Gaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
For every leader that inspires, there is one who derails. Power can enrich but also cripple. A demagogue can benefit his constituents but chooses instead to stifle them. He snarls and intimidates. And bulldozes reason with grotesque brutality. Sometimes the powerful are unreasonable for no reason, other than to display that power. Nobility is sanguine and soft. Ferociously protecting an unjust cause is often the injection to reaffirm superiority.
Watching Harbhajan Singh given out LBW at Trent Bridge was a reminder of how the BCCI has succeeded in reducing the governance of a great game to a farce. While umpire Erasmus made a shocking error, his mistake was down to human frailty. The Indian cricket board in that moment had blood on its hands. Because it had tampered with the playing conditions and left cricket's devoted followers confused and bewildered.
This was a situation waiting to happen. After all, no sane observer of the game could understand why LBWs were kept out of the purview of the DRS altogether for this series. Surely we knew a batsman would be given out off an inside edge and trudge off feeling hard done by? Surely we knew that could well turn out to be a match turning moment? Surely even the timid ICC, that masquerades as the game's governing body, recognized how a scenario of this kind would make them look foolish? Even if ball-tracking was unreliable, someone should have insisted LBWs off the inside edge or those given to balls pitching outside leg stump should be up for review. But no said the BCCI. Yes sir said the ICC. And after a little bit of grumbling the home board threw up its hands in exasperation and played along. Order restored, until Stuart Broad picked up an undeserving wicket.
To make the argument about the standard of umpiring every time an incident points towards the usefulness of technology is deeply flawed. Poor umpiring has been part of the game ever since it came into being. Just like poor shot selection, poor deliveries, poor catching and poor tactics. Sport is played by human beings who are far from perfect. They make poor choices and poor decisions. It is what makes sport compelling. Excellence is wonderful to watch, frailty is sometimes equally absorbing.
However while players often emerge smarter and more determined from their own mistakes, the errors of those officiating are harder to swallow. An umpiring howler, made by a human being just as the players are, is often the cause of much heart-burn. Had Harbhajan not edged the ball onto his pad and was given out he would have studied his technique while tackling that delivery. Now he would have stormed into the dressing room and let fly a few choice ones directed at Erasmus. As technology has improved to provide us substantially better coverage of cricket, it has also cruelly exposed howlers umpires make. So for a sport to embrace a system to rectify those mistakes in an instant must be welcomed, not brushed aside.
The argument about the standard of umpiring is also a convenient diversion. And extremely dangerous. It places a helpless individual, restricted from offering his defense by the strict guidelines of his employer, in the direct line of fire. A virulent media, fanatic fans and cunning administrators make him the singular target of abuse. And once the dust settles it is only the individual who is scarred. The changes needed in playing conditions aren't made, much to the delight of the powerful men who have seized control the game.
I remember being in Sydney at the start of 2008 when Steve Bucknor made a few blunders that impacted the ultimate result. In retrospect, his portrayal as the villain of the piece was merciless and wrong. Here was an official with an excellent track record virtually hounded out because of one poor performance. The same Bucknor had failed to give Sreesanth out LBW when he was plumb in front of the stumps at Lord's a few months ago. India hung on to a draw with a solitary wicket standing and went onto to win the series by one Test. Not a squeal of self-righteousness followed.
Under the ICC's code of conduct MS Dhoni's comment that his team "would have been in the hotel earlier had the correct decisions been made' after the Jamaica Test should have attracted at least a reprimand if not a censure. Yet all it did was fast-track the retirement of an official who admittedly had a poor game. The ICC abandoned him after a meaningless flowery tribute. Players are regularly fined for standing their ground in disappointment when they are given out wrongly. Here was the captain of the world's leading team openly questioning an umpire's competence when the code that governs him forbids such an act. Yet far from being fined there was not even the standard rap on the knuckles.
If an umpire is it to be hounded out every time he makes a poor decision, we are creating a cesspool of discontent in the game. Bucknor yesterday, Harper today, Erasmus tomorrow? Yet we will never achieve perfection, because officiating sport is tricky business. The right path would be to whole-heartedly embrace the technology that eliminates glaring errors. That allows these men to breathe easy in the knowledge that they haven't made a game-impacting decision. Technology is their ally, not their replacement. While the endeavour must be to constantly improve it, even in its present form it is a useful tool.
A large number of sensible Indian voices are now distancing themselves from the BCCI's untenable position. Sourav Ganguly is a no holds barred DRS supporter. Anil Kumble believes in an 'all or nothing' approach where either the system is fully implemented or discarded altogether. Even Sachin Tendulkar sees merit in using technology. So one can only hope that when India tour Australia later this year, there will be no half baked compromises. That an LBW off the inside edge will be overturned. The umpires will be delighted to stay away from headlines. This game belongs to the players. It must be returned to them.
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