In one of the recent Indian Premier League (IPL) matches, the on-field umpires faced criticism as the same batsman took guard for facing the first ball of a new over after he had hit the last ball of the previous one for a boundary.
In normal circumstances, the batsman who faces the last ball of an over takes guard for the first ball of the next over only if odd number of runs are completed off the last ball or if there is a run out wherein he reaches the other end.
Since the last ball was hit for a boundary, the non-striker should have faced the first ball of next over.
What one found surprising in this regard was that this mistake went unnoticed by the opposing side, the scorers, and the third and reserve umpire as well as the match referee.
These days, when there exists facility for instant communication between the on- and off-field umpires as well as the match referee there should not have been any difficulty in informing the field umpires about their mistake and take corrective action before the next ball was bowled. Thus, one found that a mistake of the type, which does not happen even in an inter-class match in school, took place in the IPL, one of the most prestigious tournaments hosted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the richest and most powerful body in world cricket.
Umpiring mistakes are part and parcel of any game and cricket has been no exception. One remembers the Sydney Test between Australia and India in January, 2008, when the otherwise dependable Steve Bucknor had a terrible match. The only surprising factor then was that all his mistakes went against India. But all the errors made by Bucknor pertained to decisions on the field that involved appeals made by the fielding side.
Or, in other words, they all were on the short question of whether the batsmen concerned were to be declared 'out' or 'not out.'
This is an area where human beings are liable to make mistakes occasionally and it is accepted that even umpires could have bad days.
Players may protest when umpires make mistakes but they understand that such instances are to be taken in their stride, if they are convinced about the fairness and expertise of the officials involved.
But in this instance, the mistake was not on the issue of deciding an appeal. This was something more elementary, where no umpire, who has read the rules of the game, should make a mistake.
The BCCI selects only the best umpires in world cricket for officiating in IPL matches. Since these matches are only for a total of 40 overs duration and the playing conditions are overwhelmingly in favor of the batsmen, the pressure and strain on umpires are much less than in longer duration matches played on under-prepared tracks, where bowlers find assistance.
Moreover, these matches are played in the evenings and so one cannot place the blame on difficult climatic conditions as well. So what could have gone wrong for such senior and experienced umpires to commit a blunder that would have put even a rookie to shame?
Further, it should also not be forgotten that this gaffe involved not just one, but both umpires on the field, the off-field umpire, the match referee, scorers, and the opposing side, all of who are professionals playing in the IPL on payment of huge fees.
What could have caused such a huge blunder involving so many professionals? Was it merely a momentary lapse of concentration on the part of the officials involved? Or is there something more serious than that at work? It could not have been the former as it is extremely unlikely that a lapse of concentration would have hit all the officials together at the same time.
It is more likely that this elementary mistake happened because none of the officials and the players were involved with the game being played, but were, instead, merely going through the motions. Thus, this appears to be a symptom of a deeper malaise that plagues the IPL.
The IPL was designed, marketed and commissioned by the BCCI as a complete entertainment package where cricket, in its shortest format (T20 version) took the center stage, surrounded by many other events. Gradually a stage was reached where cricket lost the prime position and other events started gaining more attention and importance.
The spot-fixing scandal that shocked the nation in 2013 was a direct fallout of this development. Despite the Supreme Court ordered changes in the functioning of the BCCI, the winds of change have not hit the IPL and its conduct, as yet. Though there are so many matches involving highly paid cricketers being played, it is extremely unfortunate that very few people are seriously concerned about the quality of cricket being dished out.
The IPL has also spawned a new breed of spectators who are more focused on the players and their antics and the fun and frolic happening on the sidelines, than on the cricket being played in the middle. When the game itself takes a back seat, it is only natural that such instances, which speak of lesser effort on the part of officials, also occur.
Life is all about finding the right balance. There needs to be the right balance between commercialization and the spirit of the game when it comes to cricket. Unfortunately, in IPL, commercialization has taken the upper hand and the game has suffered in consequence. It is high time the BCCI took steps to restore this balance and bring the game back to its rightful place. Unless that happens, blunders of the type described above would keep recurring.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)