January 7, 2008 11:33pm CST
It is a great pity that a cricket test of high quality and drama, between India and Australia at Sydney was blighted by incompetent umpiring and hyper-gamesmanship. With the shorter forms of the gamen gaining in popularity at the expense of the classical edition, Test Cricket needed an uplifting India-Australia series, replete with the big deeds, nuance and intense, entertaining action. Instead, at the end of the second test, not only had the fate of the Border Gavaskar Trophy been settled; the focus had also shifted from a thrilling battle between bat and ball to umpiring competence and player behaviour. This is not to say that Australia's record-tying 16th win was born of conspiracy, as some with umpiring decisions, playing fine cricket at crucial moments; and the umpiring of Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor was poor through the match. But there can be little question how the balance of umpiring incompetence went: eight poor decisions against India to four tagged, Anil Kumble's side - thanks to the young, talented R.P. SIng and the great batting oldies, in particular V.V.S Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar - dictated play to Australia during several phases, offering a spirited insight into why India is the only Test team that has threatened and overcome the world champion both at home and away in the last seven years. The International Cricket Council (ICC) needs to find innovative ways to raise the quality of its umpires. The augmentation of the Elite Panel of umpires from eight to eleven was a sound step: eight was a woefully inadequate number to keep up with the volume of cricket. But the ICC's biggest challenge relates to the use of technology. It has adopted a policy of hastening slowly, in the words of Sunil Gavaskar, the chairman of its cricket committee. Errors of judgement are more severely shown up these days, compounding the pressure on umpires. The ICC must investigate of the technology available is adequate to empower its umpires - the proposal to test the feasibility of a system of referrals, as has now been adopted in tennis, is a step in the right direction. Much of the unpleasantness witness during the Sydney Test was a product of the interaction between incompetent umpiring and hyper-gamesmanship. The informal agreement between the captains ahead of the series was to play 'fair and hard' cricket; when there was a question whether a catch was grounded, the skipper of the fielding team would ask the fielder whether he took it cleanly, would let the umpire know, and that would be that. Unfortunately, the ideal of players taking responsibililty has not worked in practice. The Andrew Symonds-Harbhajan Singh altercation had, ofcourse, nothing to do with umpiring. The allegation of racist abuse is serious and hyper-patriotism on this issue serves no purpose. The Indian Board has decided to appeal against the three-match ban imposed on the Indian spinner by the ICC. The question must be settled strictly on the basis of the quality and reliability of the evidence that led to the South African match referee finding Harbhajan guilty of a level 3.3 offence.