At times, with poor decisions galore, you feel the sport was better off © AFP
At times, with poor decisions galore, you feel the sport was better off © AFP



By Sanjeev Sharma


Exhilaration, passion, agony, suspense and millions of myriad other emotions tumble into each other seamlessly, as the batsman faces the last ball of the match and needs just two runs to tie the game.


The bowler starts his run-up to launch the deciding moment of the game… the fielders move in with alacrity in to thwart that last run… and the ’keeper follows the ball, uncoiling in sync with movement of the ball. The batsman, for the life of him, can’t see a millimetre more than the circumference of the red orb. The umpire, having noted that it’s not a no-ball, now turns his attention to tracking the next possible events – an lbw, a direct hit to the stumps, a stumping. He doesn’t need to follow that thread. The ball has been smartly hit by the batsman, clear of the outstretched hands of the closest fielder to race towards the boundary.


The batsman has not waited to see all this. He has taken his first run, and is moving towards the second… no questions asked. It’s a level-or-die scene for him, and he risks death to a loss.


The fielder, also facing a win-or-die situation, hurls the ball back to the ’keeper as the batsman reaches mid-pitch to close in on his second run. It’s a close contest. Will the ball reach the ’keeper before the batsman completes his second run? Or will the batsman beat the throw?  The audience finishes biting its collective nail down to the skin. They are rising from their seats, either to laud or to moan, depending on which side they’re supporting.


The batsman reaches at apparently the same time that the alert ’keeper whips the bails off and goes into a celebratory jig.


So do supporters from both sides. The umpire, however, has broken into cold sweat. In fact, both umpires. Being impaired by having just two eyes each, they’ve both seen it differently. One of the umpires looks towards an invisible God and draws a square in the air. They’re off the hook now… whatever be the result. The relief and possibly lack of interest and involvement they have with this crucial decision is gone…


Cut to a decade back.


And move back the story to the point before the square being drawn. Nothing changes. Except that here, the umpire calling IS the God. All decisions are his and his alone, right or wrong. There would be no questions asked then. The next day would be like the dawn of exam result day, with newspapers extolling the virtues of the right decision or condemning the faults of a bad one.


So what changed? Why has cricket – which like all sports is, by its very nature, driven by passion – been subjected to the prying eyes of electronic observation? Why were the highly-cherished drivers of anger, joy, disappointment, etc subject to the cold shower of the third umpire. It hasn’t happened in football, or hockey or tennis or basketball or baseball. The umpires / referees on field for those sports are still God. And all decisions they make, right or wrong, is noticed, observed and commented upon, but never ever does an electronic eye come into making a decision in the game. So why only cricket, please?


I have heard varied opinions – like betting. Bah! Is cricket the only game people bet on? Not basketball or baseball? Others tell me that it’s all about “fixing”. Boo, to that too! You seriously think that a self-goal cannot be fixed in the middle of a match to swing a game for betting syndicates?


Or, you know, how about…  increasing “fair play”. Go away, man! Would you seriously like a sport you CAN’T cheat at?


There are as many explanations for the third umpire as there are fans. And for me, they’re ALL wrong. There isn’t any call for a third umpire, as far as I go. Sport should be a sport. And while the practice or preparation towards a match may be advanced into realm of science, the process of observing the sport cannot be degraded by a third eye. To me, this demeans the umpires standing by, and their skills. It degrades and demotes cricket to the demented realm of a computer game, where the darned microprocessor doesn’t let you make a choice of decisions.


The romance of Maradona’s “Hand of God” stands out for just one thing: Man plays a sport to win – by hook or by crook. The “Hand of God” has not gone un-noticed either. It’s there, and will be a stain all though the life and times of football. But the fortunes that were decided on that day by that one unobserved decision, albeit wrong, is a story of a romance that a sport HAS to have, a romance where people give their ALL to win, not just scientific but thought, deed, emotions and reputations too. If that’s not the passion that a player carries, the passion to win at any cost, including cheating, it’s not a sport. It remains, at best, a scientifically monitored confrontation.


Down with the third ump, I say! And let’s get the romance back into this awesome game of cricket.


(Sanjeev Sarma is an avid sports fan, and tracks cricket from an extremely arcane viewpoint of utopia. Not for him the stats and score sheets, for him the passion, roar, business, involvement and emotion of cricket across the spectrum where stages are set at world as well as galli cricket level)