Very recently, there was a controversy surrounding the Indian cricket team and Daryl Harper, an umpire from Australia – which eventually ‘forced’ Daryl Harper to step-down from his scheduled last test match in his career. Who was correct in this case is not my topic of debate. Only thing that I can say is that with technology / video footage, people can analyse the value of correct umpiring and parallelly, a team as a single entity do have the right to express their opinion. If ICC stops that freedom, then they should also stop anyone from criticising the wrongs – starting from the commentators to experts, press people, etc.
People always say that umpires are ‘neutral’ and hence they always act in the interests of the spirit of the game. Well, if that’s true, why is it that certain teams very often find reasons enough to doubt that very principle ? Let’s take up the cases of Darrel & Daryl – Darrel Hair and Daryl Harper.
Mr. Hair, in his first test match between India and Australia in 1992 probably did exceedingly well in neutral umpiring – in that test match, as reported by Wisden, the match was full of controversy in LBW decisions – “eight times Indians were given out, while all but two of their own appeals were rejected” .. but I am sure all his decisions were ‘correct’ and ‘neutral’. He became more famous subsequently when he started to no ball Muttiah Muralitharan seven times in three overs for throwing. Only catch was that Murali had already played 22 tests earlier and no other umpire no-balled him on the same reason. Either all the earlier umpires who umpired Murali were morons, or Mr. Hair was simply extra-ordinary. Then in 2006 came the dubious incident involving Pakistan and England when ball-tampering was alleged against the Pakistan team. I am sure Mr. Hair was always correct in all these incidents because he could brand the Pakistan cricket team as “cheats, frauds and liars” – Mr. Hair, like many Australian cricketers, seems to know many things that other’s don’t know and as always, they believe that they are the only ones who are always correct ! One similarity amongst all these incidents were the involvement of Mr. Hair against all Asian teams – a strange coincidence indeed !
For Mr. Harper, Indians had a lot of grudge against him – one of the reason being that Mr. Harper gave a howler of a decision against Sachin Tendulkar, which (to be fair) was later on regretted by Mr. Harper later on.
But the Indians were not alone – in 2010, Mr. Harper apparently could not hear properly the sound of an edge while being a third umpire in a match between England vs S. Africa. This incident forced such a strong reaction from Nasser Hussain, the then commentator, that he stated :
“we have to keep Daryl Harper away from any big decision on or off the field……” It is no coincidence that the TV umpire in Jamaica when things didn’t work was Daryl Harper.”
And let’s go through what Bob Willis had to say against Mr. Harper :
However, Mr. Harper became angry when Indian players criticised him – probably, he was not aware (or had forgotten) what others had said about him earlier.
My point here is that whenever we have umpires who consistently makes stupid mistakes (not just an one-off mistake), what does the ICC do ? They impose many ‘restrictions’ on the individual players when it comes to ‘protesting’ decisions (though the yardstick seems to vary depending upon the teams playing), but why don’t they evaluate umpires more transparently and remove the non-performing ones quite quickly ?
This is the real case of the missing pace – a very common phenomenon in India. I am not sure whether the BCCI have filed a FIR at the police station; but going by so many of these cases in recent years in Indian cricket, it is high time a FIR is filed immediately or a JPC is set up to investigate why this phenomenon is so self-repeating like corruption in India.
It’s not rocket science nor a brilliant invention that would provoke an ‘Eureka’ that in cricket (whether the classical test cricket or the shortened version of one-day cricket or the ‘tamasha’ version called T20) that every cricketing nation would love to have certain quality pace bowlers in her armoury – a set of pace bowlers who justify the word ‘pace’ in all respects. This is because a genuine pace bowler can be a match-winner and can potentially ‘destroy’ not only the batting of a team, but also the mental strength that the team has. His impact is huge – both literally and psychologically.
The very sight of a ‘real’ pace bowler is a true poetry : his running down his run-up, gathering momentum while glaring at the batsman on the other end, the final leap with his hands as high up as possible, the shifting of the momentum to his shoulders, the grump accompanied by the fast movement of the arms downwards, the shifting of the center of gravity as the body is hurled towards the ground, the lightning fast passage of the ball like a bullet and then the final recovery of the bowler to restore balance and destroy the huge energy generated by his bold steps in his follow-through, occasional glare at the batsman after he manages to evade the 145 km / hour ball kissing the sweat generated in his wavering nose …. Aggression at it’s best and that is what we all look for from each pace bowlers.
People of my generation had been accustomed to see Dennis Lillee, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall followed by Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Curtley Ambrose ; then followed by Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Alan Donald and finally to the recent generation of Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee, etc. Everytime, we used to think – if we had even one of these qualities, then who can stop us from winning matches ? What did we get from our own system ? Except for Kapil Dev (that too, he did not have that genuine pace as compared to others), we always craved for more – and our answers were limited to Manoj Prabhakar, Chetan Sharma, Jawagal Srinath ! What a contrast !
However, it’s not that we did not hear of pace bowlers in the truest sense whenever somebody made a debut. When I was very young, I heard from my uncles that there was a great pace bowler named Barun Barman who could not make to the team because of one Kapil Dev. Then heard of a bowler bowling at a great pace – Winston Zaidi – who again could not make it big. In recent times, players like Munaf Patel, R P Singh, V R V Singh, Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan made their debut who could bowl consistently at 140 km/hr and some of them like Zaheer could bowl swinging yorkers at that pace. We were so much happy when we saw their bowling – when they broke the stumps repeatedly in their first 2 / 3 series.
However, only in India we have the unique case when we have the same young pace bowlers bursting into the international arena and then losing their pace at such a pace that we, the cricket fans, can’t keep pace with ! That’s a mystery nobody has been able to resolve yet. Because all these ‘promising’ bowlers, who started their careers at 140 km/hr pace (with some of them like Ishant Sharma even hitting 150 km/hr) lose their pace within just 1 year of international cricket.
Look at the case of Munaf Patel – his initial pace was huge and we were proud to have answered Brett Lee ! But within one year, his pace dropped considerably and now probably bowls at 120-130 km/hr ! That has provoked Andy Roberts to make a sarcastic comment of “When Munaf Patel came here in 2006, he had some pace. Now he is spinning the ball!” !
Why does this happen only to Indian players – whereas within the same sub-continent, Pakistan and even Sri Lanka has been consistently producing bowlers of that quality ?
- People blame the docile pitches in India for this debacle – my point is that why will a bowler lose pace just because the pitches do not have any ‘life’ for a pace bowler ? They might not be able to take wickets – but as they come to international cricket by bowling at high pace on the same wickets, then why will they lose pace just after 1 year ?
- People blame the pace academies that we have – my point is that through the same academies bowlers like Chaminda Vaas can bowl at same pace, then why can’t our bowlers bowl ? And if someone says that the coach named Dennis Lillee cannot teach how to bowl fast, then who can ?
- People say that bowlers tend to pickup injuries fast (example is Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel) – my point is that is applicable for all bowlers across countries … how many times Brett Lee has picked up injury, how many times Donald has picked up injury ? After injury, I haven’t seen them dropping pace considerably – specially when they are below 30 years.
Frankly speaking, I haven’t found any solid reason behind this concern – except that the bowlers tend to ‘relax’ and ‘enjoy’ once they are selected in the Indian team. To me, it’s more of an attitude problem than anything else ! Maybe the bowlers themselves know best and it is high time they think seriously that this is not a joke that other countries would like to continue saying in the future !