Incompetent and inconsistent umpiring may, perhaps, be pardonable, as being born out of human failure, but having to be victims of a deliberate double-standard must surely make us wonder whether impartiality has been inducted into international cricket's overall supervision.
The code of conduct for players introduced by the International Cricket Conference does not allow the manager, the captain or any of the players to speak out against any form of injustice that may be meted out by the umpires, much less against the action of the ICC match-referee. But there can be no doubt that the Indian team suffered at the hands of the umpires. Sachin Tendulkar being the worst-hit victim.
On the other hand, the Australian players, being the home team, enjoyed all the largesse of favouritism. Left-hand batsman Justin Langer's bat must have come down straight from heaven, with two guardian angels in attendance to boot, for him to have made a score of 223 at Sydney.
Javagal Srinath's remark, at the end of the second day, adressed to Langer, saying "you oght to buy a lottery ticket today," was an apt comment of the great slice of luck he enjoyed. The Karnataka paceman will not hesitate to say it on oath. Langer was clearly out to him alone on at least three occasions.
Even before the Indian team set foot Down Under, all manner of strategies were being worked out by the Aussie think-tank to contain, if not dismiss as early as possible the Indian trump card, Sachin Tendulkar. Fair enough, as any intelligent side worth its salt would do just that. Of all of India's rivals, the Australians have the greatest reason to hate Tendulkar's tremendous success. The 1997-98 mauling of their main bowler Shane Warne in India has not been forgotten. Moreover the attacking streak of the master blaster bears comparison with their living legend Sir Donald Bradman, and that by the admission of the great men himself.
But one is surprised that the Australian team needed outside help to further its ambition of subduing Tendulkar. The main cricket columnists, writing in Australian newspapers, have themselves underscored the fact that, at least on three occasions, the Indian captain was given out wrongly. Even in a fifty-fifty chance, the benefit of doubt was never given to the batsman. This despite that the golden principle of umpiring maintains that even if there is two per cent margin of doubt, it must go to the batsman's advantage.
The continuous support of the television umpire, with all the sophisticated gadgetry at his dispossal, may have lightened the responsibilities of the field umpires, but leg-before decisions ever remain a debatable point, as the umpire on the ground has to rely on his own independent perception. And he has to give his decisions in a flash, without the advantage of several replays that the third umpire and all those veiwing the game from outside have.
In the case of the Adelaide incident, when Tendulkar was given out leg-before after the ball crashed into his helmet as he ducked under, all that the umpire had to adjudge was whether the ball would have cleared the stumps or not.
Daryl Harper, who was on the field (at Adelaide) for the fourth day, ought to have known the bounce of the wicket, as also the fact that Glenn McGrath's short-pitched balls were invariably raising.
If the umpiring throughout the Test series was something to be sore about, then the adjudication of the ICC match referee, Sri Lankan Ranjan Madugalle certainly mocked impartiality.
Venkatesh Prasad, normally not given to expression of emotions, had only exulted when he had the batsman out. His action was considered "offensive" by the match referee and he was fined 30 per cent of his match-fees and handed a suspended one-month sentence, which means that if he repeats that kind of action in the next one month, he will be stood down for at least two matches.
On two occasions, Glenn McGrath's demonstration of arrogance was for all to see, but he was "just spoken to," by the match-referee.
Even after the leading newspapers had criticised McGrath's behaviour, Madugalle did not find anything seriously wrong with the incident. The worst was when Ricky Ponting held his bat threateningly at Srinath and used swear words. Where was the match-referee when this happened and when all the replays of the incident were being shown?
The Indian team may have reason to feel that they did not get the best of the umpiring, as also the unbiased attention of the match-referee, but all this cannot justify its dismal performances in all the tests. It is a moot point as to what might have been if Tendulkar was not given out wrongly. The final conclusion that emerged was that India was outclassed in each of the three tests. There were very few glorious moments.
The worst fear that if our fabulous batting trio of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly did not click, it would be disastrous, came true. Tendulkar could get only three knocks worthy of his reputation, Ganguly even less and Dravid none at all.
While Srinath, Prasad and Agarkar toiled without much success, Anil Kumble had no spinning support. In the end, he was as big a disappointment as Dravid.