It was the first Test between England and Bangladesh and veteran umpire Kumar Dharmasena was officiating in the game. The former Sri Lankan offie would have loved to bowl on the spin-friendly surface at Chittagong but it was a much tougher job umpiring.
The ball almost turned square and the standing umpires had a difficult job on their hands. Dharmasena’s decisions were constantly challenged and were under the scanner. Though it was England who finally came out triumphant the match will always be remembered for the record that Dharmasena set. Out of his 16 decisions—out and no out—8 were overturned, which is the most reversed decisions for an umpire in a single Test.
It all started in the morning session of Day 1 as England were struggling at 79/3. A Shakib Al Hasan delivery struck Moeen Ali on the pads while the left-hander tried to sweep one fine. Dharmasena had no hesitation in raising his finger but Ali decided to review it. Third umpire S.Ravi after watching replays believed the ball had grazed the bat and overturned Dharmasena’s decision.
The overturning seemed to rattle the 45-year-old, who then went into lunch. But his on-field horrors continued after the resumption of play. Once again it was Shakib who found Ali’s thrusting pads and once again Dharmasena obliged with the left-arm tweaker. Ali reviewed once again and DRS showed the ball was missing the leg stump and the batsman was adjudged not out.
A delivery later, astonishingly another Ali decision was overturned, and this time too it was Dharmasena who had raised his finger. By then there was three decision which was overturned in six deliveries and that is not where the islander’s misery ended.
Dharmasena had another shocker when Taijul Islam’s delivery wrapped Stuart Broad on his pads. Once again England decided to go upstairs and the third umpire declared it not out.
Thereafter, the likes of Adil Rashid, Tamim Iqbal, Mominul Haque and Taijul Islam all survived the dreaded finger of Dharmasena. At the end of the Test, yes! 8 of his decisions were overturned.
While he was put under a lot of criticism on the social media and by various pundits, a lot of other stalwarts like England great David Lloyd believed he will bounce back soon.
“Despite what the armchair pundits will tell you, umpiring can be an extremely tough job, especially on the sub-continent with the heat, the spinners, and men round the bat,” Llyod wrote for Daily Mail.
“One thing’s for sure. Kumar Dharmasena, who had a tough Test in Chittagong, is a strong character and a brilliant umpire.“It was bad luck that all the tough decisions seemed to be going on at his end."
Now world-class umpires usually shrug off bad days on the field before going into another big Test match, but for Dharmasena the cooling off period was too short and the scars too deep. He once again was put to the test in the second game of the series at Dhaka.
The scattergun judgments continued and blindly almost each time Dharmasena would raise his finger the batsman at the other end would look to review the decision. And more often than not during the course of the two Test matches, he would reap the benefits.
As many as 13 of the Sri Lankan’s 27 decisions were overturned during the series which is almost double of what research show. A University of Chicago paper published in 2015 found that around 26 percent of all decisions referred between 2009 and 2014 were overturned and Dharmasena’s figures are nearly double the norm.
One has to accept the fact that the Sri Lankan had a torrid time during these two Tests but the next question is why?
Even umpires are human beings and can make mistakes
Probably because even umpires are flesh and blood and mistakes happen. Just like a bowler or a batsman, their form can suffer too. Standing out there in the middle amidst a stadium full of spectators it is difficult to predict whether a Mehedi Hasan offspinner would miss leg stump or not.
It becomes all the more difficult when you know at the back of your mind you have to get it correct or the DRS overturning can land you up in front of a barrage of criticism.One has to keep in mind it is the same Kumar Dharmasena who has been an ICC Umpire of the Year and has stood in a World Cup final.
Another thing could have been that he wasn’t quite mentally or physically prepared for the series and did not quite follow the regime umpires go through to get themselves ready.
Things are unlikely to be easier for Dharmasena as he has been roped into the upcoming India-England Test series but it will also give him a chance to gain some of his lost pride.For the record, the Sri Lankan has already officiated in 41 Test matches, 72 ODI and 22 T20 I matches and knows very well how to come out of a crisis.