Every scrap of evidence, from slow-motion television replays to still photographs at the point of impact, suggests that Sachin Tendulkar's shoulders were quite clearly above stump height.
Yet, umpire Daryl Harper's dreaded finger went up to declare the Indian captain out in what indeed was a freak leg-before decision. The world's best batsman in fact was done in by bad umpiring decisions on both the occasions in the first test at Adelaide, which Australia eventually won by the enormous margin of 285 runs on Tuesday. Even before the Indian team set foot Down Under, manner of strategies were being worked out by the Australian cricket think tank to contain, if not oust as early as possible, the greatest stroke-player in the game today.
Of all of India's rivals in international cricket, the Australian are perhaps, more familiar with the walloping willow that Tendulkar wields. The batsman whose attacking streak bears comparison with the living legend, Sir Donald Bradman, and that too through expression of his thoughts by the great man himself, had to be entrapped by a plan that probed his weakness. If at all the Australians ever needed divine help to their ambitious plan, it came in the from of the cruel fate that was attendant on Tendulkar, as early on the tour as the very first test. While one would not like to cast aspersions on a particular umpire, the fact remains that to be ruled out twice in a match on dubious decisions must sound as too bad to be true.
As such leg-before decisions ever remain a debating point. In this the most frustrating form of all decisions, the umpire has to rely purely on his own independent perception and assessment of his view. One must remember that what television experts and others see are visions, from all possible angles and in slow motion, and ten times over. Whereas the umpire on the field has to make a firm decision either way within a few seconds. Earlier, when grave suspiscions were raised against home umpires to the point where their very integrity was questioned, many believed that the introduction of a panel of neutral-country umpires would go a long way in clearing all suspicions.
Today as per the ruling of the International Cricket Council, at least one neutral umpire officiates in an international match. Has this arrangement and so-called imput of neutrality helped in arriving at total fairness of supervision? The way untoward incidents crop up and the manner in which touring teams complain about certain home umpires, as much their judgement, as their attitude towards visiting teams, it appears that the ICC is still far from solving the problem of removing the obstacles to impartial umpiring.
If we ponder over some recent controversies that cropped up, particularly in Australia when first Sri Lanka and then Pakistan and now India, have had reasons to complain about the supervising officials and the ICC match referee, it will emerge that what we need is not just neutral-country umpires but also umpires who are competent and unbiased.