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What can ICC learn from Sydney?
by Boria Majumdar
Jan 11, 2008
By Boria Majumdar - Dreamcricket Special Columnist

Much has already been written about the controversial Sydney Test. And as Perth gradually takes center stage and becomes the cynosure of all attention, questions range from whether the Indians will be in the right frame of mind to play to how fraught with tension the match is likely to be? While the world waits for the action to shift to Western Australia, there’s little doubt, however, that Sydney has left some lasting impressions on the future of the game.

Test cricket is all about winning moments and seizing opportunities. At the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, Australia had won all but one of these moments on their way to a 337 run victory. At Sydney, however, a cursory look back demonstrates that the umpires won most such moments, proving beyond doubt that the removal of Steve Bucknor was justified.

Much has been said about Bucknor's removal. It has been variedly interpreted as India’s victory, India’s financial muscle forcing the ICC down on its knees, ICC in damage control mode etc. Yet, hardly anyone has alluded to the fact that the removal is in line with the simple rules of sport. If a player doesn’t perform well in a match, he is either dropped or rested from the next game. For example, India is almost certain to drop Yuvraj Singh in favor of Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Kartik or even Irfan Pathan at Perth. Why should there be double standards for umpires who too are sportsmen and integral to the well being of the sport? What is it about the Bucknor removal that it has split the cricket world down the middle and are there any concrete lessons to be learnt from this for the game's governing body?

The answer to the first question is simple. Bucknor, a senior statesman of the cricket fraternity has been deeply humiliated by the manner of the removal. This alone is enough to encourage many to jump in his defence and justly so. Also, the Bucknor removal has doubled the pressure on umpires, already a fairly endangered species given the dearth of quality umpires across the world. Now if Bowden makes a handful of mistakes at Perth, will he be removed is a question already doing the rounds? The amount of newsprint spent on the Bucknor removal thus seems justified and convincing.

However, the more cardinal question is whether the ICC needs to learn much from this incident or will it be buried as yet another in the ICC’s checkered history? The Bucknor removal has brought into question the prudence behind naming umpires weeks in advance for each series. Rather than naming the two men who will officiate, why can’t the ICC, following the practice of naming squads, name a panel of umpires from which they can pick two best men for the next Test match. This is especially sensible if there’s a gap between Test matches, as is the case before Perth, and is a procedure that will spare the ICC the blushes of having to humiliate one of its very own. Had Bowden been on the panel along with Bucknor, Benson and Rauf, the removal could have been a routine procedure. For that matter it wouldn’t have been touted a removal at all.

Also, some kind of a test of skill needs to be put in place for umpires arbitrating in high-pressure situations. Just as players go through fitness tests before playing in competitive matches, skill Tests need to be devised for umpires and are to be applied before the start of each series. It may well be that the umpires picked for the Test matches are made to stand in the tour games preceding the Tests making sure that they are in rhythm and haven’t lost their skill.

Finally, we often hear people saying that umpiring mistakes are part of cricket’s lore. They forget that just a decade earlier the television revolution across the world hadn’t happened and the importance of these mistakes hadn’t been driven home to people’s drawing rooms every fifteen minutes.

With news television broadcasting these mistakes time and time again, passions are sure to rise making these mistakes extremely contentious. In fact, statements like “the human element is integral to the game” or “umpiring mistakes have always existed in cricket”, sound foolish and clichéd. As with everything else, these silly sentiments need to change. For example, will an Australian player give a one on one interview to an Indian journalist on tour without asking for a couple of thousand dollars? No. Will Channel 9 or ESPN allow a non-rights holding broadcaster to shoot inside the ground? No. A decade earlier, such commercialization was unheard of. Whether such things are good or bad is not relevant. They are the ground reality that we all have to live with.

As James Sutherland has said, it is a professional sport and we need to remind him and the Australian players defending Bucknor that the same yardsticks of professionalism need to be applied to all facets of the game. The moot point thus is umpiring errors need to be eliminated and incompetent men are to be dispensed with at all cost. If such dispensation can be couched as routine procedure, the game’s governing body will not find itself exposed much too often.

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