Umpiring Down Under: How it cost India


Few will disagree that umpiring in a cricket match (be it of any duration) is an extremely difficult job. As humans, they make their mistakes and take such good decisions that you are left to wonder how did they get that one right! However, more often than not, it has been the umpires who have become unintentional villains in the eyes of the cricket crazy Indian crowd. Not without good reason, however.

It is a well-known phrase in cricket that for any team, the Australia tour is the “one that matters”. It is the one which builds the character of a player, wields the soft iron and makes it steel. However, while one of the main reasons why it is so is definitely because of the sheer skill with which they play their cricket, they also play it rather unfairly. Teams in Australia have to cope with the immense play against the spirit of the game also, as it has happened more often than not when India have toured Australia. Moreover, substandard umpiring has just made it more difficult for the Indians.

Of the numerous occasions of banter Down Under, we highlight the three instances of bad umpiring against India which may have been turning points in the context of the game. None as great as the Sydney Test match in the 2007-08 India Tour of Australia, made famous (and infamous) for all the wrong reasons. Read on.

1. Shoulder Before Wicket (1999-2000, Adelaide):

It was one of the most highly anticipated clashes in world cricket: Sachin v McGrath. In the first Test at Adelaide, a bouncer from McGrath stayed low and a crashed into the shoulder of the ducking Tendulkar. Umpire Daryl Harper gave in to the appeal and adjudged it out. Sachin was out for a duck and the dismissal was to be discussed in heated debates for a long time after that. It was one of the most infamous instances of bad umpiring, which Harper later admitted of also. “… the one that I would like the world to forget is the Sachin one …”, he said later.

The infamous shoulder before wicket decision
The infamous shoulder before wicket decision

2. Bad ruling in Brisbane (2003-04, Brisbane):

For a Test remembered as the first of an outstanding 4-match Test series providing immense entertainment, it was not without its share of bad umpiring. Steve Bucknor (who will also be in the drama in 2007-08) gave Sachin Tendulkar a horrible decision of lbw when the ball was clearly going above the stumps. It was a bad lapse of concentration for Bucknor and obsessed fans soon began calling for his head. However, the gentleman he is, Sachin took the decision gracefully and departed. Earlier Indian bowlers had been denied two clear Australian wickets also, Bucknor making the decision in both the cases.

How the ball went way above the stumps
How the ball went way above the stumps

3. An array of atrocious decisions (2007-08, Sydney):

This notorious match saw almost go everything against India; the umpires giving bad decisions one after one, and the Australian captain Ricky Ponting making a mess of the spirit of the game. So enraged were the Indians that after the Test, Indian captain Anil Kumble summed it up well in the following remark: “Only one team is playing in the spirit of the game”.

Perhaps the only decision that did go in favour of India (also adjudged by Bucknor) was a close call for Sachin’s wicket for LBW off Michael Clarke when he was batting on 36 runs only. It was a low impact into the pads and the appeal was perhaps wrongly turned down — Sachin went on to score a masterclass 154, which obviously went in vain owing to the myriad of bad decisions later on. Also, VVS Laxman survived a LBW call (which was shown to hit the middle and leg stumps later) off Brett Lee, adjudged by Mark Benson. Laxman also went on to score 109.

The not so famous spat which happened in the same Test
The not so famous spat which happened in the same Test

We list some more of them for you to read: (Cricinfo did the major job of collecting such bad umpiring instances)

• Ricky Ponting was batting at 17 when he was given not out facing Sourav Ganguly by Mark Benson. Benson turned down the appeal for a LBW and Ponting scored 55 runs eventually.

• Andrew Symonds, who scored a fine 162 not out in the match, got multiple blessings of luck. When he was batting on just 30 runs, he edged a Ishant Sharma delivery to the wicket-keeper MS Dhoni. However the appeal for a clear dismissal was turned down by Steve Bucknor.

• Andrew Symonds got his second piece of luck when India appealed for a stump-out by Dhoni off the bowling of Anil Kumble. Symonds seemed to have been beaten in the flight and the umpires on the ground turned the decision to the third umpire. Channel Nine commentators Michael Slater, Mark Taylor and Ian Healy adjudged Symonds out while seeing the video footage, while third umpire Bruce Oxenford turned the appeal down and gave Symonds yet another life. He was batting on 48 at that time.

• Finally, Symonds survived yet another close call 100 runs later, when batting on 148. He appeared to have been beaten in the flight by Harbhajan Singh and tried to slide his back foot into the crease. The strong appeal by the Indians was turned down by umpire Steve Bucknor, who did not even send it for verification by the third umpire.

• Michael Hussey got two major slices of his fortune in the Aussie 2nd innings. When batting on 22, Hussey got struck low in his right pad, while deep in the crease off the bowling of Anil Kumble. Mark Benson adjudged it not out.

• The second instance occurring off the bowling of RP Singh, Hussey got a fair amount of wood on the delivery which went straight to Dhoni, while batting on 45. He was again wrongly adjudged not out by Mark Benson and went on to score a match-winning 145 not out.

• The wretched time for the Indians came in their own second innings, as two very critical umpiring failures began a collapse. In the Indian second innings, Rahul Dravid was wrongly given caught out after he successfully padded a delivery from Andrew Symonds. Gilchrist appealed big for a LBW and Bucknor gave it. Footage only showed minimal deflection of the ball due to brushing with the pads. Dravid was batting on 38.

• The next big decision was Sourav Ganguly’s dismissal, when he was on 51 runs. Ganguly apparently edged Brett Lee’s delivery to Michael Clarke, who celebrated along with his teammates, claiming to have taken a clean catch. Due to the prior agreement of honesty of fielders between the playing teams, the umpires asked the Aussie captain Ponting about the dismissal. Ponting raised his finger, adjudging Ganguly out and the catch to have been caught cleanly. Footage later showed that evidence was very much inconclusive as to whether Ganguly was taken cleanly or not! This started India’s collapse as they dramatically lost the plot in an epic Test match of bad decisions and the infamous Monkeygate scandal. Most notably, with just two or three overs to go before stumps on day five, the game headed to a sure draw, Michael Clarke picked up 3 wickets in just 11 deliveries to gift Australia the win.

Ricky Ponting adjudges Ganguly out
Ricky Ponting adjudges Ganguly out

In the currently ongoing Test series only, we have seen Dhawan, Rahane and now Pujara being adjudged out rather unfairly. Will things get a little better (and fairer) for India as the series progresses? Only umpiring will tell.