Umpiring in cricket – why is it not the ‘hot’ job right now?

Blog by: Sabarinath

England v Australia: 1st Investec Ashes Test - Day Three

Stuart Broad – the edge that wasn’t given

Ashton Agar gripped the ball without any hindsight of what was to follow. He took orders from his superior and readied himself to only bowl on Stuart Broad’s off stump.

He began his run up with a mere four steps before he lifted his elbow above his shoulder to turn the worn out surface of the ball. It bounced and Broad acrimoniously cut it on its seem, tidying it into the hands of Michael Clarke.

Everybody appealed while Stuart Broad stared at the umpire. He hoped for fortunes to turn in his favour for one last time. Futility for Australia ensued as the team was in desperate need of a wicket, and every baggy green hat worn in the stadium jumped, yelled and appealed.

But Aleem Dar begged to differ. While the entire stadium eagerly waited for him to begin his walk to the dressing room, Broad stayed in his crease. Australia had no reviews remaining and could not appeal against Dar’s horrendous mistake.

From then, the game swung in England’s favour. Stuart Broad went onto setting sail with a flagship partnership with Ian Bell that made all the difference between England and Australia in the match.

In a Test match, where cricket was played in its highest spirits, the controversial umpiring decisions reduced the quality of the game. Reports screamed of how Aleem Dar let go of what appeared more of a shot to first slip than an edge.

Instead of reveling in a time where domestic leagues have begun to thrive and produce several young talents, cricket is being surrounded by fans publicly calling out the mistakes made by those who very well are paid to enforce the rules of the sport.

Following the error by Dar, the Test at Old Trafford witnessed another case of poor human judgment. Usman Khwaja looked nowhere close to being out, yet the officials at the centre and back in the pavilion thought differently.

In a scenario where the batsman appeared to have been correct in reviewing the decision with the third umpire, Khwaja was undeservingly forced to make the unfortunate walk back to the dressing room, having been adjudged “out”.

England were celebrating while Australia continued to be baffled by another case of human misjudgment. Clarke was furious as coach Darren Lehman looked astounded. In total disagreement, the fans of the Baggy Green stared with their hands on their heads.

Cricket today is plagued by enough controversies arising from match-fixing and drug test failures. Adding to that now are the avoidable errors on the pitch where only the officials, and not the players, are to be blamed for.

Australia has not been the only victims of the umpiring fiasco at the Ashes. England too have been at the recieving end of the howlers where Jonathon Trott’s dismissal caused an uproar in the first Test. Having referred the decision to the third umpire, Trott remained adamant that he hit the ball before it hit his pads, but was given “out” by the third umpire Marais Erasmus.

After years when umpires were being credited for their consistency, these past few years have witnessed a downfall in the quality of decision making. After the era of Steve Bucknor, David Shepherd and Simon Taufel, cricket does not hold many umpiring names of repute today.

About a decade ago, cricket, by any means, was not perfect either. Umpires were still making mistakes then, except the fact that they were given less coverage in the media that how it is done now.

While the mistakes were seen more forgivable then, today, with technology by every man’s side, baffling everyone with one wrong decision after another just does not do justice to the sport which is being played for over two centuries.

But why has cricket stooped down to a level where the quality of matches is reduced due to the errors of those behind the stumps and not in front? In a day and age where technology is the key to correcting mistakes that humans commit, why is it that umpires still commit blunders despite clear cut evidence?

England v Australia: 1st Investec Ashes Test - Day Three

These are testing times for the umpires

One of the reasons, as pointed by Simon Taufel in his lecture at the MCC, is how over-reliant the cricketing world has become on technology. According to Taufel, instead of a boon, technology has turned itself into a bane.

With the DRS at the end of every dismissal, third umpires may have become negligent, not using their sense of judgment for rectifying or agreeing with the decision on the pitch. Technology is the sole basis through which they make their decision, getting carried away and overlooking their basic senses.

What perhaps could be additionally stated in favour of Taufel’s opinion is how umpires live in fear of scrutiny since every move on the ground is carefully monitored by millions thanks to technology. Rhetorically speaking, who does not succumb to constant pressure heaped on them in an over-judgmental manner?

To deal with pressure is where neutral umpires could come into play. While the crowds cheer for the two teams taking to the field, there is a possibility that such pressure may not get into the head of a neutral umpire given he does not hold a bias towards any team playing.

But those in the onset of their careers, they may still face the pressure to hold onto their jobs. For this to be rectified, umpires need to be exposed constantly to the routines of their job.

To be an umpire is not the most lucrative job for many. Players plying their trade in the Indian Premier League or the English domestic league receive bigger cash bonuses than several of the game’s top umpires.

Henceforth, marketing the job better or offering more money might be the first real step to get more umpires into the game. The youth needs to find facets that impress them enough to become an umpire – not just a bowler, batsman or even a better paid commentator.

Since the popularity of cricket skyrocketed, rarely did the cricketing fraternity witness a trend in young umpires being recognized for their efforts till the ICC implemented an award in the Annual Awards Ceremony. It might be a time for cricket’s governing council to have an award similar to the Emerging Cricketer of the year – something that could serve as added motivation for the upcoming officials.

Technology might be a useful tool. However, questioning the legitimacy of a decision shouldn’t be more important than the game being played on the cricketing pitch.

There are too many cameras flashing on the ground and umpires would be incredibly lucky to get away with an error.

But for errors to be avoided, ICC needs to mould better and more umpires. It is safe to say we’d rather have a game where the cricket being played is boring, than having two officials in the middle who have no clue about whether they should raise their index finger or shake their head.

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