Umpired out

Topics Ranji Trophy | Cricket | BCCI

The Ranji Trophy is the most prestigious tournament in India’s domestic cricket calendar. It is played in the longer format of the game. This year Saurashtra and Bengal contested the final. Saurashtra won, but not before an element of farce was injected into the match.

On the first day, one of the on-field umpires, Chettithody Shamsuddin was hit in the abdomen. He continued to officiate, but in the night felt some discomfort and had to go to a hospital for a check-up. The doctors advised him a week’s rest, as a result of which he could not make it to the ground at the start of the second day.

There was a third umpire — S Ravi. But he was the designated TV umpire and could not relinquish this job because Decision Review System had been introduced for the game. Strangely enough, a fourth umpire had not been on stand-by to fill in, for contingencies exactly like this. Moreover, the rules are clear that officiating umpires have to be neutral.

Thus, though a local umpire, Piyush Khakar, was drafted in to help the remaining one, K Ananthapadmanabhan, he couldn’t take decisions. He was assisting Ananthapadmanabhan, who was, truth to tell, officiating at both ends. For the second and third sessions of the second day, a solution was found. Ravi officiated on the field, while Shamsuddin took over the role of the TV umpire. A neutral umpire —Yashwant Barde — was requisitioned. He took over the on-field role the third day onwards and Ravi returned to the television.

The Ranji Trophy dates back to 1934. It has undergone many changes in format. Currently, the competition is played initially as a league, divided into three tiers. Five teams qualify from the top tier, two from the second and one from the last. These eight teams then play knock-out rounds to eventually determine the winner. The league matches are played over four days and the knock-out matches over five.

As the pre-eminent tournament in domestic cricket, if one concedes that the Indian Premier League isn’t really part of the domestic circuit, the Ranji Trophy deserves to be organised with an element of forethought. Such forethought surely should have resulted in the provision of a fourth umpire to meet contingencies. But the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) obviously couldn’t have been bothered.

The spectacle of one session — yes, even one session — of the final being officiated by one umpire should prompt searching enquiry. The BCCI has been embroiled in a series of contentious issues — not least of which is the question of conflicts of interest in various areas of the administration of the game. One positive outcome of these controversies has been the appointment of a cricketer, rather than a politician, to head the Board, though it might not necessarily be true that a former cricketer is bound to be better at the job than an experienced and competent administrator.

At the very least, this change has loosened the stranglehold of politicians, who, minimally, can hardly be expected to devote the necessary time, energy and thought to administer a game that has the kind of ramifications that cricket has in India. It is time to take politicians out of bodies that administer other sports as well, perhaps by stipulating conditions that will make close familiarity with the game essential.

Alongside, the current president of the BCCI, former Indian opener Sourav Ganguly, should reconsider the zonal lens through which the organisation of the game is still seen. The change in the format of the Ranji Trophy, once played on a zonal basis in the leagues stages, but not anymore, is a move in the right direction. What must now be done is to do away with the practice of choosing the selection committee on a zonal basis — one each from the central, east, north, south and west zones. While the bugbear of zonal favouritism has by and large ceased to bedevil cricket in India, further steps to completely eradicate it wouldn’t be out of place. Then there is the question of nomenclature. Most of the cricketing world now have neutral names for cricket boards — thus, Bangladesh Cricket Board, Cricket Australia, Cricket South Africa, Pakistan Cricket Board, Sri Lanka Cricket, etc. India clings to the archaic and faintly minatory “Board for Control…”.

Surely, the job of the Board is to encourage the spread of the game, put in place the infrastructure necessary to develop talent, which, to be fair, it does, and facilitate, rather than control. The notion of “controlling” seems of a piece with politicians horning into an arena into which they ought not to tread. So, with the expulsion of politicians and business tycoons from the administration, it is to be hoped that further changes for the better will be heralded by the relinquishment of “control”.

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