The recently concluded Women's World Cup — that came to a close a few days before the 272nd anniversary of the first recorded women’s cricket match — was a landmark moment in the sport’s history.
But as the World Cup hangover starts to wear off and as an afterthought, it is time to ponder about whether it was fair.
The result or the spirit with which the tournament was played by the cricketers isn’t in question, perhaps, some of the ways with which the whole tournament was conducted, is.
The question is about a fair game that these hardworking, competitive and professional cricketers deserve. The question is to the people running the show. Giving the tournament “Who Runs The World” tag might look great for advertisement but doesn’t really count for anything when a lot of basic things aren’t accounted for.
Let’s jump right into it. When The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) announced via its media release before the start of the women’s world cup that this would be the turning point in the history of Women’s cricket, as they hiked the prize money, provided live telecast across the world for 10 matches, live online streaming for every match, debut of four women umpires in World Cup and so on. All seemed hunky-dory.
Until the viewers saw it for themselves (of course, online) the repercussions of not having a television umpire in the pinnacle event in Women’s cricket. With the men’s cricket having a TV umpire ever since the year 1992 it seemed like a basic requirement to have it at least in a global tournament.
25 years is a long time. It is longer than Sachin Tendulkar’s career, the first man to be given out by the third umpire. and in less than 25 years he represented India in 200 Tests. 25 years ago, the current Indian captain, Mithali Raj was still 7 years away from making her international debut and India’s opener Smriti Mandhana wasn't even born.
Since only 10 matches (including 2 semi-finals and finals) enjoyed broadcast out of 31 games, there wasn't enough video support to have a third umpire without which the tournament was marred by inconsistency and wrong decisions. The first of those several decisions that didn’t end correctly occurred on the 3rd day of the tournament itself.
West Indies’ batter Chedean Nation survived a run out call. Standing at the square leg umpire was one of the four women umpire, Kathy Cross, thought the batter made her ground and ruled it not out. Sure, Cross would have loved to have another look or probably wished her eyes could record 1000 frames per second. But, it wasn’t to be as the decision was ruled against the Aussies. Fortunately for Australia, the decision didn’t turn out to be decisive. In the end, they won the match by 8 wickets.
However, South Africa didn’t have the rub of the green when England’s Sarah Taylor survived a close run out call. She was batting on 32 and after completing her first run she dashed for the second when the runout appeal was turned down by the umpire at the square leg. The incident took place in a round-robin match against South Africa. Taylor went on to score 147 when her side posted a record 373 on the board. The Proteas lost that match by 68 runs.
However, the one that really hurt the South African’s was when Australia’s Alex Blackwell’s direct hit was ruled against South Africa’s all rounder Marizanne Kapp by on-field umpire Chris Brown. While the replays showed she had made her ground.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, "Throughout this whole tournament with the streaming and having all these nice things around, you kind of see what we've been missing – that's very important to have," South Africa’s skipper, Dan van Niekerk said.
"When I checked it from our area, her (Kapp’s) hands were in before it even hit the stumps. That was a changing moment in the game because she was hitting it really well. Maybe something would've changed there.”
From the opposition, Australia’s Ellyse Perry said, “"We've got the streaming facilities. I'm not a tech expert but potentially if there was a way of setting that (TV Umpire) up, I think that'd be great going forward.”
Both the players agreed upon the fact that humans are susceptible to mistakes, and sympathised with the on-field umpire, who didn’t enjoy the luxury of TV review.
They were other instances involving Deepti Sharma and Merissa Aguilleira who benefited and paid the price of Third umpire’s absence. Mind you, these are instances only where TV umpire was needed, there were more decisions which could have challenged via DRS.
Thus, depriving sports person to indulge in an honest game and robbing them of something as basic as a TV umpire doesn’t sound right. The counter argument has always been there are not enough watchers of the sport. The technology is expensive, it comes at a cost and there are no takers (sponsors/broadcasters) who are willing to telecast the game, does not stand like a plausible rationale.
However, if that is the case the governing body should figure a way around it. Probably the allocation of resources can be changed and channelised in the direction of ensuring there is air-time and the required equipment, set up and personnel making it equitable.
Reminder: A quarter of a century has passed since TV umpires have been there for all international matches in Men’s cricket, there can surely be a way to overcome an age old technology barrier.
Fewer low specs cameras are required for capturing visuals for the live streaming. For television, multiple high specs cameras are required and as the match wasn't broadcasted, the mid wicket cameras fetched the visuals for live streaming. So as there is no arrangement for it to be televised, an umpire cannot make a conclusive decision, from the 'mid-wicket' cameras used for live streaming through which the viewers can enjoy all the action, replays and highlights on their tabs and phones. The move is certainly more user-friendly, but it beats the point for the actual people participating in it and sweating it out on the ground. Sounds preposterous.
No one is naive enough to not know about the discrimination and disparity existing between male and female sports personalities, but depriving them of technology, which has been available for more than two and half decades for every game, including some inconsequential bilateral series compared to a marquee women’s tournament that occurs once in four years is appalling.
Decision review System in Tennis isn’t and Goal Line Technology (used in FIFA Women’s World cup 2015) wasn’t available for just a few matches. Albeit a like for like comparison would have been Cricket’s DRS to Goal Line Technology, but not having something that has been in practice for more than two decades, that too which has featured regularly in Men’s cricket showcases how deep and wide the abyss is. Imagine a competitive football match without a fourth official or a Tennis without a line umpire for a few games.
What is astonishing is that the technology gets better with the stage of the tournament, while the situation gets worse. According to ICC’s media release the final at The Lord’s had all the state-of-the-art, beau monde technologies from spidercam to drone to 8 hawk-eye ultra-motion was available.
That appears to have been the ICC’s way of saying "Let them eat brioche".
But, here, we are talking about competitive cricketers. And they deserve better. Certainly not a game where a split second motion is to be decided on, “it seems like out to me, so I will give it out.” or taking the word from the fielder. They strive for each run, each wicket and there is hours and years of full-time commitment, practice and dedication involved.
These cricketers put in the hard yards in training. They put their bodies, minds, and soul on the line whenever they are playing. They play hard. And now it is high time to provide them all that is required so that they can play fair.