Bengaluru, June 8: It seems we have learnt nothing from history. After a shocking performance in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year, the umpires failed to find the magical wand that would have turned around their reputation as true custodians of the game.
On Thursday (June 6) as the West Indies battled and threatened defending champions Australia in their crucial World Cup match at Trent Bridge, Chris Gaffaney, an umpire from New Zealand, did something grave that cost the Caribbeans dearly.
The 43-year-old umpire overlooked a massive no-ball bowled by left-arm seamer Mitchell Starc to Chris Gayle and in the very next ball which was supposed to be a free-hit, the Caribbean big-hitter was trapped leg before. There were also occasions where the umpires’ decisions (Sri Lankan Ruchira Palliyaguruge was the other one) were proved to be wrong by the reviews and West Indian all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite had with frustration later that they had used up their reviews almost every time to correct the umpires’ calls.
Poor umpiring decisions have always been a part of the game but the way things have deteriorated at all levels over the last few months, the worry will only snowball. There are serious calls now to bring the third umpire into play more often and at this rate, the first two umpires’ relevance is only going to be lesser.
We are at a stage where both the human and machine are doing it by half in umpiring. First, we have the human element that takes a call and when suspected, it’s the machine (DRS) that takes over.
Are we leaving a big loophole there by not going fully one way? With the advent of the DRS that has given the players a second lifeline to get justice, the human umpiring has certainly seen a fall in significance. Is that making the on-field umpires less serious about the job? Or are they overburdened with the growing complexities of the game? Nostalgia might prevent an overnight replacement of human umpires with robots on the ground but something needs to be done urgently.
Technically, there could be some pressing problems. Past umpires were seen more animated in their work. Just like the footwork of the batsmen or the bowlers, the umpires too used to make technical movements (like bringing the eyes at the stump level as did Swaroop Kishen to follow things more closely and hence trying to be more accurate).
Umpires nowadays are more static in their positioning, using their eyeballs more. But the 'look down-up-sideways’ is not always easy and with the coming of the DRS, perhaps the umpires are trying to take less pressure on themselves thinking that there is always the DRS to fall back on.
Gaffaney was fortunate that his blunder hadn’t come against a team like India or England and a gentle-natured West Indies were at the receiving point. Had it been some bigger nation with a noisier following, Gaffaney’s goof-up would have led to some serious consequences.