In an era when we read about corporate scandals–including former reputable bank managers, highly respectable pastors and trustworthy politicians– cricket has established a Mount Olympus of virtue: a list of elite umpires in a mythical tower of infallibility. The last time I checked the list of Popes, from their inception by the Cardinal of Bishops in 1099, history could have difficulty assigning the adverb “respectful” to names of corrupt Popes like Pope Pius 111, Pope Fernan Martin V, and Pope Philip Le Bel or “Fair Philip” 1285-1314. Let us not forget that the only non-Muslim male that the Holy Koran cites as an example of Pious living, Isa Ibm Miriam (Jesus son of Mary)–He chose an elite list of 12, and one betrayed him for money.
In St. Lucia years ago, a local bowler missed his chance at fame when he cleaned bowled an English test icon with the first ball. The occasion was a visit from an English touring club. When he asked the umpire afterwards why he called no-ball when his foot was behind the crease, the umpire simply said, “People packed the stadium to see their British test heroes. They can see you bowl anytime.”
Viv Richards, arguably one of the worlds’ most prolific cricketers, was robbed of hundreds or even thousands of runs because of bad decisions-accidental or otherwise. He was so feared that whenever he visited a host country to play, most appeals against him for LBW were granted by the host nations. To minimize accidentally unfavourable decisions–which were frequent during his career– he would take his guard on the leg stump, and then move six inches outside the same leg stump, giving all bowlers full view of his three stumps. His lightning quick reflexes did to balls outside off, what lizards long tongues do to insects outside their reach. When he did that, questionable stumping decisions were the umpires’ next weak areas. In one game I saw, he leaned back to late cut and halted the stroke when he saw the keeper’s snout hanging over his stumps. Had he executed the shot, he would have damaged the keeper. When the keeper caught the ball and knocked down the stumps, Viv was given out stumped. He was, and still is one of the players that believe when you are out, even when the umpire does not think so, you should walk. He not only did that, but as captain of the West Indies, he enshrined that in his players.
That is a far cry from the collective behaviour of successive Australia teams, who have benefited from not-so-subtle umpires’ intimidation and players’ over-reaction. In the second test India vs. Australia, I waited for Andrew Symmonds to walk at least twice during the innings, and was very disappointed when Australia ended with the victory and Andrew ended with 137 not-out-absolutely disgraceful. My simple question is this: if all elite lists of selectees over centuries err, either accidentally or when enticed by large financial rewards, why do officials who administer the game of cricket insist on shoving down our throats the myth that their elite list is beyond error or infiltration-deliberate or accidental?
The last India vs. Australia series is a perfect example why we must rely on modern technology in a game where one bad decision, much more many, can not only influence the outcome of a series, but damage the careers of professionals as well. For years, the cricketing public swallowed hard when umpires erred, sometimes blatantly. However the just concluded test series Australia vs. India, the Indian fans said “enough is enough.” After watching Andrew Symmonds granted two not-out decisions in the same innings, I am not afraid to say so in print “I supported the Indian fans 1000%.”
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
I would have thought that since the Stanford2020 and the Indian 2020 games are modern entities with new rules, they would have replaced the dinosaur-era system of “umpire’s decision final” whether erroneous or not, with electronic monitoring–which they have anyway. Every questionable decision should be referred to the third umpire. A player should have the right to question decisions that could damage his or her career.
In the 2020 format of the game, how can you have men using their eyes only to make split-second decisions when batsmen face youngsters bowling white balls at night at speeds in excess of 100-miles per hour? That is an open invitation for erroneous decisions and they have been happening–often.
In Antigua, one of Cricket’s newest and most exciting forms of the game, Stanford 2020 Cricket was played nightly over three months, to the backdrop of top Caribbean stars, visiting movie stars, and yes-even Eli Manning, who was treated to the rudiments of Baseball’s sister-game. During the Nevis vs. Jamaica game, Nevis had Jamaica struggling in the first five overs. When the umpire failed to give Chris Gayle out L.B.W, the ghost of big island/small island injustice ran on the filed and killed the spirit of the game. Jamaica narrowly won the game. In like manner, the tempo of the Barbados game changed completely with one unfair dismissal going in Barbados’ direction. Not that the outcome would have been any different, but it killed the spirit of the game—similar to what happened with Bucknor’s bumbling during the 2007 World Cup final in Barbados.
In Test Cricket it is even worse. How can you have men in their late 60’s and 70’s using their eyes only to decide the fate of players’ future? It appears to me that the implanting of their autocratic “Elite List” of infallible Mt. Olympians is their way of saying: “we control this game… do as we say or we will not sanction you.” I will predict this much. Within three years, you will either have wholesale rebellion in test cricket, leaving only the shorter 2020 versions (which they do not control) or they must upgrade and use modern technology.
On 12 March-this past month, the ICC sent out a press release to the effect that they have “selected their best 8 cricket umpires in the world.” The new “elite panel” members consist of: Steve Bucknor from the West Indies, Asoka De Silva from Sri lanka, Daryl Harper from Australia, Rudi Koertzen from, South Africa, Dave Orchard from South Africa, David Shepherd from England, Russell Tiffin from Zimbabwe, and Srinivas Venkataraghavan from India. Two umpires from the Elite Panel will stand in all future Test matches and there will be one member standing with a home umpire for One Day Internationals. England’s Peter Willey was invited to become a member of the panel, but after considerable consideration, he declined the invitation. He cited his stringent family commitments as reasons for declining the offer.
Commenting on the appointment of the game’s leading umpires, ICC Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Speed said that umpiring at the highest level now has to be a full time profession, rather than a part time job. “The eight men chosen to join the Elite Panel are all proven performers at Test level, who command the respect of the captains and players. All Test match captains were asked to make nominations for the Panel on behalf of their teams. These contributions were given serious consideration in making the final choices from the current panel of 20 international umpires.” The other major factor in choosing the Panel were the marks achieved by individual umpires over the past four years. Those are the marks awarded by captains at the end of each Test match, which assess the umpire’s performance against a range of criteria.
According to Malcolm Speed, chairman of the ICC, “Umpiring is one of the toughest tasks in international sport and this panel represents the best decision makers in the game. Their skills will help improve the overall standard of umpiring at international level and set an example for the next generation of top class umpires to follow.” Final selection of the Panel was made jointly by Speed, together with Sunil Gavaskar, Chairman of the ICC’s Cricket Committee-Playing.
My question is still this: why not use modern technology, which they have, if they all agree that decision-making is tough? In Lawn Tennis, any player can request the assistance of technology when a decision is in doubt. However there are restrictions as to how many incorrect challenges you are allowed. Why doesn’t cricket borrow a page out of the lawn tennis manual? I am going to break with tradition. I will keep saying that any system that leaves open the possibility for men to err-regardless how honourable they might be, they will err. I am not implying that any member is shady; I am stating simply that it is impossible for a 21-year old to get every decision correct-much more a man in his declining years. Players’ unions need to refuse to go on any tour unless they have options to appeal questionable decisions. After all, it is their careers at stake.