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Umpires run out

The man who began the campaign for third umpire referrals in cricket, David Frith, has backed the ICC?s new initiative. Starting with the Champions Trophy in India in October, each team will be allowed three appeals to the third umpire per innings.

india Updated: May 26, 2006 00:12 IST

The man who began the campaign for third umpire referrals in cricket, David Frith, has backed the ICC’s new initiative. Starting with the Champions Trophy in India in October, each team will be allowed three appeals to the third umpire per innings.

Former captain and umpire S Venkataraghavan fears that on-field umpires will be reduced to ‘dummies’. But the Anglo-Australian cricket author and journalist Frith disagrees. And his succint assessment of umpiring is likely the last word on this issue. “Venkat’s fears may be justified, but I can only see the matter one way: for a couple of hundred years umpires have been doing their best, but the catalogue of incorrect decisions has been massive beyond estimation. Putting an end to that would liberate cricket,” Frith said in an interview. “In Venkat’s remark I detect a clue to the root of the problem. Umpires relish the authority vested in them, and it is that feeling of power that gives them great satisfaction. But it is the greater well being of cricket that matters …”

Frith began his campaign during England’s tour of Australia in 1982-83 when he was editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly-- “When [Australian opening batsman] John Dyson was shown to be run out in the opening over of the Sydney Test, but was given not out, something set off alarm bells in my head.

“Here we had millions in Australia and Britain witnessing the batsman’s dismissal in the opening over of a crucial Test match, but because, like the rest of us, the umpire was merely human, Dyson was reprieved. He batted for five hours to make 79, and my distraction was such that I could not enjoy that Test match at all. What sense did it make that we could all see that the batsman was out of his ground when the stumps were shattered, and yet he was allowed to bat on? I brooded on this for several days, and then fired off an editorial that sowed the first seeds in a campaign that was to stretch over a decade until South Africa gave the third-umpire system a trial [against India in 1992-93]. It was instantly shown as beneficial.”

Frith says he was not surprised by the hostility he faced from umpires during his campaign. “Far from feeling relief that they could now be spared the embarrassment of poor decisions, they feared loss of responsibility. It is many years since a Test umpire barked: ‘You want to strip us of our authority!’ This was often followed by ‘You might as well have a coat-hanger out there if the umpire upstairs is going to make all the crucial decisions!’

He says he is all for TV replays to adjudge catches and even lbw appeals and not just line-decisions. “Allowing three appeals per day or innings may be a start. But this would be an arbitrary way of dealing with the problem. If all appeals were dealt with ‘upstairs’-- always providing we have umpires of sound sight and mind carrying out this crucial task-- then cricket would have rid itself at long last of the blight of bad decision-making by men in white coats.”

First Published: May 26, 2006 00:12 IST