Umpires can kill a damn good game

THE final Test in the Australia-West Indies series looked like going down to the wire. But it was stopped a couple of metres short by incompetent umpiring.

The West Indies had one wicket left and needed 51 runs on the final morning; they looked like getting real close until Kemar Roach was given out by umpire Billy Bowden of New Zealand, caught behind.

Roach challenged the decision and the replays showed plenty of air between the edge of his bat and the ball as it passed on the way to keeper Brad Haddin. The technology known as Hot Spot, another tool being used by the TV match officials, also showed that the ball had not made contact with Roach’s bat.

Yet Asad Rauf, the TV umpire, informed Bowden that the decision was up to him. As Bowden was not going to overrule himself, he raised his finger again and the match was over. The West Indies had made 14 runs off 21 balls on the final morning when Bowden intervened.

This incident raises the question: when an umpiring decision goes to referral, what is the third umpire trying to do – find proof that the decision is wrong or find proof that the umpire is right? Shortly before Bowden’s intervention, Rauf ruled that a catch claimed in the outfield by Doug Bollinger was not valid as the ball had hit the ground before Bollinger had got it in his grasp.

Rauf, it may be recalled, had given Shivnarine Chanderpaul out on referral in the second Test when an appeal for a catch behind was turned down by umpire Mark Benson. Ricky Ponting opted for a referral and Rauf overruled his colleague’s decision, even though the replays were inconclusive.

Bowden is a showman who always seems to be trying to get the camera to focus on him. He has an expansive way of signalling a boundary, a peculiar way of signalling a six and generally acts the goat on the field. The way he gave Roach out raises questions about his competence when it comes to actual umpiring – he will probably win an Oscar for his gestures.

And as to Rauf, one wonders how he alone can see something which nobody else can spot. Roach clearly had not touched the ball based on the TV camera evidence. Does Rauf think Bowden has some kind of third eye like a Hindu deity? Rauf saw evidence in the Chanderpaul incident too, when even the umpire on the field could not see a thing.

The referral system is a good thing. But if it turns out to be a case of taking potluck, then it will be of no use.

Technology can aid a good umpire to make good decisions. But in the hands of an incompetent, even the best technology is of little use. That is the only conclusion one can draw. As the old Indian saying goes, it is dangerous to put a matchbox in the hands of a monkey.