December 30, 2010

It could all get wishy-washy

Chuckworthy

The end of the year is nigh! That time of the year when wishes are made with childlike abandon of reason and realism. Everything smells of hope and feels worthy of a resolution. Most cultures celebrate something during this period, if not the period itself. Cricket does too. These days most of the top 10 international sides can be caught plying their skills on some Test ground or the other, making it that much more difficult for the avid cricket follower in the US to stay awake during meetings at work.

Wishing is all well. But what when that wish comes true? And what if the fulfillment of the wish leads to more wishes? It could all get pretty wishy-washy from there on.

I wish I’d lived in the warmer states of Florida, Texas or California for the simple reason that I might still be umpiring right now had that been the case. For all its whiteness this time of the year, New York doesn’t really make you jump up in the morning anticipating a nice day out in the middle.

While I’m at it, I might as well wish I’d lived in a Test-playing country. US cricket, while having gone boldly with their captain where few of his predecessors have gone before was in a bit of turmoil recently when it’s most talkative head was chopped off. Quick on the heels of that, came the deal with New Zealand Cricket (NZC). It is man-made vicissitudes such as this that keep a few of us from going head over heels for the future of US cricket. It was, self-admittedly, one of Mr. Lockerbie’s wishes to have this partnership with NZC fortified. It has come true now, but how.

As a sign of things to come, New Zealand had played Sri Lanka on US soil in the first half of 2010. From a purely selfish viewpoint, I was quite interested to know who would umpire in that series. As it turned out, the ICC had sent a couple of their umpires from the international panel. I wish umpires in the US were better organised and unified under some sort of an official umbrella and recognized as such by the USA Cricket Association (USACA) so that when matches such as those played for the Pearls’ Cup come here, we could wish for our own umpires to be officiating there.

It is interesting that cricket at the highest level is engaged in a debate about employing the UDRS, the theoretical extension of which could mean the extinction of the cricket umpire as we know him/her and cricket at the lower level in the USA is neglecting umpires and pretending as if they are already extinct for all important purposes.

At the Test level, well wishers of the sport have been wishing for a perfectly just way of handling the goings on in a match. The ICC had responded a few years back with the UDRS which might as well stand for Universally Debated Review System.

It wasn’t too long ago, relative to cricket’s history anyway, when a similar debate hovered well above others when a certain Sachin Tendulkar had become the first victim of a TV umpire. Millions had wished then that technology had not provided that button which took umpires’ index fingers to new, and much lower, levels. But in about a decade and a half of arguments, the arguable increase in the correctness of decisions is seldom put within the context of the palpable reduction in umpiring quality at the highest level. It is a fact that technology exposes more umpires now and hence gives the viewers a disproportionate sense of the umpiring quality. But even discounting for that fact, new umpires inducted into the ICC’s hallowed international and elite panels seem to come in with a certain pedigree that is instantly noticeable to that same technology. But within a couple of years at what is the helm of umpiring in most ways, they belie that pedigree. Some, like Simon Taufel, take six years.

Umpiring in an Associate nation, especially the USA, can get stagnant. If it is true, as purported by several Test boards, that quality umpires are going the way of the dodo, then maybe they should start looking at these nether contours of cricket. There are a lot of us who are very knowledgeable and capable. An exchange program with umpires from Test playing countries could be just the thing to keep those umpires sharp – and boy, will US cricketers keep them sharp – while letting us US umpires sharpen.

The stagnation of umpires’ careers in the US is mirrored by the stagnation, at best, and regression, at worst, in umpiring skills at the uber level. From a lot of the evidence on view, the umpires on the ICC panel are being blunted by cutting-edge technology. The international cricket calendar must be as severe on umpires as it is on players. It is quite possible that they don’t get to keep many of their basic skills at levels that got them to Elite status in the first place. They are being relieved of that essential anxiety that comes with umpiring within a no-safe-zone, i.e. no technology to blindly rectangulate to.

Hopefully, the XI year of the XXI century AD will prove progressive for US cricket and UDRS in cricket. If not, the cricket world better watch out for their wishes coming true.

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