Australia's attitude lacking in appeal
Andrew Symonds turned in disgust and threw darts with his eyes at Steve Bucknor. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had not played a shot to Symonds' offspin and the bowler was furious even though the ball was heading over the stumps. After the umpiring perks Symonds received during the match he had nothing to complain about.
On the last ball before tea it was Ricky Ponting who could not understand why Bucknor did not agree with a similar appeal against Rahul Dravid. Ponting crouched down and muttered as if nothing ever went his team's way. In this Test, from the moment Ponting's legside edge on day one went unnoticed by Mark Benson, almost everything did.
Symonds was the most fortunate man in the game. Following his batting reprieves, he was at the centre of another crucial decision that went against India and led to them losing the match. Poor Dravid, who battled to 38, was providing a formidable obstacle when he pushed his pad forward to Symonds and hid his bat and gloves behind his front leg. A sound was heard, Adam Gilchrist caught the ball, the Australians yelled and India's comfortable position of 3 for 115 was soon to be 6 for 137.
Bucknor was swayed in a ruling that was as bad as his miss of Symonds in the first innings. Listening to the edges has obviously become more difficult, but soon a fine servant may actually hear the calls for his retirement. The decisions contributed to India losing the Test, but the visiting players shook the hands of both officials after the match. While they took their caps off and lined up, the Australians danced, jumped and whooped in a manner that would have reminded the Indians of their World Twenty20 celebrations.
The noise of Symonds' nick on 31 was so loud it could have carried to the shoppers in nearby Oxford Street. Bucknor's decision cost India 131 runs and he also refused to call for the third umpire during a close stumping when Symonds was 148. Two days later Anil Kumble missed a hat-trick when Bucknor judged a wrong'un to be going over the stumps when Symonds pushed forward. He went on to score another 61.
Most Australian players believe luck evens itself out over a career, but their long-sightedness is not shared by visiting teams. Bob Woolmer reckoned Australia received almost six times more line-ball decisions than Pakistan during the 2004-05 series, and while it sounded like an exaggeration, the benefit of the doubt favours the home team in Australia and around the world
Umpires must feel like frontline soldiers on the final days of the Tests. Fielders crowd round the batsmen and they are shouted at every couple of balls over fantasy and non-fiction. Every country has its ways of pushing the rules and one of Australia's traditional pet hates was the amount of appealing conducted by teams from the subcontinent.
Shane Warne helped alter that view and on the final day his former team-mates were expert at trying to influence the officials with shouts at all volumes. (Despite the consistent requests, none was as ridiculous as Kumble's plea for an lbw of Brad Hogg in the first innings when the ball was struck through cover for two.) Benson was so worn down late in the afternoon that he sent a run-out call to the third umpire even though the batsman was in by a metre.
|"Both arguments are about telling the truth. Why should Clarke be trusted to rule on a potentially match-turning catch when he stayed at the crease on day four after edging a ball to first slip?"|
In the same session he had to deal with Michael Clarke's low catch off Sourav Ganguly, who stood with hand on hip as he waited for a decision. Of course the Australians raced to the fielder and swamped him. They were certain it was out, but Benson wasn't sure. He looked to Bucknor at square leg and then walked down the pitch and asked Ponting what he thought. "He caught it," Ponting seemed to say and put his finger up. Benson did the same.
Fortunately for Ponting, who gained credibility for the decision by refusing to accept a low catch in the first innings, the replays did not show the ball falling short. Typically, they also could not clear all doubt from the take. Ponting's noble request for all teams to have an honesty system for these incidents has been rejected by the rest of the world - he had a small victory before this series when Kumble agreed the captains would have the final say on contentious catches - and they must have squirmed when they saw Ponting relaying the message to the umpire.
Australians see catching differently to appealing and walking. They say it's up to the umpire to decide on edges and lbws, but when it comes to knowing whether a ball has carried, the fielder is the best person to judge. What they miss is that both arguments are about telling the truth. Why should Clarke be trusted to rule on a potentially match-turning catch when he stayed at the crease on day four after edging a ball to first slip?
One of Gilchrist's finest traits is he walks whenever he gets an edge, and claims to appeal only if he's sure the batsman has got a nick. Apart from Dravid, Gilchrist was the best-positioned player to know what Symonds' delivery had touched. It was definitely not bat or glove. Gilchrist also did not see the puff of dust from the ball bouncing after Dhoni hit it into his leg before ricocheting back to the wicketkeeper, who appealed with his team-mates for a catch. It was an easy decision for Bruce Oxenford, the television umpire.
Under Steve Waugh the Australians devised a Spirit of Cricket document that they swear by. They insist they play the game "hard and fair" and are shocked whenever their outlook is challenged. After emotional days like this it is hard to sympathise with their complaints.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo