Friday, March 4, 2011

India's misfortune and tale of suffering - with and without UDRS

UDRS was touted as the system that would reprieve the Umpire.  Daryl John Harper, the Australian Umpire with 88 Tests and 166 one dayers gave a poor depiction of himself in the WC match between Canada and West Indies.   He has a tainted past – in 2010 England lodged a formal complaint against him and was later dropped by ICC from 2010 T20 WC due to performance reasons.

The UDRS was on focus so many times – Pak went in for a review when Harper turned down Ravindu Gunasekara LBW to Umar Gul.  Zubin Sarkari was then given out LBW by Nigel Llong and reversed on review.  Harper ruled Ashish Bagal out  when replays showed it comfortably over the stumps.  He was reprieved when he looked caught plumb in front but not to Harper, who had another decision over turned on referral.   Was this an advertisement of technology or just showcasing the inadequacies of individuals.

The humdinger that went down the wire – India Vs England was another display of the sad plight.  That day when Dhoni made a referral.  the giant screen made Bell realise his defeat and made him walking – but Billy Bowden  gave him not out and struck to his decision.  That time, ICC playing condition under Process of Consultation No. 3.3 (i) was referred as stating  that if a 'not out' decision is being reviewed and the distance from impact to the
stumps is greater than 2.5m then the third umpire passes this information to the on-field official along with: the distance from the wickets of the point of impact with the batsman, the approximate distance from the point of pitching to the point of impact, and whether the ball is predicted to the hit the stumps the on-field umpire shall have regard to the normal cricketing principles concerning the level of certainty in making his decision as to whether to change his
decision.

Then there were reports that 2.5m is not a rule but a general principle that was being observed !!  What a howler, that costs Indians the vital match.  This further led to a minor skirmish between BCCI which backed Dhoni against ICC which went overboard in cautioning the captain.   

Ironically, it was the Umpiring errors at Sydney Test which provided major fillip to this Referral system.  Ironical because Indians are at the receiving end when it was not there and now when it is there.  The object of having this is to rely on equipment more than man who can be subjective and can be prone to errors – but the system is also proving to fallible more because of men’s interpretations.  There are realtime challenges as the system has parameters of distance, impact, angle and more.  In Tennis the ball is tracked on visual evidence – here the positioning of cameras and the conjecture of movement can never be foolproof but more acceptable than a split second decision decided by human eye (and sometimes prejudiced mind]

There was some debate on who should pay for the technology – who else it should be than the one who benefits by telecasting the matches and who has the obligation to conduct them fairly.  If ICC feels otherwise, they have no right to swell their kitties with the conduct of matches. 
Now read something circulated by me on 9th Jan 2008 immediately after the Sydney Test.
Dear Cricket lovers,

Volumes have been written in the past few days on the racism abuse to which the Nation and surprisingly the  BCCI had also reacted.  There was news on the umpiring front as well. After all the dusty storm raised at Sydney where India plunged to defeat, controversial West Indian umpire Steve Bucknor  stands removed from officiating in the remaining India-Australia test series and Harbhajan Singh  cleared to play pending his appeal against a three-test ban as the ICC yielded to a strong Indian protest.  The ICC Chief Executive, Malcolm Speed, said, “It is accepted that Steve (Bucknor), and his on-field colleague Mark Benson, did not have good games by their very high standards and we feel that given the added pressure and attention Steve’s presence would have at the third Test, it is better for the match and for Steve himself if he does not take part.”

