Players and umpires lash out at each other
Cricket has a rare tradition of allowing players to judge those who pronounce verdicts on them. During the domestic season in India, captains of both teams, and the match referee, submit a report assessing the umpires and expectedly, not all the comments are flattering. Their reports of the 2003-04 season, a copy of which is available with Wisden Cricinfo, make for remarkable reading.
The most interesting case concerns the fourth round Ranji Trophy match between Andhra Pradesh and Mumbai. Sairaj Bahutule, the Mumbai captain, was scathing in his report. In his report on the first day, he wrote, "It was a flat wicket. [The Umpire] did not have much work to do throughout the day but at the end of the day Mr. Gomes made very silly mistakes. This gives an impression that he came under pressure . Bad judgment of light. After stopping the game, within 2 minutes [of] the time [that the] batsmen reached the boundary line the umpires asked them to start the game. I am surprised the light improved in two minutes - what a judgment - 2 balls later he again stopped and we lost a wicket. Such kind of umpires' eyesight should be checked."
As the days progressed, the reports got worse. "I think this kind of umpires are spoiling the games all over India," wrote Bahutule. "Naturally the game is not going to improve. We understand that one can make [a] mistake, but not [that] one does not know ABCD of the game.
"I do not know whether my report is going to be considered, but I am doing my duty as a captain to inform the board," wrote Bahutule of Francis Gomes, one of the umpires standing in the match. "It is a pity, I have been playing for a long time and see many umpires on the field despite their getting bad reports."
But, in case you think the traffic was one-way, have a look at what the umpires report said of the players for the same game. "The behaviour of Mumbai players, particularly Sairaj Bahutule and Robin Morris, was very rude. They used abusive language and advanced towards the opponents and umpires in aggressive manner. Chandra Kant Pundit [sic, Mumbai's coach] shouted at the top of his voice. The captain threatened to spoil the umpires report and give zero mark."
And then the match referee weighed in with his comments. "At the end of the game I had received a complaint from the umpires. The attitude of Mumbai players was not up to the mark. For Ranji Champions they were trying to pressurise the umpires unduly for getting first-innings lead in close match." Close match? Mumbai made 504 for 6 declared and Andhra responded with 298 all out. Does Rahul Sapru, the match referee, genuinely believe that is a close match?
While this match drew the juiciest comments, there were several others in a similar vein. Mandar Phadke, the Goa captain, had this to say in one of his reports. "Three lbw decisions were not up to the mark. These decisions showed the lack of knowledge of both umpires regarding [the] lbw law. Too many controversial decisions given. Mr. Choudhury has absolutely no knowledge regarding lbw rule. The knowledge of both umpires regarding decision making is absolutely zero. Both umpires were not able to handle pressure. Such umpires should not be allowed to officiate in Ranji Trophy matches."
But it's not just Ranji Trophy matches that have come under the scanner. Anil Kumble made his views quite clear when he filled out his report after leading India A in a Challenger Trophy match. "Poor standard of umpiring in such an important and high profile tournament." The umpires in question were Narendra Menon and SP Gupta. Sourav Ganguly too did not mince words. "The umpires were too ordinary," he wrote, after leading Rest of India in the Zal Irani Cup match against Mumbai. For international flavour there is the report filled out by Lanka de Silva, captain of the Sri Lanka A team which played against India A. Umpire BA Jamula was the man in question. "Fast bowler Lasith Malinga was warned "not to hit the batsman" when he was bowling. With all due respect it is up to the batsman to avoid being hit, especially a middle-order batsman (40 not out). The umpire cannot ask the bowler not to hit the batsman unless it is deliberately and continuous initimidatory bowling which it clearly was not."
How much weight these reports carry when it comes to postings umpires receive is not entirely clear. Umpire K Parthasarathi, for example, clearly did not think they meant much. During the Services v Himachal Pradesh match he left the ground with 20 overs remaining in the day, and returned in civvies, abandoning his shoes and umpire's uniform. When one of the players complained, he is alleged to have told them they could report the matter to the BCCI for all he cared.
At the end of the year, the board has a thick file full of reports on umpires written out by players and match referees. If you speak to the umpires, they tell you that the captains report is simply a device by which captains let off steam and lash out at umpires for their own poor performances. The players say it's the only way they can complain about a panel of umpires that is badly trained and worse motivated. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.