January 14, 2009

Umpiring

When God is the man 22 yards away

Aakash Chopra
The umpire warns the Maharashtra players for excessive sledging , Himachal Pradesh v Maharashtra, Ranji Trophy Super League, Group A, 3rd round, Dharamsala, 3rd day, November 25, 2007
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Dear readers,

We, Indians, are always looking for divinity in everything. We make Gods out of normal human beings and treat the game as a religion of sorts. Following the same trend even deeper I can clearly see divinity at work in first-class cricket. They say 'To err is human, to forgive divine’ and that's concretely manifested in almost every first-class game played in India.

Take the ongoing Ranji Trophy final for example, whether it was Wasim Jaffer on the first morning or Zaheer Khan on the second. Both of them erred in judgment and nicked the ball to the wicketkeeper but the umpire standing 22 yards away forgave their human follies and divinely granted them some more time to improve on their game in the middle. On the other hand both Ajinkya Rahane and Mohammad Kaif had to turn to their divinity when the man 22 yards away erred disastrously and gave them out when they clearly weren't.

The standard of umpiring in first-class cricket has been below-par for as long as I've been playing the game but rarely do we see people talking about it, apart from the affected players that is. The reason being that the matches were never shown live and hence there was never enough evidence to attract criticism. Now that the matches are shown live and they happen to be really high-profile games, the mistakes are glaringly visible and the consequent criticism very vocal.

I'll avoid sounding like a cynic and hence will mention only a few incidents and leave it to the readers to make up their minds. Not so long ago, in a Duleep Trophy game, we heard someone talking at square leg. Initially, we though the fielder must be chatting with the umpire, which happens quite often, and was a little too loud. But to our utter disbelief there was no-one fielding in the vicinity and the umpire was standing alone. Was he talking to himself? Further inspection revealed he was busy talking on his mobile phone, a fact he vehemently denied, but the next phone call gave it away. It was on silent but the vibrator mode's buzz was rather audible.

Then there was this incident when a bowler bowled six front-foot no-balls in an over without getting called for any one of them. I was at the non-striker's end and kept drawing the crease to attract the umpire's attention but to no avail. I did improve my drawing skills, though, and I can proudly say that drawing a straight line with my bat is not an issue any more!

On many occasions, the umpires walk towards covers or mid-wicket before adjudging someone leg-before wicket. A few of the decisions might have been correct, but as a batsman you don't want to see the umpire moving sideways to decide whether the ball was hitting the stumps or not.

Before you start blaming the BCCI for everything, let me tell you that efforts are being made to improve the standard of umpiring in the country. There are six cameras installed for the duration of every first-class match played in the country. There's an umpire's coach who gets the live feed and monitors their performance. Based on the video evidence he rates the umpires for their competency, decision-making and proper implementation of the rules. Since this started only last year, there is still some time before we start reaping the benefits of the exercise.

Please don't get me wrong, there are still a lot of umpires who have gained a lot of respect from the players and are very competent. Umpiring goof-ups happen in international cricket as well so first-class cricket can't be foolproof. As long as the human element is involved in the game, which I think should be there forever, mistakes are going to be made. Don't we as a batsman or a bowler make mistakes? Since we, cricketers, also make plenty of mistakes on the field, regardless of however much we crib and cry, we do have to make peace with the fact that the man standing 22 yards away is also human and can commit mistakes. After all "to err is human …"

Cheers

PS: I know it might sound like a plug but I'm also human and hence allowed to err … My book is out in stores and I'm waiting for some honest feedback.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by Amarnath on (January 23, 2009, 14:22 GMT)

Hey aakash bhaiya, i know how it feel to be one sacked of bad decision.but u should know that these happens to all level not only in ranji,even in junior state matches and even in district. I was also the one to be sacked due to this.umpire dont think about our future only they do better of them. Best of luck yaar. Perform better and be in indian 11

Posted by Vishal S on (January 22, 2009, 10:03 GMT)

Dear Aakash, Your article is excellent read as always. Its really good to hear about stuff that happens in the domestic circuit as thats where the character and careers are built for the cricketers. Its true when you say that the umpires are human and they are likely to err.. but the problem is when they err again and again, and nobody points out the mistakes to them which is quite likely in our domestic circuit, they are basically playing with people's careers. I know the standards are improving but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Also read the review of the book which seems really interesting.. Any chance we would be able to get that in uk as am living in london and would like to get my hands on our books.

