SURVIVED APPEAL: Tillekeratne Dilshan
Who in his or her right mind would ever want to be an official?
During Thursday night’s first semi-final of the Limacol Caribbean Premier League, Joel Wilson turned down a vehement leg-before appeal by Samuel Badree, with the exuberant and prolonged support of his Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel teammates, against Tillekeratne Dilshan of the Guyana Amazon Warriors.
It is no exaggeration to say that the general reaction to that decision — even before replays were shown on the big screen and in the media centre at the Queen’s Park Oval — was that Wilson had made a big, big mistake. To some, without the benefit of technology, it was a shocking error offering further evidence, if any was needed, of the incompetence of West Indian umpires, men who were being shown to the thousands at the ground and millions watching around the world as embarrassingly incapable of getting the most basic decisions right.
Then came the first replay, and a chorus of boos rained down on the hapless Trinidadian following what appeared to be confirmation of Wilson’s gross ineptitude and the injustice that was done to Badree and the home franchise, especially given the potential for Dilshan to win the match off his own bat after Dwayne Bravo’s side was routed for just 103.
Suitably enraged by misjudgement of the most basic kind, those of us in the television commentary box and I’m sure many, many more in the stands were just waiting for the Hawkeye mapping technology to, firstly, confirm that Badree’s delivery would have crashed into the wicket, and secondly, that Wilson, apart from being blind as a bat, was not fit to officiate at this level of the game.
In a matter of a few seconds, during which another ball was bowled by Badree to the Sri Lankan, the graphic representation of the contentious moment showed the delivery to be…just missing the wicket, shaving past the leg stump by a few millimetres. And the reaction of the fans who were jeering and otherwise hurling abuse in the direction of the umpire just moments before? Silence, whether the result of embarrassment or indifference. Silence.
Was the situation in the commentary box very different? Yes, because you’re dealing with people categorised as experts, some of whom have played the game with distinction at the highest level and others who have covered the sport as professional and distinguished journalists for decades.
Amid the utterances of disbelief and flabbergasted suggestions that the Hawkeye fellas downstairs had gotten their coordinates seriously skewed, Ian Bishop, in acknowledging the ease with which commentators go to town at the expense of umpires, suggested that he and his colleagues should state their own views on any close appeal on air before the replays confirmed whether the decision by the official out in the middle was right or wrong.
A bright, young man who worked in our family business during the July/August holidays told me the next morning that he wished the former West Indies fast bowler’s recommendation could be adopted as a matter of policy by the television broadcasters in the interests of fairness. As an aspiring umpire developing and fine-tuning his skills in the North Zone of domestic competition, he would already know only too well the abuse that officials routinely endure.
Earlier this year, an established senior national batsman was reported to have used vile, vulgar and threatening language towards a local umpire after being given out in a National League fixture. Not surprisingly, the punishment handed down by the authorities has been viewed by the official directly affected and his colleagues as extremely lenient.
No-one is really taken aback by any of this, whether it be the desire to move swiftly away from the hasty and erroneous condemnation of Wilson in the commentary boxes or the fact that it is generally open season on officials in any sport at any level anywhere in the world.
Follow any weekend of action in the English Premier League and you will be spoilt for choice of instances where the “experts” have taken a lag in a referee or linesman’s tail only for the official to be proven right. It never seems to occur to these supposed authorities on the game that the natural flow of football does not permit officials to engage in the sort of forensic examination of replays that they conduct before coming up with the verdict that a “terrible” decision has just been made.
There are very few in this business of sports coverage who possess the integrity to point out every time it becomes relevant that arbiters on the field of play are invariably called up on make an instantaneous decision and, as a result, mistakes will occasionally be made. Most adopt the nonsensical position that officials are paid to do a job and, as professionals, they have to get it right.
Yet these same hard taskmasters appear to be looking the other way when players are highlighted claiming catches that weren’t cleanly taken or go tumbling spectacularly in the penalty area in the hope of drawing a foul. Such instances of blatant cheating are often excused away as moments “in the heat of battle” or that “emotions are running high,” the assumption being that acts of dishonesty are understandable in a pressure situation.
Given the prevailing double-standards in favour of players and at the expense of officials, it is surprising that so many opt to place themselves in the firing line. Maybe they’re gluttons for undeserved punishment.