Unbelievable Test match. Well worth my decision to stay up past 4 a.m. and risk disaster at work tomorrow. But I want to say a word or two about the umpires in this Test, who all sides agree were absolutely atrocious. Michael Hussey received a shocker from Ian Gould; Billy Bowden seemed to have it out for India (and Ishant Sharma and Gambhir in particular), until he gave Ohja a shocking reprieve.
The decisions elicited two responses online: 1) India really, really needs to implement the UDRS and allow players to review decisions. 2) Cricket umpires are really, really terrible. Let’s focus on the first one: I understand the impulse, and nearly fell to it during the game, but now I reject it. Didn’t this game precisely show the dramatic effect umpires can have in cricket? Didn’t those errors introduce much-needed plot twists and turns?
I understand people would rather not let games that match skill and talent fall on error. And it’s a noble thing to seek 100 percent accuracy (which I believe is still impossible with current technology). But that’s just not what cricket is about. I’ve long argued that what makes cricket exceptional is its acknowledgement of chance and fate, and the larger limits of human agency. The umpire is a part of this theme; he is a fallible tragic figure whose decisions sway results, not out of malice (well, not usually), but because humans are fallible. Just as we don’t allow substitutes (Laxman forced to bat with a bad back), just as accept the weather’s turns and the pitch’s conditions, we accept the umpire.
This may not sound satisfying to most people. But ask yourself this: didn’t something in you relish the moment when all eyes turned to Bowden after the Ohja LBW appeal? You saw the ball hit the batsman’s stumps and it looked out — admit it! — but there was still one more thing left to consider: fate.