Cheers Vish

Posted by Deepak M on (January 21, 2009, 5:45 GMT)

Dear Aakash, well written article and I always make it a point to read thru your contributions since have always found the articles well balanced and objective in assessment of the topics that you chose. And sad to see some readers pointing out negatives on you personally, And mate yes looking forward to laying my hands on "Beyond the Blues" (like the title ;), harper and collins here I come, And Btw played in Netherlands for a couple of years and heard about your cricketing exploits there, well done cheerz, Deepak

Posted by eat sleep drink cricket on (January 20, 2009, 16:08 GMT)

A well balanced article. Umpiring is an issue at international level too as you point out in your article. In fact it is one of the most pressing issues, considering the debates regarding the use of technology to aid umpiring decisions.

Posted by Sundar on (January 20, 2009, 15:42 GMT)

Good article. Keep going Akash.

Posted by ranger on (January 19, 2009, 18:21 GMT)

Akash. How many ex players go on to become umpires in India. I know of only two -venky and suresh shastri who used to play for Rajasthan. If you know more let me know. So Akash , when you retire will you or other first class cricketers become umpires. Most probably not.

Posted by Sekhar on (January 19, 2009, 5:57 GMT)

At a time when India is not playing any international cricket,at a time when the media's sole focus is on events happening off the field,there are encouraging signs that umpiring is soon to change for the better.Like the recent fielding review headed by Robin Singh,domestic coaches review headed by Ganguly,Kumble etc,why not have an umpiring review headed by V K Ramaswamy and Srinivas Venkatraghavan,to revamp the umpiring system at the domestic level? Maybe you could pass on this word to the recently retired players(Dada and Kumble) who will then take up this cause with the Board ? This could then be implemented at the international level so that we won't witness rehashes of the Sydney Test 2008.

Posted by Ram Maharaj on (January 18, 2009, 15:28 GMT)

I am a qulified umpire living and umpiring in London. Over here the qualified umpires do not get the top umpiring jobs, I do not know how it works in India. Here in England the the ex first class cricketrs are appointed to umpire first class cricket, and as I know over the years that I can remember only 2 of those were qualified. The qualified umpires over here umpire in Saturday & Sunday leagues, although there are talks going on now about changing this soon to make all first class umpires in the future to be qualified, but that maybe sometime to come. What about test match umpires,as far as I know none of them are qualified & they make so much cock ups, there is one who does not even know how to signal according to the laws of cricket. Of like most people before I became an umpire I thought all first class & test match umpires had to be qualified. I once wrote to the Indian cricket authoties to umpire in India and I never even got a reply.

Posted by Prasad DOLE Cape Town on (January 17, 2009, 15:38 GMT)

I have heard you on television you are articulate use the medium well and have read a few of your blogs you write well, lucidly. This means you have the mass media to express your views in addition to the official (maybe feeble may back fire) channel to complain to BCCI. So despite if you take bad instance in umpiring lying down I have to be harsh and say to you deserve it. In the hope you will get selected again I can understand you will not ruffle feathers with the Board. But be realistic you only chance to play is now accidental. So go for the jugular & expose and make a parallel career in mass media.

Posted by Rana on (January 17, 2009, 14:23 GMT)

Hey Akash,

I agree with all the comments about the standard of umpiring in domestic circuit. I have played the game for almost a decade and have seen both good and bad decisions against players....I think right now BCCI has started to take action and is implementing what is called as the umpires coach. I cannot talk on behalf of how qualified these coaches are but certainly know that there are few good ones there to evaluate the umpires who officiate in the domestic circuit. One name that comes to my mind is V.K. Ramaswamy....for someone who is involved with the game for almost 3 decades and umpired in 2 world cups for India and has tons of experience....Also the head of the committee is none other than Venkatraghavan....I think apart from these two and may be couple others India never had good -solid umpires...I think the umpiring is headed with the right concept and in some proper direction...Also its time we see some Indian faces in the elite panel....

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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