We are less than 10 matches into the 12th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and more than the towering sixes and searing yorkers, umpiring howlers have hogged headlines.
Two days after a ‘Mankading’ controversy erupted, IPL was rocked by a glaring umpiring error in the final ball of the clash between Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Mumbai Indians.
With seven needed to win from one ball – an equation that was arrived at only because of Jasprit Bumrah – Lasith Malinga sent down a fantastic loopy low full toss to deny Shivam Dube and RCB.
As Mumbai Indians celebrated in front of a dejected Bengaluru crowd, the screen showed Lasith Malinga overstepping off the final ball, much to the angst of RCB players and fans. An animated Ashish Nehra and a furious Virat Kohli protested but the intractable cricketing rules do not allow for the ball to be re-bowled under such circumstances.
"“We are playing at the IPL level. It’s not club level, the umpires should have their eyes open. That was a big no-ball.”" - Virat Kohli, RCB Captain
"Honestly, I just got to know after crossing the rope that it was a no-ball. These kinds of mistakes aren't good for the game,” the opposition skipper, Rohit Sharma, agreed.
A right call from the umpire – Sundaram Ravi, who is incidentally the only Indian umpire in ICC's Elite Panel for years now – would have seen Dube’s single bring AB de Villiers, batting on 70 off 41 balls, on strike for a free-hit off the final ball with five runs to win. We aren’t soothsayers but the odds aren’t heavily stacked against de Villiers in this scenario given the way he was batting.
RCB were in their right to fume about the decision. Rohit Sharma was also quick to remind everyone that Mumbai were forced to bowl an extra ball in the previous over when CK Nandan deemed an outside off-stump yorker from Jasprit Bumrah as a wide despite it being well within the line.
This isn’t the first time the umpires have come under scrutiny this IPL. In Kolkata’s home game against Kings XI Punjab, Robin Uthappa had lobbed the ball to Andre Russell after the batsmen had run a single but Russell lost it in the lights, and the ball which raced to the fence was ruled as a boundary by the umpires despite there being a valid case for the ball to have been dead by the time Uthappa threw it.
The IPL has been fraught with such errors in the past too. Last season, the multitude of errors forced Rajiv Shukla, the IPL chairman, to ask referees to speak to umpires about being vigilant. Incidentally, a few years back, Ravi, the umpire in discussion, had claimed the umpiring standards in the country have improved after IPL came.
“They get to work with elite umpires and referees from different countries. They get to interact with international players, coaches, support staff and other stakeholders. All these things have made Indian umpires better. If you make an error, it will be highlighted, technology will expose you at some stage or the other. You should be prepared for that, learn from that error and move on. You can’t do much about it,” Ravi said then.
But that hasn’t stopped Ravi from making myriad errors, including missing a whopping 40% of no-balls bowled by Sri Lankan spinner, Lakshan Sandakan, in a session of a Test match in November 2018 against England. More recently, in the largely unnoticed series between Afghanistan and Ireland in India, Ravi made a series of blunders which left the Irish community hot under the collar.
The standard of Indian umpiring has come under scrutiny several times but with umpires under pressure to get LBWs and nicks spot on due to the presence of technologies like DRS, HotSpot and Hawk-eye, the bowler over-stepping is often missed. While the norm has been to check for a front-foot no-ball only if the batsman is dismissed, with several technology at disposal, shouldn’t these no-balls be checked and called out too before the next ball is bowled?
Harsha Bhogle and South African skipper, Faf du Plessis, suggested after the incident that the third umpire can check the no-ball in the few seconds before the next ball is bowled.
If it is a no-ball, the same can be conveyed to the on-field umpire through an ear-piece. This is as basic as it can get. There are also several technologies available which uses sensors to identify where the bowler has landed his foot and calls out a no-ball then and there.
This incident will hasten the process of checking the line on every ball bowled. Before the next ball is bowled, the 3rd umpire checks the legality of the previous one. Won't hold up play, there are locked off cameras anyway, will only take a few secs while normal activity is on.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) March 28, 2019
Technology should be used much more often in cricket ... so many front foot no-balls missed all the time in all formats and only checked on dismissal. Should be as simple as 3rd umpire telling the umpire through ear piece that a no ball has been bowled.— Faf Du Plessis (@faf1307) March 28, 2019
Like the line-calling system in Tennis, cricket needs a revamp in this dark area that has denied teams a fair chance to win. At more impactful moments, it even denies teams of a dream like it unfolded for Scotland in the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe in 2018. Kyle Coetzer’s side were chasing 199 for a win and a World Cup place against West Indies and were on 125/5 when rain came pouring down. With play not resuming and no extra day available, they lost by the DLS system.
However, earlier, Richard Berrington on 33 was wrongly adjudged LBW by the on-field umpire. With no DRS available, the decision stood and Scotland lost an additional wicket. If they had been only four wickets down at the time rain came, they would have been ahead by the DLS system and edged Windies to the 2019 cricket World Cup.
With enough technology available, such costly errors affect a team’s chances and deny fans of a much-better, fairer, spectacle. The latest umpiring howler in the IPL, one among a series of massive blunders over the years, should bring umpiring back into focus and increase the level of scrutiny on the on-field judges. The umpires actually undergo an evaluation process where captains and match referees give feedbacks on the umpiring in a particular game immediately at the end of the match. This is then cumulated over the tournament and ranked.
However, how this evaluation affects a particular umpire at the end of the tournament is unclear. A more evident, transparent system with focus on quality of umpiring is the need of the hour as is the elevation of technology to intervene if an unfair decision ensues.
(Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @imRohit_SN)
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