'Elite' Umpiring Errors Are Now Unbearable

Sun, Nov 24, '02



In cricket, the noble profession of umpiring, has provided us with an equal measure of joyous and painful moments. Far too frequently in recent times, for their 'obvious' incorrectness; there are simply 'jaw-dropping' ones.

There is the self-serving belief in sport, as in life, that good and bad decisions somehow neutralize each other and the better team or individual, more often than not, prevails.

Many who have committed their lives to being custodians of cricket's playing area, are of unquestionable integrity; and place hard-earned reputations on the line, in sometimes intimidating, and unfamiliar surroundings. Not one, I think?it is safe to assume, likes making; or deliberately makes mistakes. However,?there are?no excuses for umpires (especially those from the ICC's 'elite' panel), who make mistakes with annoying regularity. The 'spotlight' must be?aimed directly at?these offenders. In modern cricket, the stakes are extremely high, and teams as well as players and fans, suffer dearly as a result of the flood of?ridiculous errors.?

I often make a point of unequivocally stating, that I have absolutely no problem with criticism being levelled at consistently errant professionals. Whenever respect is due, I am usually?first in line to pay it. The mere mention of the 'P-word' provides one with an image of accomplishment, experience and most importantly; competence . Significantly, of all the professional pursuits in life; those for which fair, sound judgment and key decision-making are part and parcel of?a normal day; are the ones that have to?endure the most, in terms of criticism.

With specific reference to cricket, the increased use of technology has revolutionized the game to such an?extent, that even previously taciturn 'laymen', have?developed outspoken personalities and? become alarmingly intolerant about perceived or obvious mistakes by 'ruling' officials. There's really no surprise that subjectivity abounds in the competitive and mostly patriotic settings associated with cricket. Whenever one appears to be objective, those to whom their comments are directed, almost invariably exhibit a sense of caution, and at times, disbelief. Such is life.

The 'subjective bug' has?bitten?all of us from time to time, but life's realities often?encourage us to?keep the perfect balance.For example.?I consider myself a realist, and believe to a great degree?in fairness.?However, earlier this year, when an apparent 'caught behind' off?Indian great Sachin Tendulkar in Port-of-Spain, went against my team, I uncharacteristically succumbed to an 'ultra moral moment' suggesting that batsmen, particularly the 'top dogs', should? 'do the right thing' and 'walk' when dismissed.

It was my opinion, that this would put less pressure on the umpires; who become virtual 'pressure cookers', when faced with such key decisions. My 'ultra moral' expression was influenced by?an unwavering admiration for Brian Lara's well-documented consistency in 'not waiting for the umpire to decide'.? I was quickly?returned to reality by 'senior' knowledgables, who encouraged, reminded, and wisely advised me to look at things realistically. Batsmen, they opined, are at sometimes 'subjected to the unbelievable', in terms of umpiring decisions, therefore; 'let the chips fall where they may' in those 'tricky' situations. It goes both ways; you win some, you lose some!

And for good measure, we must be cognizant of the fact that those entrusted with the responsibility of presiding over affairs,?are adequately compensated for their expertise.?I concurred with this 'two-sided' theory. I'm glad I did. I would have died a slow and painful death; without that dose of reality.

If the lessons taught me, needed firmer implantation, the 5th ODI between West Indies and India, provided it. Cameras do occasionally 'trick' the eye, but there are times when the camera is not even needed for accuracy; this case was one!?It was?incensing to witness umpire Asoka De Silva's incomprehensible 'caught behind' decision against West Indies opener?Chris Gayle. The glaring mistake disturbed me tremendously. And believe me, his (De Silva's)?smirking doesn't help make matters any easier for fans of his 'victims'.?

But, it's much more than the Gayle dismissal and that silly smile. For me, this error-prone elite?umpire's decision-making has reached its nadir and the time has come for his questionable performances to be reviewed by the ICC. It's happening far too often, and?at crucial stages of encounters. There is vivid recollection, among West Indian and Indian fans alike, of he (De Silva), and his sidekick, Australia's Daryl Harper, during India's?tour of the West Indies, quite 'matter-of-factly', often incorrectly; 'dismissing' batsmen of both sides from their presence; and also breaking the spirits of toiling bowlers.

