Hamilton defeat and Wellington result shouldn't worry India

Veturi Srivatsa

The defeat in the fourth One-Day International (ODI) at Hamilton may have raised a question or two about Indias batting on juicy pitches and the importance of Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, both of whom did not play in the match.

Twitterati is always impatient, judging players from match to match. After the batting collapse at Hamilton, people suddenly started worrying about the middle-order and the failure of Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav, forgetting the number of matches the three have helped India win.

In the third contest, Karthik and Rayudu shared an unbroken 82-run fourth-wicket stand and Jadhav came up with wickets at critical junctures to give India an unassailable 3-0 lead.

Some of the dismissals, though, came in for scrutiny for the choice of shots. But then the batsmen got away with such audacious shots and looked exciting when they got them past the fielder.

Neither the Hamilton result nor Sunday's fifth and last match in Wellington should make any difference to the eventual composition of India's World Cup squad.

The issue still to be sorted out is whether they should have a fourth pacer in the form of Umesh Yadav, or for variety a left-arm pacer, or opt for an extra batsman.

There is near unanimity that Rishabh Pant is a must and that will leave Rayudu and Karthik in a toss-up. All three should be given opportunities to press their claims by playing them in the five-match series against Australia at home.

Likewise, Umesh Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed or Mohammed Siraj should be tried out unless Kohli and the national selectors plump for Vijay Shankar for his batting or a specialist batsman. If the selectors go by India A coach Rahul Dravid's preference, then his namesake Lokesh Rahul should get the nod.

There is still a month to go for the Australians to arrive and the permutations and combinations will be discussed and not everyone will be satisfied with that odd selection.

The day the Indians play their last ODI in Wellington, the focus will also be on the Ranji Trophy final, starting on Sunday, in Nagpur between reigning champions Vidarbha and Saurashtra.

Ahead of the final, the talking point is not how well Cheteshwar Pujara and Sheldon Jackson carried Saurashtra through with their 214-run fourth-wicket stand from 23 for 3, chasing 279, but how the prolific Pujara was got away with a clear caught-behind decision when he was on 34.

That was not the first major goof-up by an umpire but also won't be the last. Karnataka, who were so agitated, will also admit that they, too, benefited by questionable umpiring decisions in the earlier games. That's how one gets the rub of the green in sport.

That one particular decision Karnataka feels robbed them of playing the final, having lost to champions Vidarbha by five runs in the semi-final last year. The decision also triggered a debate whether the richest cricket body in the world should have DRS at least for the knockout rounds.

The moot point is how come substandard umpires qualify in the first place as they are supposed to get through three levels of refresher course before getting hired by the board. There are 120 umpires and the number is inadequate thanks to the Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee which has thrown open first-class cricket including teams from the northeast. With more matches in domestic calendar, the matches at the age-group level had to be rescheduled because of the shortage of umpires.

It is not that the board doesn't make effort or spend money to improve the quality of umpiring. It conducts off-season workshops for umpires, inviting eminent men like Simon Taufel, one of the top umpires of the world, to speak to them.

The problem is that umpiring is no longer a passion for people who played some grade of cricket. Now it's a full-scale profession with handsome pay. Unscrupulous officials in every state association have been promoting incompetent men as umpires. Some even go through to officiate at the international level because of their godfathers. Some of them were badly exposed and were thrown out. Unfortunately, a couple of top-class cricketers also failed to make the grade.

When the umpiring decisions are being questioned, the umpires' remuneration has been doubled. Top 20 umpires on the roster get paid Rs 40,000 a day and the remaining Rs 30,000 with a daily allowance of Rs 15,000 a day for outstation umpires and Rs 1,000 for others. The people who sit in judgment over the umpires are all former first-class cricketers and they get paid Rs 30,000 a day.

There have been umpires who continued to officiate at the top level despite fitness issues, doctoring or suppressing the medical reports. These umpires were placed in key positions in key organisations and had been running errands for the board officials.

Before someone asks for a major inquiry by a retired judge into the appointment of umpires, the board must tighten the selection process now that the men in white and coloured clothing are paid so handsomely.

Once the DRS is introduced the incompetent umpires will not get away with murder.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at sveturi@gmail.com)

--IANS

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