Both the test series and the Carlton & United triangular have been very poor advertisements for Australian umpires and indeed the ICC match-referees. The standard of the umpiring has, at times, been quite abysmal. It is not only that there have been errors of judgement but the umpires have given the impression that they are not familiar with the rules. None has suffered more than Sachin Tendulkar and I am almost inclined to believe that he was targeted. Nothing pleased me more than to have seen him given out in the match against Pakistan at Perth. As a Pakistan supporter it was great to see the back of him more so since he seemed in ominous form. But the decision, we were not sure whether it was leg-before or caught behind, was a shocker. Tendulkar looked visibly surprised and he had every right to be. Had India been playing Australia in a crunch match, one would have been justified in questioning the integrity of the umpire. It goes down as incompetence.
In the same match, Jacob Martin had gone off the field with a supposed knee-injury. Under the rules he could not bat for the time he was off the field or after the fall of 5 wickets. He came into bat, jogging, in the pink of health and it was the Pakistan players who had to point out to the umpire that he could not bat. Since 5 wickets had not fallen. When he did come into bat, he was accompanied by a runner! Had his knee-injury returned while he was sitting in the dressing room? He should not have been allowed a runner since he had first appeared without one. Throughout the test series and the one-day games, mistakes were made but on balance, more mistakes were made against the Pakistanis and the Indians.
Then there is the matter of sledging. There was a time not so long ago when the umpires were the sole judges of what was fair and unfair play and by that token they had the authority to ensure that the game was being played within the spirit of the rules. This authority has now passed on to the match-referee who sits in an ivory tower away from the action. The umpires merely report any instances of misconduct. Apparently sledging is contagious and the Pakistani and Indian players have picked up this bad habit. In their match at Adelaide, there was some sledging. It doesn't matter who swore at who. But because it involved Pakistan and India a different construction was put on it, the impression conveyed that it was a part of the bitter rivalry between the two teams, about which too much is made and the frequent mention of this rivalry by the television commentators only inflame the passions of the viewers whereas the players seem to get on well. The umpires should have been able to control what could have turned ugly.
Australia is without doubt a very good team and we are told how they go about developing their cricketers. It's a pity the same drill is not adopted in training their umpires. Had the same mistakes been made by umpires from the sub-continent, there would have been hell to pay and the umpires would have been called cheats. There is too much talk of the extra-bounce of Australian wickets. Soil conditions determine the nature of wickets. In the sub-continent wickets are slow and do not have the same bounce. Wickets are not standardised unless the climate can be carted around. We do not moan about Australian wickets. Yet when teams from Australia and England tour the sub-continent, there is constant bitching about the wickets, to say nothing of the weather and the living conditions. Home advantage is home advantage and the host country has it, be it Australia, England or the sub-continent.
The match-referees have been inconsistent and have shown themselves to be lenient when it comes to dealing with the Australians and not lenient in dealing with the Pakistanis and Indians. I won't go into the way that Shoaib Akhtar was dealt as I have already expressed my opinion. But in the Australia-India match, Australia went into over-time by 12 minutes but were not docked any overs. It turned out to be a tight match and even one over would have made a difference. Why these double-standards? The ICC must be concerned because the match-referee is losing credibility and is increasingly being seen as a stooge of certain countries that have clout with the ICC. In earlier columns I have written about a similarity between the United Nations and the ICC. Both are selectively effective or ineffective. If the ICC is to be taken seriously, it has not only got to be even-handed but seen to be. Otherwise the cricket world will split and that will be the end of cricket as we know it.
Finally, a few words by way of a tribute to E.W. Swanton, the doyen of English cricket writers who died recently at the ripe old age of 92. He was the spokesman of the English cricket establishment though he maintained his independence. I first met him in 1962 when I went to England to do the commentary for the BBC. Swanton would do the lunch-time resume and close-of-play summaries. So he was a part of the commentary team. He was inclined to be a grand seigneur and somewhat pompous and behind his back a figure of fun. The Pakistan tour was a disaster and he led the campaign to have test matches against countries like Pakistan restricted to 4 days, not being good enough for 5 days. I sought him out and we had coffee and I told him that I agreed with him, which pleased him but added that by the same logic English tennis players should not play best of five sets in Wimbledon. One set was good enough. Thereafter relations between him and me cooled down. But he was an institution and served cricket ably and with dedications.