Long way from the elite
"I have been playing domestic cricket continuously for the last two years and you can never be sure you will get a good complete game from the umpires. There are good umpires around but consistency is lacking."
Mohammad Kaif, the Uttar Pradesh captain, was a very disappointed man at the end of the second day. He had hung around tenaciously for 172 minutes, trying to consolidate when he lunged forward to defend a Zaheer Khan delivery. Amiesh Saheba, the umpire, heard a noise and put his finger up but Kaif went limp and stood motionless for some time. Replays revealed the bat had hit the pad and the ball went past the edge. Saheba had a bad semi-final as well, with couple of poor decisions. The other on-field umpire, Shavir Tarapore, has made two poor decisions in the game, but also a brilliant one - he picked up the edge from the toe end of the bat of Tanmay Srivastava.
Bad decisions are no crime. Kaif himself said it's part and parcel of the game but the key point he raised was that he sees a similar pattern of inconsistency around the circuit. It's also reflected in the fact that India have no umpires in the ICC's elite panel. So, what is the BCCI doing to raise the level of umpiring?
VK Ramasamy, a former umpire who is the BCCI-appointed umpiring coach for this match, explains the process. Since the last season, the board has been spending money in installing cameras in every Ranji Trophy game and having an umpire coach at each venue.
"Every appeal is tagged and the video is sent to us at the end of the day. We have a look, analyse the decision, see what is the mistake or the right thing the umpire has done and table it," he said. "At the end of the match, we sit with the concerned umpire and run through the videos again. We find his thought process on why he made the decision and if we disagree with his verdict, we explain why. And we suggestive corrective measures wherever possible: his head position, his technique, his decision-making skills, on his man-management, you know the entire umpiring process."
The umpire coach also files a report to the BCCI where the umpire is graded on a rank of ten. The board is set to issue a new performance guideline which will ask the umpire coach to grade the umpire as bad, satisfactory, good or very good. "Also, at the end of the season, Mr Srinivas Venkataragavan, the director of umpiring, goes through the videos with the umpires in the scanner and suggests his point of view.
"So the system is really good. The umpire can only get better and if he is not the system will ensure it weeds out the bad umpires. And please, this is just the second year with this system. You have to give us more time to see the result. It's too early now but I think the system seems pretty tight."
The problem according to Mumbai's coach Praveen Amre is that the existing pool of good umpires is very small. "There is no option but to back the men who are good. They are humans and like good players, out of form, you just have to support them."
Many have felt that former cricketers should be encouraged to take up umpiring. Some like Maninder Singh and Yashpal Sharma tried but while Yashpal left because of lack of money in the job - the board has now increased the remuneration considerably - Maninder left it because he felt the BCCI was not supporting him.
"I cleared the exam, but there are too many people in the board to discourage you. Their main grudge was the TV jobs that had come my way. Despite my good reports, the board took ages to promote me. Then I let it go because I didn't want to call people and say, 'Sir, sir, give me this match, give me that match'."
In another initiative, the Indian board has signed deals with Cricket South Africa for exchange of umpires and is soon to have similar agreements with Cricket Australia and the England board. In the upcoming Duleep Trophy, South Africa's Marais Erasmus will officiate while India have already sent Suresh Shastri to umpire in South Africa's domestic circuit. But the question remains, when will India throw up a quality umpire good enough to enter the elite panel?
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo