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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

When everybody is a loser

India is on the brink of defeat. Barring a miracle or rain, the Aussies should sweep aside any Indian resistance tomorrow and go one-up in the series.

I have been witness to many Indian defeats in the past. Normally I would rationalize this one also along typical grounds – the Aussies outplayed India and so are deserving winners.

But why do I find it so difficult to do it this time ? Why is this defeat going to be so hard to take ? Why am I so upset with this game ?

The reason is simple. In my humble opinion, this game was never allowed to develop into quite the game it could and should have been.

The Indian team may be way out of form and struggling with injuries but it is still the only team that, in Tests, tends to take on the Aussies head-on. India may struggle against other teams but when it comes to Australia it somehow manages to raise its level. For that reason alone, the India-Australia series has something special about it. For months the series has been discussed in various forums, with heavy speculation on all fronts – about the results (will Australia finally conquer this "final frontier" ? ), player reputations (will Warne, at least this time, prove his many Indian detractors wrong ?), . The last series saw an Australia without McGrath and Warne – this time, although Ponting is missing at the start of the series, Australia is at virtually full-strength.

So much is expected from this series and the curtain-raiser at Bangalore would have been the perfect start for answering many of these questions.

The game itself has seen many good performances. In spite of huge concerns before the game, the pitch has played reasonably steady. Batsmen have managed to get runs if they have applied themselves and there has been quite a bit for the bowlers too.

But then why do I have this sick feeling in my stomach ? Simply because, somewhere in the back of my mind, I feel we did not see a pure game of cricket – a contest between bat and ball. We have been made to witness an adulterated version – where the contest was between bat, ball and luck. Sure, luck is an integral part of the game but not the luck that is at the discretion of the two men out there in the middle. They have no business dispensing luck, it is their duty to manage the proceedings and to announce the occurrence of an event, not create it. The event is that somebody gets out, the umpire is just suppose to announce it with his sign-language. He is most definitely not supposed to create the event !

This is not the first time that the quality of umpiring has been a heated subject of discussion in a game. With improved technology available today, umpiring decisions are subject to scrutiny like never before. Umpires are therefore under a lot of pressure and, being human, do err. (I do not for one moment subscribe to an increasingly vociferous viewpoint that certain umpires are biased towards certain players and teams. Maybe it is the idealist in me or something else but I feel that umpires are indeed neutral – it is just that the decisions they need to take sometimes demand extraordinary human abilities. Was it a bat-pad or only pad, was that just movement of the ball or was there a nick, would that ball have gone on to hit the stumps or just missed it ? To do this for 90 overs in a day – yes, you could easily get the odd one wrong).

Having said that and fully understanding the complexity of the task, I am afraid I cannot find myself justifying their errors – for one main reason. We have an alternative. Technology. It is available in many areas now and can be used to help the umpire take the right decision. There is nothing to be defensive about. Nobody is threatening the umpiring profession. And yet the game has been slow in adopting technology. Why ? I really don't know. After all, all we want is better decisions – and who would argue with that ? And yes, if you feel machine should not take over man, by all means let the man have the final say.

If the umpire is having a tough time and gives a wrong decision, spare a thought for the batsman who is the victim of the decision. Think of the bowler who has worked hard and finds he has to start all over again because of the wrong decision. Think of the impact on the game in question. Think on the impact on the game of cricket.

Today things have gone too far for me. No excuse like "it evens out at the end of the day" will help. I don't care whether the decisions were totally against India or totally against Australia or evened out.

I would much rather see India being thrashed by Australia for a poor performance. At least then I know they were totally outplayed – and deserved to be thrashed.

Now, I will have this lingering "what-if" feeling – about Sehwag (second innings), Chopra (both innings), Langer (first innings), Pathan (first innings), Patel (second innings). Maybe even if the decisions had been different, the result of the game may have been the same. But for me it is not the same. There are question marks – and that bothers me.

Australia would not have liked to win this way. McGrath, Clarke (what a debut !), Katich have all done excellently in this game. As has Harbhajan. Each of these needs to be remembered whenever this game is talked about. But no, all of this will be brushed aside. This game is now in danger of being remembered for one thing and one thing alone – the appalling quality of umpiring, the number of dubious decisions and the sheer bad taste this has left in the mouths of millions.

We still have three Tests to go. If we do not want this series to be referred to as the "umpiring" series (in the same vein as the infamous "bodyline" series which side-tracked a lot of genuine performances in that series) , we need to ensure no repeat of this , for the rest of the series. Umpiring cannot be allowed to take the series hostage. If it is too early to talk about making dramatic changes in the process, fine – then get the best umpires in the business - RIGHT NOW. Otherwise, the chance for one of the most exciting spectacles in Test cricket will be lost. On the contrary, it will only leave bad memories of the series.

My being Indian exposes me to remarks like "He cannot take defeat and is indulging in India's favourite pastime – finding fault with the umpires". Frankly, I couldn't care less ! I know how much respect I have for umpires - I have always stood by them. I don't have to prove this to anybody.

I have seen many defeats over 30 years – this could well have been just another one. But it is not – today has gone too far - and that is the only reason for this blog.

India is not the only loser today. Cricket is the bigger loser. And that is why I am sick in the stomach !

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