On-field umpire needs technology and dignity


So do the referees and umpires. Cricket is no exception. Umpires were a happy lot when there was no telecast. Now every lapse, real or doubtful, gets highlighted on television screens.

While maximum employment of technology to minimise mistakes in decision-making process is welcome, the manner of its application at present is grossly unfair to the two on-field umpires.

The benefit of technology is not extended directly to them but it is through an off-field third umpire who is a mix of a live spectator and a TV viewer. He does not have the insight of real time understanding of the on-field umpire standing at the best location.

When the third umpire and simultaneously the whole world are watching replays, the field umpires are in the dark. Technology is a helpful tool but it is also beset with current inadequacies. A batsman cannot be given out LBW if the ball is pitched outside the line of leg stump. Sometimes the virtual lines from stumps to stumps shown in replay do not seem to be having proper alignment. Sometimes the replays do not throw much light on a low catch.

Sometimes one angle shows the ball kissing the bat but another angle shows no contact. One angle shows the ball hitting the bat first, another angle shows pad first and yet another angle makes it unclear. With the insight of whatever is observed by the field umpire in real time, he will be in the best position to assess the value of on-screen subsidiary evidence to help him in decision-making.

The challenge system as introduced on experimental basis seemed to be still more absurd. When a batsman or the fielding captain made a permissible challenge to a decision of an on-field umpire, the matter was referred to the third off-field umpire. He saw TV replays (which all of us TV viewers also simultaneously watched but the on-field umpires did not have access to) and gave his confidential opinion to the on-field umpire.

If the decision was reversed, we knew that the third umpire had differed with on-field umpire. There were occasions when it could be said that there was not enough compelling or conclusive reason to reverse the decision. On the other hand, if the decision remained unchanged, we never knew whether the third umpire had concurred or was it that the on-field umpire did not accept the different or vague opinion of the third umpire as the system was not transparent.

The situation becomes worse if a decision is given by an on-field umpire after consulting the other on-field umpire who concurs with him and then a permissible challenge is made. The matter gets referred to off-field third umpire who differs with them.

Can a single judge of the same rank formally suggest to a division bench of two judges to alter their unanimous decision (pardon me for employing the term ‘bench’ when the on-field umpires keep standing all the time!)

The system as tried was against the fundamentals of transparent decision-making process. Can’t the on-field umpires have the direct access to the TV replays when required for assistance in making or reviewing a decision?

With hundreds of millions of dollars/rupees worth of contracts for telecast rights, it can surely be made mandatory for the contr actors to arrange for giant screens on the grounds hosting international and important matches wherever such screens are presently not available.

It is in this background that the recent suggestions of Sachin Tendulkar assume great significance. A system of loud beep at stumps in case of foot-faults no-ball can certainly be devised. The third umpire can be rid of off-field duties and be among on-field umpires on rotation.

On-field umpires can themselves see TV replays, hot-spots, snickograph, virtual lines from stumps to stumps, hawk-eye trajectory of the ball until it hits the ground (or goes to a hand) and so on for whatever value addition it makes to their insight of real time observation. Let the on-field umpires get their due. Let them be the sole arbiters on the field.

(The writer is former Chairman, Karnataka Appellate Tribunal)

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