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Tuesday, September 23, 2014  
Cricket umpires…innocent until proven guilty

by Neville Parker
TV sting adds a scary dimension to supervision of game, Neville Parker writes

Of course a cricket umpire is above suspicion, but if he makes a wrong decision that could favour one team or the other what then? Doubts will now be cast on dubious decisions on the field of play after an Indian TV channel claimed that some umpires could be bribed to make favourable decisions during matches. The International Cricket Council has suspended six officials, including one on the international circuit, named in the undercover operation by India TV which alleged that they were willing to give biased decisions or provide inside information in return for a fee.

“The ICC and its relevant Full Member Boards have agreed not to appoint any of the umpires named in a sting operation recently conducted by India TV to any domestic or international cricket matches,” the cricket body said in a statement. This is a knee-jerk reaction by the ICC even before investigating the matter in its entirety. There’s no doubt that such allegations are to be taken seriously, they add a new and frightening dimension to the game with the shadow of match-fixing now also being cast over the very officials whose job it is to ensure that justice is done on the field.

An umpire is above suspicion, but should he make a wrong decision who can tell whether it was a genuine error or intentional? After all, the umpires are nominated on the panels by their countries’ cricket boards and in the case of international matches by the ICC. It is their accuracy of judgment that decides the fate of matches.

While the ICC has ordered an inquiry into the matter arising out of the TV channel’s sting operation, the element of trust in an umpire has taken a bit of a knock. So far, the shady business of match-fixing or spot-fixing has involved players who were ready to dance to the tunes of bookies in return for a handsome fee, no one will expect an umpire to fall prey to this shady business.

Since cricket metamorphosed into a hugely successful commercial venture with the introduction of the 50-over-a-side game some years back, the present short format of Twenty20 has become a massive money-spinner. And, the IPL is the jewel in the Twenty20 crown with its dashing cricket, Bollywood glamour, and popular former and present stars as commentators, with the whole entertainment package is followed by a worldwide TV audience.

Cricket purists fear that the Twenty20 format has given Test cricket a back seat, at least in the subcontinent. While this may not be good for players and the game as a whole, the whiff of money seems to be too strong for them to resist. Budding players now feel that it is more beneficial and profitable for them to play in the IPL where all-round abilities count, rather than in five-day Test cricket. Given the high fitness levels that are now required for players in the game and greater risk of injury, these players go with the thinking that their careers are now short-lived. And, which is why the Twenty20 format is more appealing and profitable for them.

But where there’s so much money involved, there’s bound to be an increase in suspicious activity as well - a sting operation into spot-fixing last year, also initiated by India TV, led to an inquiry with the Indian cricket board banning one IPL player and handing lighter sentences to four others.

OMAN TRIBUNE

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