The parochial crowd at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium kept screaming “cheater...cheater” to let their anger known against Cheteshwar Pujara on the fourth day of Saurashtra’s Ranji Trophy semifinal against Karnataka. Twitter tore apart Pujara, with many Karnataka fans of the opinion that he should have walked after nicking a delivery from R Vinay Kumar to the wicketkeeper when on 34. Umpire Saiyed Khalid did not raise his finger, and Pujara stood his ground. Deep Dasgupta, on air, called it a “huge, huge break for Saurashtra and Pujara.”
Pujara ended the game unbeaten on 131, and had a stand of 214 with Sheldon Jackson. After being 25 for 3, Saurashtra completed the formalities early on the last day to travel to Nagpur to play the final against Vidarbha.
— Thilak Ram (@Thilak_Rama) January 27, 2019
The crowd’s frustration stemmed from the first innings when Pujara was caught behind off Abhimanyu Mithun for 1, but Khalid had thought otherwise. Pujara went on to make 45.
This is how Cheat-Eshwar Pujara is playing. 😂 Karnataka bowlers, have been absolutely Solid. 😎 Got Pujara Out 3 times in 2 innings.@RanjiKarnataka @CricketKsca pic.twitter.com/k3xDK0sdqA — Harish S Itagi (@harishs94) January 27, 2019
Saurashtra alone did not benefit from below average umpiring. Early on the first morning, Mayank Agarwal was plumb in front of the wicket but the umpire had given the decision in his favour. Karnataka had quite a few decisions go their way against Rajasthan in the quarterfinal too. Ronit More, for example, was leg before wicket, but was not given out and added match-defining 97 runs for the last wicket with Vinay.
— Rajesh M B (@rajeshmagnur) January 27, 2019
While LBW calls are subjective, according to one umpire hearing faint edges is a challenge if the wind is blowing in the opposite direction. Similarly, if the batsman is clever enough to shuffle and distract the umpire and not look behind after edging then it becomes even more difficult to make a decision. Such excuses, however, should not be a part of the dictionary at this level.
The standard of umpiring in Indian domestic cricket has been poor for many seasons now. The most popular quote that captures the state of affairs possibly came from Parthiv Patel. Wrongly given out during Gujarat’s Irani Cup clash against Rest of India in 2017-18, the stump microphone caught him saying, “Umpiring karte kyon ho? – why do you even umpire?”
In a provocative essay titled ‘Where are the Indian Umpires?’ for Wisden India Almanack 2016, senior journalist Vijay Lokapally gives an insight into how the profession has evolved in the country. Once a vocation of those who were passionate about cricket, now it is a self-sustainable profession with BCCI doing its bit to ensure the area is not neglected.
There are regular annual exchange programmes with Cricket South Africa, Cricket Australia and England and Wales Cricket Board. Not long after Simon Taufel retired as an ICC Elite Panel umpire in 2012, the board hired him to train officials at the domestic level. It resulted in S Ravi becoming India’s first representative in the Elite Panel – no Indian had reached such height in umpiring since S Venkataraghavan retired in 2004.
C Shamsuddin and Anil Chaudhary were included in the International Panel. BCCI’s relationship with Taufel, however, fell apart in 2016 and now his role is conducted by Indian umpires. BCCI also doubled the match fee of umpires last year to provide more incentive, but someone in the know said that former cricketers are preferring to be coaches than umpires because the challenges are varied. “If you become a coach, you can coach anywhere in the world, but if you get into umpiring, you are stuck in India.”
There are pre-season workshops to make all the umpires aware of playing conditions before they are given assignments, but there is a belief that BCCI could organise more training programmes in order to empower umpires better.
“All umpires in the circuit are self motivated, and sometimes mistakes they make are genuine. But most of the times the errors happen because of lack of concentration,” a source said. “If you are not in the game and thinking of other things, then these problems are bound to happen. It can change with training programmes so that umpires learn more techniques on how to be focussed on the job.”
Syed Saba Karim, BCCI’s general manager for cricket operations admitted that standard of umpiring is a burning issue. “We want to see to it that we are able to develop quality umpires who can become ICC Elite Panel umpires in time to come,” Karim told The Indian Express in a recent interaction. “We have graded all the umpires in Grade A, Grade B, Grade C and Grade D this season and the match referees monitor their performance. The newcomers were put in Grade D. So, there will be promotion and relegation, and third umpires who don’t do well over a period of time will also be weeded out.”
It’s a fair dream, but are there enough umpires to plug the holes? Understandably, this season has been a logistical stretch with 37 teams involved for the first time. There are a total of 2017 matches across age-group and gender, and BCCI was forced to reschedule a few games due to lack of umpires. Nothing has been done yet to address the issue for next season. As per the process, an aspirant has to clear Level 1, Level 1 refresher and Level 2 courses before being eligible to officiate in board matches. This cycle can be anywhere between one to two years. The call for Level 1 course for a fresh set of umpires is yet to happen, which means the only way more officials can be added to the pool for 2019-20 is if the entire process is expedited and completed within the next six months.
Another complaint among umpires is that there is no transparency in the system of gradation. In November, Group C umpires who were ranked 1 to 4 were allocated Ranji matches for December, but those from No 5 to 32 did not get games, while those from No 33 to 35 made the cut out of a total of 110 umpires.
“The gradation should be transparent, which is not the case right now,” said one umpire. “When it is not fair, the issue keeps running in the head of the good umpires who have done a fair job and are expecting promotion but are not getting it.”
One school of thought is that Indian umpires will get better if they are centrally contracted by the BCCI as it will make them more accountable. The issue there though is that most of the umpires have jobs with either the state or central government. The benefits that they get from that job is far superior than what BCCI could offer. How many will be willing to forego that for BCCI contract, and also is the board open to the idea of giving all the 120 umpires a central contract?
There are no easy answers to the questions, but the onus clearly lies on BCCI to work as fast as possible towards improving the country’s umpiring standards. Or else there will be more chants of “cheater...cheater” and it is completely unfair for the players to be burdened with someone else’s shortcomings.