The Ashes 2019: Steven Smith masterclass masks another bad umpiring day
It has been a well-documented topic and day one of the first Ashes Test only ensured that debate over it won't be silenced for quite a while. The topic is obviously the gradual deterioration in the quality of umpiring in international cricket.
Yet again a day of international cricket was marred by umpiring errors just like how it was during the recent World Cup. There were a lot of overturned decisions while the Australian team also heaped more pressure on themselves with some poor review usage. It was a remarkable hundred from Steven Smith and a handy knock from Peter Siddle that saved the blushes for Australia as both the teams battled past poor umpiring throughout the day.
England rectify their mistakes
However, to start off, let us not take anything from some brilliant bowling from England and especially the duo of Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes. They carried on from where they left against Ireland a week ago to stifle Australia's top-order. The leader of England's bowling cartel, James Anderson felt his problematic calf yet again and this could have put a spanner in the home side's plans but the supporting cast proved that they are more than good enough to fill in the veteran's absence.
Needless to say, a bowler like Stuart Broad who has wickets to his name and has regularly been a lynchpin for Australia in the past bowled with terrific rhythm. The Dukes ball, as usual, provided ample assistance but England could ill-afford to misuse the favourable conditions like they did against Ireland the first time they bowled. In that first inning, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes were guilty of bowling too short and Ireland managed to put up a respectable total.
The duo learnt their lesson from that and tested Australia's batting line-up with some incisive and consistent full-length bowling. The first chance that Broad created on the day wasn't anywhere close to being disciplined bowling though as he sprayed a delivery down the leg side to David Warner. The southpaw got strangled down the leg side but the umpire's finger didn't go up amidst mild appeals. First error! A few overs later, Broad rapped the same batsman on the pads and this time the umpire answered in the affirmative. Guess what? The hawk-eye revealed that the ball would have missed the stumps. This time it was an error from both the umpire and also Warner.
The next mistake didn't take a lot of time to occur with Usman Khawaja's nick not being heard by the umpire. England had to go for a review to overturn the decision. Like this, there were four more wrong decisions and that included James Pattinson's brain-fade which mirrored what David Warner did a bit earlier. Like Warner, Pattinson was also adjudged LBW and technology proved that the ball would have MISSED yet again!
Improving the overall quality
Unfortunately, such days of bad umpiring doesn't seem to be a one-off thing. The International Cricket Council (ICC) have been worried about poor umpiring for a long time and that was the reason a tool like Decision Review System (DRS) was brought in for. However, the governing body doesn't seem to be doing much in terms of improving overall umpiring efficiency. Most of the Elite Panel Umpires are also making too many mistakes that are costing teams dearly.
Just think about the decision which ultimately cost Scotland a 2019 World Cup spot or the final of the showpiece event itself. The extra run that was awarded to England in the World Cup final had a big say on the end result. Such poor decision making is only costing careers of many cricketers while the umpires are getting away just due to the sheer lack of quality umpires.
It is telling that the '2018 Umpire of the Year', Kumar Dharmasena was involved with a lot of controversial decisions including the most high-profile one that occurred during the World Cup final itself.
A section of the cricketing society is of the opinion that umpires are also human beings like the rest of us and it is difficult to be correct with naked eyes. However, being accurate is the basis of their employment as international umpires right? The same people also question poor decision making from the various teams with regards to DRS usage but that shouldn't prove as a shelter for inefficient umpiring.
It is high time that the ICC takes some concrete steps to improve the standard of umpiring. Be it penalties or more rigorous qualification criteria to become an elite umpire, the end result should be one that reduces howlers by a big margin. After all, it is only the fans who pay a fortune to watch matches who are deprived of enjoying some of the best cricketers weave their magic on the field due to incorrect decisions.