Tuesday, December 27, 2011

INDIA IN AUSTRALIA, 1ST TEST - HOW CAN UMPIRING GO OUT OF FOCUS?

I was far too young to follow India's tour of Australia in 1991-92. Once I started understanding and following the game of cricket, India has toured Australia in 1999-00, 2003-04, 2007-08 and the current one now in 2011-12... and each time, umpiring has been a subject of sharp focus!

If that is not enough, the scrutiny of umpiring decisions have started in the 1st Test on all but one of the above tours. Only in 2007-08 did the opening Test at MCG on the Boxing Day go through without an umpiring decision worthy of remembrance years later! Unhappy with how incident-free the 1st Test was from an umpiring perspective, the cricketing Gods put in all their efforts to ensure that the 2nd Test would not only compensate for the 1st one, but also supersede all other incident-involving Australia-India Tests of my living memory.

1999-00: The first Test was in Adelaide... and it will always be remembered for the infamous shoulder-before-wicket LBW decision by Daryl Harper against Sachin Tendulkar of Glenn McGrath's bowling. Even in that era, that particular decision gathered a lot of inches and minutes in print and television media respectively. I shudder to imagine what would have happened had such a decision been given in this era!

It was a marginal call, as the ball could have clipped the top of the stumps or gone over it. In normal circumstances, the benefit of the doubt goes to the batsman. Only when the batsman does not offer a shot does the benefit of the doubt go to the bowler. Was that a case of no shot offered? In my view, definitely not! When a batsman ducks under a bouncer that hits him on any part of his body and goes for runs, it is given as leg byes. When no shot is offered, and the ball is deflected of the pads of the batsman, no runs are given. This rule may be farcical, but as long as it exists, ducking cannot be deemed to be a case of no shot offered, and the benefit of doubt in that case should have gone to the batsman.

While I remember just this incident clearly from that tour, I do remember that there definitely was discontentment about umpiring during that tour. I have read that that particular tour accelerated ICC's plans of implementing the concept of two neutral umpires in Tests. This article from the Cricinfo archives points out that there were arguably three contentious decisions against Sachin Tendulkar alone in his 6 Test innings on that tour.

2003-04: The first Test was in Brisbane... and the central figure was once again Sachin Tendulkar. The bowler this time was Jason Gillespie and the umpire was Steve Bucknor. Again, the media coverage was immense and even Gillespie had admitted that his appeal had only been academic and that he wasn't actually expecting to get the decision in his favour.

While the ball pitched outside off and seamed in, even the naked eye could tell that the bounce was far too much in that ball to be able to hit the stumps. Truth be told, I think that this ball would have passed the stumps at a higher altitude than McGrath's bouncer four years previously that resulted in the shoulder-before-wicket dismissal. That same article to which I have provided the link above talks of the coverage that followed this Steve Bucknor decision.

2007-08: Like I said, the first Test at MCG was more-or-less incident-free, and the second Test at SCG overcompensated for that! There has been more than enough coverage of the Sydney Test of 2008 - both the racial abuse allegation as well as the collection of umpiring errors! Andrew Symonds was reprieved thrice (twice by Steve Bucknor and once incredibly by the third umpire Bruce Oxenford!) and Ricky Ponting was reprieved once and then given out when he shouldn't have been. Sourav Ganguly was ruled out caught by Michael Clarke by umpire Mark Benson in consultation with Ponting rather than the third umpire.

There were some more incidents (I remember Rahul Dravid too falling victim of a Steve Bucknor error), but the key one definitely was the first reprieve that Andrew Symonds received on Ishant Sharma's bowling. Steve Bucknor (once again!) failed to see/hear a very clear edge with its big woody noise and a clear deflection of the ball on its way to MS Dhoni behind the stumps. That decision was very clearly a result-impacting decision. Symonds was on 30 then, and Australia 193 for 6. Australia ended up with 463 with Symonds unbeaten on 162. Even though India had no business losing the Test on Day 5, there might have been a completely different result had Symonds been ruled out there and Australia slumped to 193 for 7.

2011-12: The first Test at Melbourne, Day 1... and both umpires in the limelight for one caught-behind decision each. Maraius Erasmus ruled Michael Hussey out for a golden duck off Zaheer Khan's bowling and soon thereafter, Ian Gould ruled the debutant Ed Cowan out for 68 off Ravichandran Ashwin's bowling.

While I wouldn't call either of those decisions a 'howler', the debate on it shall be no less than the other decisions of the past... because we live in the era that has tasted the implementation of DRS. Where I stand on the issue of DRS is absolutely unrelated to what this post is about, and so I'll refrain from getting into that. But it must be said here that there is a difference between a marginal call and a howler, and DRS is starting to obliterate that line. Had it not been for the debate on DRS, the Hussey and Cowan dismissals might have been talked about just for a few hours, and then archived somewhere in history. But now, we'll have gigabytes of data to tell the future generation different versions of what actually transpired there!

2 comments:

thebackwardpoint said...

Rightly Said! And i actually feel since the birth of DRS we see more howlers! This is my perception! I don't see too many errors when there is no DRS system used! I guess series in India vs West Indies didn't had to many wrong decisions! As soon as they talk more of DRS and it is used..the howlers come out! I know this post wasn't about DRS but these days every wrong decision is talked around DRS thingy!

Although what happens in Australia most of the time is quite shameless! Hopefully this series stays out of controversies!

Shridhar Jaju said...

I don't think it's a case of having more howlers with the use of DRS. I feel that if the DRS is used and it makes a mistake, then that howler is magnified because it came through the filter of DRS. It leaves a far more bitter taste in the mouth than an umpiring error!

SAVE OUR TIGER!