Opinion: Umpires should stop their adventurous decision-making
Thirty to forty years ago, cricket as a sport used to be completely different to what it is now. There was no technology, there was no limited-overs cricket and the game as a whole was laidback in nature. In particular, there was no third-umpire to assist the on-field officials, let alone something like the Decision Review System (DRS)
In those days, umpires had to be keen observers and monitor everything. The likes of Dickie Bird and David Shepherd were renowned for their excellence as umpires. However, fast forward to 2019 and poor umpiring standards is the talk of the town. The first Ashes Test at Edgbaston that concluded on 5th August saw as many as 15 wrong decisions from the officiating umpires Joel Wilson and Aleem Dar.
Out of those 15 wrong decisions, 10 came from Joel Wilson. Also, 10 of those 15 decisions were with respect to LBW-related errors. The umpires either failed to spot an inside edge or misjudged the line and length of the ball.
Just think about this- Steven Smith and Matthew Wade who scored hundreds for Australia had to survive wrong decisions while Rory Burns earned a lucky escape and went onto register three figures on his own.
If technology wasn't available for Smith and Wade and Rory Burns' hundred helped England to win the Test match, wouldn't it have been an unfair result in the end? This is where the umpires become the centre of attention rather than the deserving cricketers.
It is also unknown as to whether the umpires from this generation do their necessary homework regarding different grounds and conditions. For example, there will be extra bounce on offer in Australia while the ball won't rise above the batsman's knee in Asian conditions. These aspects require umpires to be well-versed.
It is all the more remarkable to think that Joel Wilson was inducted into the ICC Elite Panel of Umpires only a couple of weeks ago. In fact, without DRS, Edgbaston could have turned out to be one of the worst matches in terms of umpiring decisions since the infamous Australia Vs India Test at Sydney in 2008. Interestingly, that Test match had a big role in the quick testing and implementation of DRS in international cricket.
So such a poor standard of umpiring begs a pertinent question.
Has the Decision Review System made umpires complacent?
This could be absolutely true as many umpires seem to be casual because of the availability of DRS. The current panel of umpires know that technology is there to save them even if they make wrong decisions and this might be a major reason for the hike in the number of overturned calls from the third umpire.
The presence of the 'Umpires Call' further assists officials to take a chance/guess. If umpires are indeed relying too much on technology, this could be a very dangerous sign for the International Cricket Council (ICC).
A subset of the poor umpiring has also seen more clamour for an increased number of reviews per team than the current number of two. It is important that the governing body maintains a balance between technology and umpires.
To be honest, the current quota of two reviews per team is completely alright and it would be better if the ICC turn their attention towards better coaching and qualification criteria for umpires.
While technology should be limited with respect to the number of reviews available, it wouldn't be a bad idea to use external help for aspects like routine no-ball checks, to monitor number of fielders inside the circle during powerplay overs and among other issues which would be too much to handle for the on-field umpires.
This issue came into play even during the recent World Cup when Chris Gayle had to return back to the pavilion in spite of the fact that the delivery before the wicket-taking one was a no-ball. If the third umpire could have intimated the on-field umpires, then Gayle would have survived as the wicket-taking delivery would have been only a free-hit.
Similarly, the World Cup final was turned upside down due to one particular moment when Martin Guptill's throw deflected off Ben Stokes and ran away to the boundary. While the four runs that were awarded was legal according to the rule books, England should have only received five runs instead of six as Stokes hadn't crossed when Guptill released the throw.
Such a minute thing was obviously very difficult for the umpires to notice in the heat of the moment. The umpires were further handicapped by the fact that they couldn't refer the decision to the third umpire as the rule book stated so.
It is puzzling to see that such trivial rules are still existing and also going onto affect pivotal moments of arguably the most important game of any cricketer's life. The ICC has to remove all these rules and make decision-making simple and clear for the umpires.
While umpires need help from the ICC, the governing body also faces a huge challenge because even some of the high-ranked umpires who are part of the Elite Panel are making a lot of mistakes.
Case in point would be Kumar Dharmasena who won the ICC Umpire of the Year in 2018. He was subject to a lot of criticism for his performance in the World Cup final and also matches prior to that.
So, can a tiny solution to this problem of poor umpiring be found if the officials revert back to a conservative style?
The obvious solution to any mistake would be to not do that anymore. Likewise, umpires can perhaps look at the style of umpiring in the 1970s and 1980s. During that era, most umpires totally ruled out an LBW appeal if a batsman used a good front-foot stride. Also, it was rare to see batsmen being ruled LBW if the ball pitched outside off.
However, all that changed with the improvement in technology and umpires began to rule batsmen out even if they were four metres down the track. Due to this adventurous trait of the umpires combined with the margin of error that accompanies the ball-tracking system, a lot of batsmen can feel hard done by a few decisions.
While it would also be unfair for bowlers to not get those close calls considering that the game is already heavily tilted in favour of the batsmen, umpires could do with some restraint with respect to calls which might require more than just knowledge and judgement.
It is also high time that the ICC duly fines underperforming umpires and not just stop with their removal from the Elite Panel as a lot of careers are on the line.
Going by the poor success rate of umpires these days, it wouldn't be a major surprise if a fairly inexperienced batsmen gets two or three rough calls in the early part of his career and ends up without getting more chances to express his/her potential.
Surely, the ICC would be aware and understanding of the impact that a wrong decision at a wrong time can have on a cricket game. It would be unfair not only for a star batsmen to get out through a wrong decision but also the fans who pay a fortune to watch these games.
For the sake of the betterment of the sport, both the ICC and the umpires have to help each other and bring in the utmost professionalism.
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