Umpires in the dock

Umpires in the dock

A series of wrong decisions has shown the match officials in poor light in this edition of the IPL

Umpires in the dock

As the 10th edition of the Indian Premier League completes its second weekend, it’s heartening to note that players’ performances are more in the news than that of umpires. It always should be that way and not the other way round. When umpiring decisions are talked about more then it means they are not doing their job properly. The howlers from match officials in the first nine matches, however, did rob the sheen of entertaining affairs. The glaring mistakes, even from umpires who are on ICC’s Elite panel, held a mirror to India’s long-standing problem of their inability to produce quality match officials.

Apart from C K Nandan, Nitin Menon and Virender Sharma, the likes of S Ravi, who has officiated in Tests involving teams like England and Australia, and C Shamsuddin, another Indian umpire on ICC’s roster, were also responsible for giving erroneous verdicts that had the players at their wits’ end. In some cases, they protested and promptly got reprimanded and in others they simply walked away after swallowing their disappointment. 

A former Indian umpire said the lack of practice in match situations or the fear of big stage could be the reasons for young umpires erring but there is no excuse for seniors doing the same. “Only thing I can say is that there are many youngsters coming in and when they come on to the big stage, these things (mistakes) are expected but this year we have seen mistakes even from the so-called senior umpires and that was unexpected. I personally feel either they (junior umpires) don’t have much experience of officiating in domestic matches or it could be the cause of big-stage fear. But umpires who are seniors and have officiated in internationals committing such mistakes is unacceptable,” he reasoned.

Mumbai Indians were at the receiving end of this harsh treatment on a couple of occasions. In their match against Rising Pune Supergiant, Jos Buttler, who was going well at 38 off 19 balls, was wrongly adjudged LBW by Ravi though there was a huge inside edge. In the same innings, Ravi ruled Kieron Pollard not out off Imran Tahir though the West Indian appeared plumb in front. It was, in a way, nature’s way of giving justice to Mumbai but it did show Ravi in poor light.

Mumbai and Buttler’s misery extended to their next match against Kolkata Knight Riders at the Wankhede. The Englishman was looking smooth again at 28 off 22 when Menon cut short his stay, ruling the batsman out LBW off Ankit Rajpoot even as the ball looked headed down leg, which the replays confirmed later. A few minutes later, their skipper Rohit Sharma met the same fate at the hands of Nandan who adjudged him LBW off Sunil Narine. The decision left Rohit furious as he had a healthy edge first, and he made his anger clear as day. While he was rightly castigated for his outburst at the umpire, two bad rulings in the space of a few balls didn’t cover the officials in glory either. Earlier in the match, when Knight Riders batted, Narine too had been incorrectly given out leg-before off Mitchell McClanaghan even though the left-hander had a big edge on to his pad. Though it was the last ball of the innings that Narine was facing, it didn’t make umpire’s verdict any more justifiable.

The verdicts against Buttler and Rohit could have changed the course of the game in favour of KKR and that’s not how it should be, said the former umpire. 

“There was a big vacuum after S Venkataraghavan, AV Jayaprakash and VK Ramaswamy,” he said referring to the lack of presence of Indian umpires at the international level. “Only Ravi has come in now, but before that there was a big vacuum. People in the Board have fought for more Indian umpires in IPL so that they get that exposure which is great but they have to perform. One bad decision can change the course of the game and umpires, I feel, should never be involved in such a process. They definitely have to pull up their socks and this opinion has come from the umpiring community itself. In this age of ultra-dissection of decisions on live TV, umpires are becoming image-conscious and some of them want to change for the better,” he offered.

Royal Challengers Bangalore got the wrong end of the stick in two different matches. In their match against Delhi Daredevils, Carlos Brathwaite was plumb in front off Yuzvendra Chahal but umpire Sharma didn’t agree with the bowler. RCB’s match-winner against Daredevils, Kedar Jadhav, however, wasn’t as lucky in their next game against Kings XI Punjab. The right-hander was given marching orders by Shamsuddin off Varun Aaron whose ball hit the batsman just above the knee with the batsman jumping in his crease while attempting a flick. Replays confirmed the ball would have missed the top of the woodwork by a good two inches.

Another umpire feared loss of respect for his tribe from the rest of the cricketing community if the umpiring standards remained the same. “After cricketers started turning umpires, people began expecting better performance because we have played the game at a big level and some even at the highest level. The respect what they get (those who pass exams and become umpires) and what we get is totally different. And to keep up that respect we have to perform better,” he maintained.

To err, of course, is human and umpires, after all, are human. Just as batsmen make wrong shot selections or bowlers go astray with their lines or lengths to get punished, umpires too are expected to commit mistakes here and there. But seven bloopers in just nine matches is a huge number when the stakes are high. And the worrying part is that all these howlers are from Indian umpires. While a batsman or a bowler is responsible for his own mistake, umpires should know that they are deciding someone else’s fate. Buttler, for example, is an established player and the two wrong decisions against him will not affect his England career but if an Indian domestic player, aspiring to make it big through the league like several others in the past, were to suffer the same misfortune it may severely dent his future hopes.