limiting the number of challenges ensures that the spirit of the game prevails and that the players will challenge only when they are absolutely certain about an error. The same protocol applies to the fielding team. If a bowler is convinced that the ball pitched in line and is going to hit the stumps – challenge the decision.

After reading this, I’m hoping that the ICC and everyone that loves this game will see the need for this change. The system will be effective and simple. If the ICC has no problem with people at home and the stadiums having access to Hawk-eye why do they hesitate about the umpire? The next time you are incensed by an umpire’s decision that has gone against your team I urge you to remember this sentence about the umpire by Cardus: “They all of them are worthy of our applause, the men who serve the game by standing- and waiting for the end of the long long day.” The umpires need our support and more importantly we need to give them everything that can aid them in their making decisions.

Notes

[1] The essay “The Umpire” can be found in The Picador Book of Cricket and Cardus on Cricket.

 
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