Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Umpiring errors are part of the game

By Michael Jeh 11 hours, 8 minutes ago in Michael Jeh

Everyone, including Hussey, knew the rules of engagement before that match started © AFP

Here we go again - another Border Gavaskar Trophy on the line and it starts to get "tasty" after just one day. The Internet era merely serves to heighten the tensions because unlike the old-fashioned 'Letters to the Editor' which were usually written with more eloquence and vetted by editors, online blogs are much more raw and unfettered in both passion and vitriol. It's a classic Beauty and the Beast situation where we get to see what people are really thinking, protected by anonymity and distance, unhindered by rules about grammar and spelling, unafraid to vent opinions that range from sincere passion to patriotic fervour gone mad. I've seen some of that already this morning with reference to the DRS controversy. Some of it has been entertaining and illuminative whilst some of it has been just plain idiotic. That's the world wide web for you.

From what I've read this morning, it seems to me that some bloggers have just lost their sense of balance and perspective, blinded by their bias for or against the two countries involved. Here's my attempt to bring some common-sense and logic back to the debate, arguing from a neutral position of indifference as to who wins but with a strong desire to see the Indian and Australians fans not rip each other to pieces with emotive arguments that go beyond mere cricketing matters. Many incidents over the last few years have unnecessarily damaged relations between us, starting with the infamous Sydney Test when Harbajhan Singh and Andrew Symonds clashed and extending off the field to more serious incidents involving student bashings and loose talk on both sides of the Indian Ocean.

Let's start with the silly comments being bandied regarding the DRS not being used because it allows the Indians to cheat. It's not the ICC who are necessarily to blame, neither are the Indian cricketers themselves culpable. It was a decision agreed to at board level. Regardless of whether the BCCI has too much power or not, a topic for another debate altogether, the cricketers themselves are simply playing by the rules that were agreed before the series began. It's not like the Indian players suddenly introduced the playing condition when Michael Hussey walked out to bat. Everyone, including Hussey, knew the rules of engagement before that match started.

Umpires make mistakes. That happens. Disappointed as Hussey may have been, surely he is not suggesting that he has never benefited from similar decisions going in his favour, either as individual or as a team. The accidental fact that it was a first-ball duck when his career is on the line shouldn't change anything. I'm not even sure if Hussey is complaining too much, apart from that initial show of frustration for which a man of his calibre and disciplinary record can surely be forgiven. It's the irrational fools with short memories who are quick to start labelling the opposition players as cheats who are the real cheats in my opinion.

Short memories? Anyone remember when these teams last met during the New Year’s Test? Symonds smashed the cover off the ball and chose to stand his ground. He was simply playing by the rules and any Indian fan who called him a cheat should be similarly embarrassed today. Symonds' innings defined the course of that Test match but the bottom line is that he was simply playing by the rules of the day. He was no more or less of a cheat than anybody was yesterday (unless Symonds himself is one of those mystery bloggers hiding behind a ridiculous pseudonym, venting irrational spleen to fuel tension).

What about the Peter Siddle no-ball incident today when he castled Rahul Dravid? The replay reprieved Dravid, just like it did for Michael Clarke at the Gabba a few weeks ago. Dravid didn't ask for the replay - the umpire called for it himself because he was unsure, just like he did for Clarke who went on to score a big hundred. Both teams were aware that the umpires had this option available to them. It's not like Marais Erasmus made it up on the spot just to try and favour India. The only person at fault was Siddle for not keeping his foot behind the line.

Australian supporters are entitled to be disappointed with the Hussey dismissal yesterday but if you hail from a cricketing culture that has always played by the code where batsmen do not walk and leave all decisions to the umpires, surely you have to accept that you take the rough with the smooth. How does yesterday's chain of events make the Indians cheats? Does that also make the Aussies cheats when they nick one and don't walk?

I find it particularly amusing when Australian fans complain about genuine umpiring mistakes. As far back as I can recall, from junior cricket ranks upwards, our kids have been brought up on the notion that you only walk when your car has broken down. Leave all decisions to the umpires and if it's your lucky day, that's cricket. That system is fraught with hypocrisy because I've seen many batsmen scream like stuck pigs when they get a bad one, I've seen many fielding teams happily accept decisions when they acknowledge amongst themselves in the team huddle that the umpire clearly got it wrong and most amusingly, I've seen fielders who give the batsman an absolute gobful for not walking when he nicks it! If that's not hypocrisy, what is? Surely a system that is built around living with the umpire's verdict is inherently in danger of choking on its own words if they abuse batsmen for not walking when he gets away with one? Under these rules, the only ones who are cheats are the ones who want the rules to work both ways. And they accuse the BCCI of opportunism?

Everyone's so busy accusing each other of dastardly deeds that they forget that it was a genuine mistake by the umpires. That happens. It works both ways. I read some ridiculous comments overnight that seemed to insinuate that the Indians opted against using DRS because it would allow them (the Indians) to get away with cheating. Where's the logic in that comment? That logic only holds true if the BCCI can somehow exert enough influence to infiltrate the game with crooked umpires. If that's the accusation, it is a very serious one indeed and completely destroys the fabric of the game. It's also a gross insult to the umpiring fraternity who clearly make mistakes on the field (as do the players) but would be appalled to think that the some cricket fans actually believe this is so. Any serious cricket follower who has watched the actual on-field umpiring incidents could not possibly think that there is a corrupt system in place that favours India more than other teams. It's just plain ridiculous.

The long-term solutions lie in getting the respective governing bodies to agree on a system that is acceptable to all stakeholders, cricketers, fans, umpires and cricket boards alike. There's a much bigger debate to be had as to whether the technology is reliable enough to be used universally and whether the BCCI should be allowed veto rights based on their power alone. That's a political debate though and one that doesn't really figure in some of the blog comments from all fans who seem hell-bent on accusing each other of racist bias.
What's new about a system that is controlled by the most powerful? We live in a world that runs entirely along those principles where the major industrial nations write the rules and everyone is forced to play by those rules. Those who choose to play by different rules get bombed into submission. One man's terrorist is another man's liberator. The debate about whether the BCCI has too much power or not is a worthy cause to contribute to but it has nothing whatsoever to do with whether players or umpires are cheats. All parties agreed to the system before the first ball was bowled. Just because yesterday's decisions may have come at the start of Ed Cowan's career and the end of Hussey's doesn't make it an act of foul play. By the end of the summer, I am sure the Indian batsmen too will cop some poor decisions so let's hope we don't see a repeat of the sanctimonious hand-wringing and ugly accusations against the umpires or the team who dare to appeal for a nick. Even if it involves Sachin Tendulkar. If he doesn't want to risk a poor decision, tell him not to make a mistake then! Clearly that's what we expect of umpires these days.

So to those vitriolic and irrational bloggers out there who seem to thrive on cowardly insults across a forum where daft nicknames hide their true identity, try not to confuse on-field decisions with agreements made by cricket boards and the ICC. Those are systemic decisions that are as much about politics and power as it is about what is best for the game. I'm certainly not one of those who believes that any governing body, BCCI and Cricket Australia included, necessarily act in the best interests of the game. They act in the best interests of themselves. But let's divorce the players and umpires from some of the grubby individuals who skulk in the corridors of power. Some men are still honourable. Some men still make mistakes. They make honourable mistakes. That's not cheating.

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