The second Test match between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) was marred by many poor umpiring decisions most of which went against the visitors. Stephen Anthony Bucknor, the 61-year-old umpire from the West Indies, was the culprit on most of the occasions giving one shocking decision after another as India went on to lose the match by 122 runs and with it any hope of winning back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
The poor standard of umpiring caused a lot of heartburn in the Indian team and also among the fans.
In the Sunday Special on CNN-IBN the topic of discussion was, “Should Steve Bucknor be removed from panel of ICC umpires?”
Anil Chowdhury, a member of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) panel of umpires, and the associate editor of DNA, Ayaz Memon, discussed the issue with CNN-IBN’s Bhupendra Chaubey.
According to many it was Bucknor and not the Australian team, who bowled India out of the match. Some of his howlers included not giving out Australian skipper Ricky Ponting on Day I when he had edged the ball and then giving him out lbw when there was a clear edge on to the pads.
Then Symonds got a reprieve when he was not given out caught behind despite clearly edging the ball. The third umpire, too, ruled Symonds not out when his feet was in the air and Mahendra Singh Dhoni had stumped him. Symonds went on to score a century.
Bucknor came to Symonds’ rescue once again in second innings, too, and did not even refer the third umpire for a stumping appeal. Symonds was out of his ground.
He then raised his finger when the ball had only brushed Rahul Dravid’s pad and ruled him out caught behind. Then the other umpire Mark Benson gave Sourav Ganguly out caught by Michael Clarke in the slips preferring to take Ponting’s help to make his decision rather than go to the third umpire.
So India were always on the receiving end of umpiring decisions during the second Test match.
However, Ayaz Memon did not see it as a bias against the Indian team.
“On the evidence of how he has performed in this match and the litany of complaints against him over the years, it is not a question of bias. Let us leave that out. It is a question of competence. If the guy is going to be so incompetent frequently, then I don’t see how he can exist in the Elite Panel? I don’t know why the panel is choosing him every time?” Memon asked.
“I think if you are performing well and passionate about the game then age should not be the criteria,” Anil Chowdhury replied when asked if Bucknor was too old to perform the crucial role.
“Everybody has seen it but that is one bad game and anybody can have it. The problem is that it has happened with one team only,” Chowdhury said about Bucknor’s poor umpiring.
Apart from the second match of the current series at Sydney, Bucknor has given many decisions against the Indian players in the past. During the 2003-04 tour Down Under, he gave Sachin Tendulkar out lbw when the ball was going above the stumps.
He was caught mimicking Dravid on camera at the SCG after which India lodged a protest with the International Cricket Council (ICC). He turned down several close lbw appeals against Australia on Day V of Sydney Test during the tour forcing the then captain Sourav Ganguly to give him very poor ratings in his report. Even the coach of the Indian team at that time, John Wright, complained to the match referee.
Then Tendulkar was given out caught at Eden Gardens in 2005 against Pakistan when the ball was nowhere near his bat.
But Chowdhury countered it by asking, “What are the other umpires doing including the third umpire?”
“I think that was pretty shocking by Benson when he gave Ganguly out. But Bucknor is a very seasoned man who has stood in more than 100 Tests and 5 World Cups. So you expect him to have a low margin of error. If he is going to have a margin of error that is more than that of most other umpires then there is a problem. It is a question of competence. I am not saying he is biased against India. He may have stood in some other matches and given worst decisions. You don’t know about that and something must be done about that,” Ayaz said
So is Bucknor competent enough?
“I don’t know if they do an eyesight test of if they do a test to check the hearing power. These are the issues. If the guy is giving somebody out like he gave Dravid out, so is there a problem of vision? Or is there a problem with the hearing? These are the issues that are emerging. Whatever we might say about human error, this was going to be a tense series,” Ayaz replied.
When asked if an umpire like Bucknor can get upset as India complained against him in the past, Anil Chowdhury dismissed the notion.
“No nothing like that. Actually we watch only India matches. Generally it is like this and it was bad luck. I think as a professional it should not affect someone. Our job is to do umpiring. Rating is secondary thing. I don’t think that affects much,” Chowdhury said.
Ayaz also added that Australia is a tough place to tour, as even the media can sometimes be against the visitors.
“It is very tough playing in Australia. You are playing against probably the best team in the world for a long, long time. You are competing against some of the best players in the world. There is a section of media that looks only at the cricketing action in the field and leaves the paraphernalia out of it. But the Australia media is also highly competitive and are looking for offbeat stories and stories that at the end of the day become very provocative. There was a story examining the caste system in India,” Ayaz said.
So was Bucknor. a catalyst in defeating India. Are Australian cricketers cheaters?
“From what I have seen barring this match, I haven’t had too much reasons to complain that they cheat. They play extremely hard and push the opposition as much as possible. I would say that they are not good losers. If they lose they don’t like it at all. They have a mindset that says ‘I have to go out there and win at all cost’. But I don’t know if they would actively cheat? That is a very strong statement to make,” Ayaz replied.
When Ayaz was asked how does he attribute a contradiction of sorts when one sees the likes of Mark Waugh earlier and now Adam Gilchrist who believed in walking and on the other hands Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey and Andrew Symonds seem to be a completely different bunch of players? And is the Australian cricketing culture also changing?
“It could be. It could be getting extra competitive. Somewhere I feel the Indians have also got under the skin of the Australians in this tour. It may be because of the nature of cricket that has been happening over the last few months, which I think is very good for the sports. That would have provided excellent cricket rather then so many controversies because you have teams matching up to the beast in the world in terms of talent and intensity. But somewhere something is going haywire” Ayaz said.
And what about the system of checks and balances within the umpiring fraternity?
“There is a system. There is the report and then the referee. The ICC also has ball-to-ball checkups,” Chowdhary said.
He also added that just like the players, an umpire could also be dropped for poor performance.
“You should see a lot of matches and not just one game. He is one of those umpires who set a new style of umpiring, taking a lot of time. He is a great umpire and I cannot comment on one match,” Chowdhary replied.
Is there a larger method in this madness? Are Asian teams targeted?
“I hope it is not there. If there were a recurrence of such issue with the teams from subcontinent, it would suggest that there is a certain mindset. Old mindset I would say. But in this case I would say you couldn’t accuse Bucknor of the same mindset. It is just about incompetence and that should be sorted out,” Ayaz said.
Chowdhary concluded by adding that umpiring is a professional job.
“We got to perform on the field. It is a professional world. I am not against any individual,” he said.
However, the SMS poll result gave a clear-cut verdict that an overwhelming majority wanted Bucknor dropped from the panel.
SMS poll result:
Yes: 97 per cent
No: Three per cent