BY THE time Kumar Dharmasena made his decision, Wriddhiman Saha and R Ashwin had already decided to sneak a leg-bye, argued about their decision and then gone back on it. So much had transpired between Moeen Ali letting out a vociferous appeal after trapping Saha on the back-foot, and the Sri Lankan umpire raising his index finger that it took a while for all concerned to actually realise what Dharmasena was signalling for exactly. There was literally an outside chance of a comical occurrence where a batsman was being run-out while being adjudged lbw.
As a bowler, Dharmasena was notorious, in his own confession, for catching batsmen off guard — often not even letting them fully get into their stance — by rushing through to the bowling crease much like what Ravindra Jadeja does these days. But on Friday, he put Rudi Koertzen’s famous ‘slow death’ verdict to shame by postponing his decision for so long, Saha could claim to have been rendered a ‘delayed death’.
Ironically, it was the right decision even if the time taken did coax Saha to refer it. The Indian wicket-keeper was found trapped right in front. But the delay was a window into Dharmasena’s state of mind. And the doubts and insecurities that presently seem to plague the now-seasoned umpire’s confidence.
It’s understandable though, considering the wretched month or so he’s had, especially during England’s tour to Bangladesh last month. He set an ignominious record in the first Test at Chittagong with DRS being called in to play for 16 of his decisions, of which he had to change eight. Thrice in the space of an hour-and-a-half Moeen Ali alone had successfully reviewed lbw decisions given against him.
This was the same Dharmasena who was credited by the England off-spinner for turning his Test career around two years ago. But it’s not surprising that at the end of that day, when he had defeated cricketing fatality over and over again, Ali said, “We are normally pretty tight. But we didn’t speak for a session.” “There are successful authors who have been subject to fewer reviews than Kumar Dharmasena,” the Barmy Army had tweeted.
It didn’t get any better in the second Test at Dhaka with three decisions being overturned on the first day itself. No wonder, Dharmasena doesn’t want to rush into anything on the cricket field these days.
But only two balls post the Saha dismissal, Dharmasena wasted no time in raising his finger when Ravindra Jadeja was struck on the pads with Ali now bowling from around the wicket. Somehow, Ashwin and Jadeja didn’t think it doubtful enough to be referred. Replays though showed up their folly, and the umpire’s, with the ball clearly missing the leg-stump. Later in the day, Dharmasena was back in the spotlight. This time after he had denied Jayant Yadav his maiden Test wicket. The batsman? Ali. The left-hander had jumped out his crease slightly but both Jayant and wicket-keeper Saha seemed very sure about the ball having been headed towards the stumps. And you could almost hear a tinge of sympathy in third-umpire Chris Gaffney’s voice as he informed Dharmasena about the ‘three-reds’ and asked him to reverse his decision.
It’s not easy being a cricket umpire in the DRS era. Imagine having every single error pulled up and highlighted in front of thousands at the ground and million households around the world on a daily basis when you report for work.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Dharmasena, a former ‘umpire of the year’ award winner in 2012, is presently so immersed in self-doubt that the time might have come for the ICC to give him a break. We often hear about batsmen and bowlers being rested or asked to step away from the game for a while when they seem to be clouded in self-doubt. For, it can never lead to a healthy working environment, and officiating in a cricket match is all about doing so with a clear mind, especially with lbw decisions.
A lot about adjudicating an lbw decision is subjective. At Rajkot, Ashwin kept hiding his bat behind his pads while looking to defend, and the English kept appealing for lbw even when he was struck outside the off-stump, convinced that he wasn’t trying to play a stroke. But Kiwi umpire Chris Gaffney – which was learnt through listening to third-umpire Rod Tucker’s discussion with him – didn’t quite agree and was sure that Ashwin was actually offering a stroke, much to the bemusement of Ian Botham in the commentary box. There was even a suggestion by another commentator that probably Ali could try bowling from the other end, hoping that Dharmasena – considering his past as an off-spinner himself – would look at the scenario differently.
It’s not been a bad year overall for Dharmasena. In April, he became the first man to play and officiate in a World Cup final. And he’s already into his seventh year as a high-profile international umpire. His first decision itself though was a controversial one when he gave Sachin Tendulkar out lbw in an ODI in Sri Lanka, with the ball having pitched outside his leg-stump. His former captain Arjuna Ranatunga had even revealed a conversation he’d had with Dharmasena about it.
“I told him, ‘When you take so long to make a decision, remember, if you have doubt, don’t give it.’,” he’d said.
On a turning wicket, an umpire is always trying to gauge how much a ball is turning with his well-trained, but still naked, eye. Then there’s also the question of bounce. Dharmasena also has to contend with the assumption that just because he’s from the subcontinent and also a former spinner, he should be the best judge of predicting the ball’s path in one glance. The ICC did come to his defence post the Bangladesh debacle.
“You could even see, during the two Test matches that Kumar did on the field, that he was reacting in a positive way — even though he had a number of decisions overturned,” ICC general manager Geoff Allardice had said, complimenting the Sri Lankan on his apparent ability to overcome the obvious sentiments of embarrassment and professional shame to continue doing his job gamely.
There are some experts who believe that like with the players, the Elite Panel umpires do have to contend with fatigue owing to the hectic international calendar. But technically, the likes of Dharmasena and Gaffney are standing in almost the same number of matches as their predecessors from even 15 years ago.
Perhaps like a batsman who goes through a phase where he’s constantly leaving his bat high and dry, and edging balls because he’s quite not sure of his off-stump’s GPS co-ordinates, Dharmasena is suffering way too many slip-ups and being left high and dry in front of the cricket world’s unforgiving gaze.