The backdrop first. At the climactic end of the 2008 mens singles final at Wimbledon on the last ever day of a roofless Centre Court the wretched London rain interrupted play for the second time in the evening. This time at two sets-all,two games-all and at deuce. When Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer walk off to the locker room,dusk has settled over SW19.
Now consider this situation. The players return to court in near darkness,half hour later. They are willing to trust their rods,cones and instincts but Pascal Maria,the chair umpire,stamps his authority on the situation by calling it off,cheating the players,the thousands in the stands and the millions around their telly screens of a spectacle.
Imagine how ludicrous that would have been. It didnt happen of course; but it surely would have,had men in the ICC run the game of tennis instead of cricket. Just ask any of those 27,000 spectators that flooded out of the Oval last night,robbed of a fantastic finish due to a few rule-makers in Dubai.
The Ashes remains crickets most attractive major. Reason enough for plenty to throng the ground,even on the last day of a dead Test in a decided series. The crowds get a surprising twist a pulsating climax only to be denied by a light-meter.
If the light really was poor at that point,four overs away from the natural end,then why did the umpires allow a fast bowler,Mitchell Starc,to bowl the previous over? But Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena are really not to be blamed here. The ICC has successfully reduced its umpires into rule-reading robots. Then the robots are empowered enough to decide whether the light is poor or not on the players behalf,but not armed with the flexibility to take a call on the behalf of the game.
The fact that the ICC sets non-uniform rules is most bizarre. Test matches could be simultaneously played in India and England,the first affected by DRS and the other by the lack of it. Also,whether or not to use floodlights in a Test series hampered by poor weather is left to the discretion of the opposing boards. But sometimes,even when the lights are in full glow,the game can be called off like at the Oval.
In international sport,a rulebook is usually written to enhance a contest. In cricket,it comes in the way of one. Right through this Ashes,the ICC has received plenty of reality checks. But they perhaps have a rule from encashing them.
(Aditya is a principal correspondent,based in New Delhi.) firstname.lastname@example.org