When a team loses a game, it comes up with excuses.
The number of excuses is on most occasions directly
proportional to the manner in which they have lost.
So, if they have lost really badly, they tend to
complain more! The objects of their ire are the
usual 'suspects'; the pitch or the umpiring or the
weather or hostile crowd behaviour!
The pitch is blamed quite often, as was the case in
Mumbai recently when the Aussies squealed after
losing the Test narrowly. The genuine judges of the
game will tell you that the umpiring was excellent
in the match. Rudi Koertzen and Aleem Dar withstood
the pressures competently and took decisions
coolly, confidently and above all, consistently.
Mind you, their job was not made any easier by the
turning track on which the game was played. This I
can say, as the pitch was a 'square' turner and not
a 'slow' turner. Further, it had an uneven bounce,
which actually is very dangerous. It was no
surprise that the batsmen were kept guessing, as
also the wicketkeeper and of course, the umpires.
The pitch was definitely tailormade for the
spinners, but it wasn't certainly 'underprepared'
or, as some wise nuts claimed , "unprepared" .
That's absolute rubbish, or as Geoffrey Boycott
would say' "Roobish!"
Pitches on the sub-continent generally assist the
spinners, especially as the game enters the third
or fourth day. This is why most of the legendary
spinners in the history of the sport belonged, and
in some cases, belong to the sub-continent. Hence,
umpires from the sub-continent are able to 'read'
spinners better than their counterparts from
elsewhere, and they are also more conversant with
the behaviour of spin-friendly pitches. Umpires
from other countries tend to struggle in both
departments, although there have been some
glittering exceptions to this rule, like Koertzen.
It is extremely difficult to follow the path of the
ball after it pitches on spinning wickets. The red
cherry literally 'vanishes', as it changes its path
and height due to the uneven bounce. Umpires expect
the ball to travel knee-high, but it may end up
rising to the batsman's waist. Such deliveries
could result in bat-pad catches to the men who are
surrounding the batsman on either side. If the ball
grazes the bat, then it is relatively easy for the
umpire to hear the sound. But if it gets deflected
off the gloves, it is difficult to make out whether
it was only the thigh guard or the pad or the
gloves that were involved.
The level of difficulty increases if the ball
strikes the pad first and then grazes the glove on
the way to the fielder. Whenever this happens,
there is a distinct possibility of the umpire
getting deceived by the double sound. Sheer
experience is an umpire's best guide in such a
It is easier to follow the path of the ball on
seaming wickets with a sprinkle of grass. Of
course, one has to take into consideration the
bounce in the wicket. On Australian grounds,
especially the WACA at Perth, the bounce is
tremendous. Here, LBW decisions are rare, but
catches off the glove are common, especially to the
keeper down the leg-side.
Quickies reap a rich harvest of wickets on tracks
in England and New Zealand. The overcast conditions
that prevail in these countries also help the
medium-pacers. The late outswinger is the most
difficult to negotiate. Class batsmen watch the
ball till the very last moment before deciding to
play at it or leave it alone. The bounce on such
tracks can be judged in the first couple of overs
by watching the height at which the wicketkeeper
collects the ball.
It is on tracks that turn that life gets tough and
complicated for the batsmen, bowlers, fielders and
of course, umpires! I am of the firm opinion that
the ultimate test of an umpire is on a turning
wicket with unpredictable bounce.