The best umpires are unobtrusive, and?as far as I'm concerned, those two gentlemen in particular have undoubtedly ejected themselves from that league. The?plethora of erroneous decisions continues worldwide, and unabated. I was hesitant to publicly?criticize at first, because of the "we all make mistakes, we're human" argument?, but this interminable?folly has become unbearable. So, I'll go out on a limb, and shout it loud and clear."These two 'elite' umpires are?myopics!". Amazingly, they?also seem to be soulmates!

In a stunning endorsement of my candid assessment, they both, co-incidentally or telepathically; delivered on that same day, November 18! In India, there was De Silva's 'execution' of Chris Gayle, which came in the form of a Harbhajan Singh delivery which 'spat up' over?the bat by a long way, and was taken by an expressionless Rahul Dravid behind the stumps. Singh, an astute cricketer, well aware of the umpire's almost laughable predictability, or unpredictability; appealed vociferously (as is customary), and 'Asoka the Executioner', incredibly transformed by Singh's cue, obliged by quickly raising?and?lowering?his now world-famous?'guillotine' finger! Adios Gayle!

Across the Indian Ocean, in the lower extremities of the African continent, it is?also November 18th. It is the 4th day of the 2nd Test between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Centurion. In a written report of that day's play, a correspondent for a leading cricket website, after expressing that in his opinion Daryl Harper missed a possible, if not clear LBW decision against a Sri Lankan opener, writes:

"If the umpire Daryl Harper possibly erred then, he certainly did in Ntini's next over, when Jehan Mubarak was given out caught behind for 15 (23 for 1).

The ball was a snorter, angling away from the left-hander from around the wicket, but there was clear daylight between Mubarak's thrusting bat and the ball. As the bat clipped his pad, Ntini yelped furiously, but it was telling that Boucher hardly bothered to appeal. Harper, however, raised his finger, and there were shades of a similar decision given against Andrew Flintoff at Auckland earlier this year. By any standards, especially those of an apparently elite panel, it was a shocker."

Let me reiterate, I only criticize when something becomes unbearable. The errors associated with the Indian tour of the West Indies, provided me with?the impetus to 'attack', but there have been many?more since. Frankly,we West Indians have had enough of Asoka De Silva and his?'guesswork', and are begging the ICC? to at least keep?him away from our team, if they don't see?the need?to replace him, on their 'elite' panel. As for his?'sidekick' Daryl Harper; for your information and guidance, I'll share a couple more instances of the 'shocking', for reference.?

This is Omar Kureishi, for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper (During the Indian tour to the Caribbean): "But the most shocking decision was against Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the ball clearly pitched several inches from the leg-stump and going further down. I got the impression that the umpire, Daryl Harper was having a quiet snooze and his repose was disturbed by the appeal, he woke up startled and gave the batsman out. By way of a penance, he should be made to see that replay a hundred times. It was an atrocious decision."

How about Derek Pringle reporting for the London Daily Telegraph in May of this year, during the England/Sri Lanka series, "Although he won't be happy about it, Trescothick's dismissal, to a shocking lbw decision from umpire, Daryl Harper, probably did England a favour. Indeed, so shocked would Harper have been by the size of the deflection off the left-hander's inside edge, he probably won't give another lbw in the match."?There are, of course, more instances, but the point has been made. We have had our fill of the 'shocking' in cricket! The noble profession of the cricket umpire needs revamping.

It is important that I?generalize, because there are many other umpires,?at all levels and in all territories, who are De Silva and Harper's equals when it comes to the inexplicable. We've seen it from them all. However, because the ICC has seen it fit to create a level of differentiation, the 'top of the tree'?gets the lightning first!?

If the excuse is that the 'elite' gentlemen are committing?all these?errors because of their demanding schedules, then the ICC?must intervene immediately and relieve them of their?'burden'. Neutrality is meaningless in the presence or?wake of incompetence, indecision and inaccuracy. Malcolm Speed and company are?advised, that?interesting and competitive?cricket is being?compromised by?all this?'casual finger-raising'. We are being exposed to too much of the unexpected.

Of note, is the fact that the game has significantly lost its appeal among youngsters, for various reasons,especially?in these parts; and consistently witnessing this type of?officiating will only exacerbate the?situation. It is my opinion that the renaissance of the "Gentleman's Game" is being stymied by the indifference of?its officials!

* Nigel McKenzie pens a weekly column on cricket for Guyana's Kaieteur News.