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Sydney Test was Oval revisited

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January 10, 2008

For me the Sydney Test between India and Australia was deja vu.

It was the Oval Test of 2006 revisited for me. The same umpiring mistakes and the failure of a match referee to act in a timely and sensible manner created another explosive crisis in the cricket world. A crisis that has done nothing to improve the image of the sport or relations among the cricket playing nations.

It is ironic and telling that Mike Procter was also the match referee for the Oval Test and I remember how frustrating it was for me to see him unable to handle things properly.

The Pakistan team was upset and angered at the ball tampering charges made by umpire Darrell Hair and in the heat of the moment a lot of things happened.

But after a while we were willing to continue play and tried to go on the field but Hair and Billy Doctrove had awarded the match to England [Images] and despite pleadings from our Cricket Board and the English cricket officials, Hair stubbornly refused to budge from his stand.

At that time I saw a streak of stubbornness in him not willing to make peace with us while the saddest part was that the match referee just allowed things to spiral out of control.

With time, our biggest grievance of being dubbed as cheaters was dismissed by the ICC [Images] and Hair was suspended from umpiring Test and one-day internationals.

It was a sad day for cricket and I still regret all that happened at the Oval. It is certainly not something I remember with pride.

Even at that time I had told the Pakistan Cricket Board there was a need to have more pro-active and sensible referees and to have a practical check and balance system for the umpires.

What hurts is that nothing has changed since then and again we have a crisis on hand with the Sydney Test.

I think match referees and umpires do need to understand that when a team is done in by some apparently glaring umpiring mistakes they need to be shown some sympathy.

In Sydney it was the reverse and I think what really upset the Indians was that after suffering from some poor decisions, the referee decided to slap the serious charge of 'racism' against Harbhajan Singh [Images].

We have played a lot against Harbhajan and he is quite a friendly guy. Apart from the expected aggression on the field, he was one of the Indian players who mingled well with our players. I don't consider him a 'racist' by any stretch of imagination and I don't think what he said in the heat of the moment would have had any real meaning to it.

And one has to see the incident in the context of the strained relations on the field between the Indians and Australians for some time now. Any sensible referee would have done that.

The bottom line is that when Procter had such a holier than thou attitude while punishing Harbhajan than what about the umpires? Why can't umpires be made immediately accountable for their actions ? With technological advancement, why can't umpires or referees be replaced during a match if they don't perform up to expectations ?

The ICC, as it is, appoints a television umpire and reserve umpire and I think there is nothing wrong that if the referee feels an umpire is having a bad day on the field, he should be taken out of the firing line and the TV umpire or reserve umpire can stand in for him.

This will not only help the umpires who are having a bad day regain their confidence but put an end to one team getting more than its share of bad decisions which decide the outcome of a match.

Players are penalised or suspended almost immediately for any offence, why not have a same swift accountability system for umpires and referees?

There is no doubt the ICC needs to take a look at a particular problem prevalent in international cricket nowadays where some umpires and referees tend to have this element of attitude prevalent among them that cause such incidents.

I played a few games which were supervised by that veteran English umpire, Dickie Bird. Even he made mistakes but he was quick to admit it and try to diffuse the situation by talking to the players and being friendly with them.

In India's case, Australia reporting Harbhajan for racist remarks was like adding insult to injury for the Indians who suffered a lot because of poor umpiring in the Sydney Test.

The Indians were seething till the final day and then Procter came out with this decision on Harbhajan. The Indian Board did the right thing in taking up the issue and defending their player.

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