In a different analogy and in a different context, Rudyard Kipling’s strongly-worded message on the burdens of the White Man can be synonymously linked to the burdens that the white-attired middle-aged men go through whilst on the cricket field.
No, we are not talking of the strains that Test cricketers in their mid-thirties have to bear, but instead, we focus on the oft-forgotten figures of the umpires, standing amidst twenty-two lively players in the field, who have been told that their role in the game is unmatched and unparalleled- that the game can not go on without them.
‘Forgotten figures’ I say so, but only until the game has been proceeding glitch-free, sans any controversial decisions or errors. ‘Forgotten figures’, when the aggressive banter has threatened to reach the zenith and the focus pans from one fielder to another almost in a slow-motion track. ‘Forgotten figures’, when the excitement levels are at the pinnacle, with the audience nervously anticipating the next delivery of the match with bated breath.
Trent Boult runs into bowl a full and wide delivery in the first T20 match between India and New Zealand, aiming at Rohit Sharma, who tries hard to push the ball towards the covers but misses. The delivery is pounced on by wicket-keeper Tom Latham, who goes up in appeal for a catch.
It is time. Time for the ‘forgotten figures’ to finally find their footing in the game. But, when the time arrives for their calling, umpire Nitin Menon seems as clueless as any spectator present at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi. In a daze, he goes up to the third umpire Anil Chaudhary, who has a good look at the replays and goes on with the green signal- Not Out.
— Mokka Page (@MokkaPage) November 1, 2017
Baffled, New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson refutes the decision passed on to him and this time goes in for a player’s review, sure that Rohit had indeed nicked the ball. The whole process is repeated, but this time Chaudhary utilizes the option of the ultra edge, which clearly indicates a spike. He overturns his own decision and the red signal is on air- Out.
Wait, what just transpired? Why didn’t the third umpire use the ultra edge in the first trial itself? In a clear case of comedy of errors, which was more erratic then comical, why was Chaudhary’s decision so confusing? Was it because he just forgot and prayed that the Kiwis don’t take a second review and question his decision, only to be left red-faced when Williamson indeed challenged him? As the murmurs became loud whispers, the ‘forgotten figures’ became the talk of the town and even the nation, being dissected and discussed with blatant cruelty. “What was their use, if they had to make wrong decisions even after the use of technology. Cricket is better off without them.” For a while, it wouldn’t have been wrong to state that Chaudhary would have wanted to escape into the depths, a world where he would be forgotten; his error forgiven.
In the middle of “whys” and “whats”, one should carefully try to unwrap the layers hidden underneath the decision-makers of the game- a hectic schedule, the best of technology and intense scrutiny have all led to a phase where umpiring, which to many just entails standing and adjudging out or not out, has reached its toughest phase.
One talks of the gruelling calendars of the cricketers overlooking the fact that a group of twelve umpires, that currently feature in the ICC Elite Panel, have to officiate the increasing number of games and thus have to be on the road for more than 200 days a year, lonely and sans the amusing company of their teammates. The umpires often lead lives away from the limelight, only to be thrust into it in erroneous moments.
From one format to the other, the no-ball missed or even one judgement or appeal upheld can inversely impact the fortunes of the game, the tournament or the rankings. To be at their best of alertness, the stamina, concentration levels, mental strength and focus all are put to test. However, it all comes crashing to nought in the event of a wrong decision made. The hours spent meditating are questioned, with the umpiring standards being doubted and a general assumption formulated that the umpires are mere puppets at the hands of technology.
They call upon the umpire’s review, even for no-balls. They rarely make a decision with conviction in themselves. They know that if they fail, the TV footage will back them up. And so on and so forth go on the blabberings with such belief that even the umpires themselves question their place in the game. But does this remain a fair assumption?
Till even a decade ago, when the umpire was indeed considered at the helm on the field, each decision rested with the men in white. Wrong decisions were made and committed, but at the end, it all added to the beauty of the sport. The sly smile when a batsman of the opposition was wrongly given out was replaced by chants of ‘karma’ when your player was accorded with a wrong decision. Umpires were human and the game very much so.
With the advent of the Umpiring Decision Review System (DRS) and the International Cricket Council’s desperate attempts to combine human efforts with technology, with neither being fool-proof, what we are witnessing is an interdependence of the two. Leg Before Wickets are often left to the Umpire’s Call and the umpires, in turn, resort to referrals, because if they do not and if it the decision is indeed a wrong one, they would rarely be spared.
In a confused mindset and with the insane demands of hundred percent accuracy levels, the umpires often remain flustered and perplexed.
Yes, the glaring and shocking regions are prevalent, but then, who is to say that they did not exist before?
Gone are the days when Billy Bowden’s crooked finger or David Shepherd’s dancing skills at Nelson were awaited and enjoyed. All that remains now, are the bunch of middle-aged men attired in white, carrying the burdens of the changing demands of the game, trying their best to eradicate flaws and attain perfection.