Two gentlemen on the Sydney Cricket Ground proved to be simply too good for India on Sunday and neither of them belonged to Ricky Ponting’s winning team. This is not the first time that umpiring decisions have made controversy. This isn’t the last time that umpires will get decisions wrong either. But the second Test between Australia and India will certainly be remembered for umpiring decisions that were so consistently poor (read: wrong), that the match, for all purposes, has the stink of being fixed. Usually, umpiring mistakes affect both playing teams, therefore cancelling each side’s grouses out. But the Sydney Test saw Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson get things wrong consistently and in favour of one side: Australia. Neutral umpiring this was not.
The question is what made Messrs Bucknor and Benson play India out of the match? While the former has a record of being not too kind towards the Indian side (his dodgy decisions against India were first visible in the 2004-05 tour to Australia), it would be careless of us not to take note of the fact that the ICC, at least till yesterday, deemed Mr Bucknor to be one of the top umpires in international cricket. Perhaps, the answer in what happened in Sydney on Sunday can be found in Mr Benson’s action while Sourav Ganguly stood his ground as the Australians let out a cumulative appeal for the batsman being caught in the slips. The fact that replays showed that the ball had carried, is bad enough. But what was quite horrifying was the other fact: Mr Benson asked Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, whether his teammate had cleanly caught the ball from Ganguly’s bat or not. He might as well have asked an Aussie fan what he saw from the stands. This is not straying from the job of umpiring. It is jumping off the cliff of the rules of the game and paragliding into something more akin to parlour games like truth or dare.
The reason for this total loss of any show of neutrality surely can’t be because Mr Benson and Mr Bucknor are in love with Ponting’s men. It is because they were intimidated by a side with a reputation. This, of course, doesn’t make their guilt — incompetence, call it what you will — any less. Umpires at this level are not supposed to make decisions according to reputations or the appealing style of a ‘champion team’. They are required to judge dispassionately the goings-on on the field, and that includes dismissals. Neither of the umpires did that. And one side lost a Test match because the umpires were scared of upsetting the other team.