For the uninitiated something on the career graph of the two Umpires  Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor with contrasting styles.  Mark Benson was a left-hand opening batsman who played for Kent from 1980 until 1997.   He played in a solitary test – incidentally against India in 1986 Edgbaston  scoring 30 and 21, batting for more than four hours and looking quite comfortable. On retiring he became a first-class umpire in 2000. He stood in his first international match in June 2004 and was elevated to the ICC Elite Panel in April 2006. By contrast, "Slow Death Bucknor" has umpired in more Test matches than anyone else, breaking Dickie Bird's record in 2002, and in March 2005 he became the first umpire to stand in 100 Tests, and only David Shepherd and Rudi Koertzen have umpired more ODIs. Bucknor also stood in five successive World Cup finals (1992 to 2007), the middle three with Shepherd.
Those with not so short memories remember his role in misinterpreting the rules regarding bad light, which caused the farcical finish in the WC finals when Lankans had to fight in pitch darkness.  This gentleman had earlier dished out some rank bad decisions to Indians, especially Sachin.  Ofcourse, we have received poorer decisions from Ashoka Desilva and many others which have at some point changed the course of the match itself.
Down under, India suffered mainly because of the umpiring with the West Indian Steve Bucknor showing the finger to inflict crushing blows at crucial times;  and also  because the team was targeted specially by a prepared Australian team that cornered key players like Harbhajan Singh with ‘racist’ allegations.   India had staged a comeback in Sydney to take a first innings lead after the Melbourne loss in December inside four days and looked good enough to walk away with a draw at close of play on the fourth day.  It is factually true that  two crucial decisions, Rahul Dravid being given out caught behind after the ball brushed his pads on the way to the wicketkeeper and then a well-settled Sourav Ganguly being adjudged caught by a diving Michael Clarke where in fact the ball was seen grassed in television replays while completing the catch, dealt a body blow to the Indian team. 
Technology has revolutionised many sports disciplines but none of them had the same scope as cricket as the concept of third umpires and the lights keeping the suspense going enhancing the dramatic effect for the audience. Over the last 10 years, sweeping changes have taken place in this segment but the more high-tech the game went, the demands were more to get a fool-proof system. The puritans of cricket may still argue that cricket was played 100 years ago too and decisions of edges and catches were taken even then without much ado, or with as much fuss as it creates right now. But the question is, when you have a facility now with the help of technology to improve your judgement and get a more accurate result, why not use it?
The two decisions were not exactly the   only instances that marred the high-voltage Test match between two teams that have played intense cricket over the last three months, first in India and now Down Under. Earlier, in the first innings Andrew Symonds was clearly dismissed twice before he reached 50, once to a stumping where television replays showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that the batsman’s leg was out of the crease and then to a caught behind decision where the snickometer confirmed the faintest of edges.   Alas, the umpiring  errors changed the mood of the match. As usual, the weaker side suffered the rough end of the stick. It is hard enough to win in Australian without standing helpless as players of the calibre of Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds are given a second opportunity to build a substantial score. Umpires made blunders and India were the worst hit.
One thing which went buried under the hype is the fact that  there were no demons in the Sydney  pitch and it was really disheartening to see the Indians surrender meekly. The present generation players certainly lack the resilience.  During early 1980s when the fearsome west Indian quartet used to leave the visitors battered and bruised – Indians especially, Sunny Gavaskar, Anshuman Gaekwad, Mohinder had displayed grit, tenacity and patience to build innings and stood with body blows to save test matches.  In Pakistan, against all odds, Mohinder and Ravi Shastri combined to keep the bowlers at bay for the last two days to force a draw.

Seen in this backdrop, the failure of the famed Indian batting line up to withstand a paltry 72 years is appalling. Yes there were atleast two rank bad decisions – Dravid adjudged caught behind when bat was nowhere near the pads and Dada adjudged caught when the ball did not carry and the fielder Micheal Clarke  before completion grounded the  ball.

The umpire chose to get driven by the words and gestures of Ponting.   It was the same Clarke who had refused to leave and stood his ground for minutes after steering the ball to slip and caught cleanly at hip height.

When it comes to unsettle the opponents there is nothing fair for Oz.  During the course of the match, Sachin was cruising.  A small break when something flew into his eyes and he was trying to rub it out with his shirt;  Ponting from the slip cardon went near enquiring something – the bowler M Clarke yelled ‘mate, it is time’ gesticulating with hands, getting annoyed with the delay.  For these acts, any Asian cricketer would have been fleeced at least 50% match fees besides being called unsportive.  The Aussies are clearly above board all these. 

But what is not learnt by the Indians is   “When the final two overs remained, Indians were 210 for seven with Harbhajan and Kumble playing.  They lost 3 wickets in the same overs and lost the match when only 7 balls were to be bowled”.  The defeat was brought about  not only by poor umpiring but aided generously by inept batting right from the Opener Jaffer who did not appear good enough to last the initial over and the brittle middle order.  The late order crumbled in one over to tarnish image and bring upon themselves another defeat voluntarily.

A die hard fan - S Sampathkumar.

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