Nathan Lyon stood at the top of his mark. It was the 3rd Ashes test at Headingly and Ben Stokes and Jack Leach had converted a fruitless chase to a chance to create history. England had the chance to get back into the Ashes.
The atmosphere was buzzing in anticipation and energy as the crowd masked their anxiety with jolly singing and a broad smile. The Australian players did their best to remain poker faced but you could tell self-doubt was silently tip toeing into their minds.
Nathan Lyon flicked a bead of sweat from his forehead and put on a façade of a cool, calm and collected man when inside he was nothing but. He took one last deep breath and prepared to bowl. The crowd roared in anticipation before the noise faded away into an eerie silence.
Nathan Lyon ran in. He bowled the ball. Ben Stokes sweeps. The ball thudded into his pad. It was plumb. “HOWZZATT!” screeched Nathan Lyon to the umpire with desperate fervour.
All eyes turned to the umpire. The umpire had a moment of thought but in what felt like an eternity the umpire had made his decision. It was not out…
As we all know, Ben Stokes knocked off the runs in style as he ascended to the throne that was once occupied by Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff and England was given a chance to retain the Ashes but it all could have been very different…
Much to the fury of the Australian public, technology proved that the lbw appeal was out and because Australia had already used all their reviews, they could not send it upstairs.
Before you bemoan the lack of quality that umpires show in these ever so vital situations (or celebrate it if you are an England fan), understand the amount of pressure these poor umpires are under in these crunch moments.
For starters, the crowd can have a detrimental effect on an umpire’s ability to think rationally. Crowds like India (incredibly loud) or Australia (incredibly raucous) especially would make an umpire’s mind into an emotional mess.
Not to mention the possibility of facing the wrath of the players if you give a decision they think is incorrect (which is pretty much every time) as you can expect an outburst in emotion from the player.
Furthermore, sometimes an umpire might get sucked into the thrilling nature of a particular game and might be influenced by who he wanted to win. This can result in an emotional decision which is sacrilege in the neutral art of umpiring.
All of these different factors are combined to make an umpire’s job more difficult and not to mention that the difficult of deciding if it’s out from a purely technical point of view should not be understated. In short, an umpire’s job is hard work.
When you think of the people who have changed cricket history with their revolutionary actions, you would think of people like Shane Warne, the man who raised leg spinners from the dead, or the Sri Lankans, the men who invented the gung ho ODI attitude that probably influenced the creation of T20 which changed cricket as we know it, but the umpires have had their fair share of making history with their actions.
A single decision from them can potentially make or change a player’s career, a team’s legacy, the pride of a nation and the rise and fall of cricket. The umpires have an essential role in the destiny of the game so it is important that they make a right and fair decision but sometimes they get it wrong and that can potentially contribute to the history of the game for either positive or negative reasons.
An example of these incorrect decisions that have influenced cricket is the 2019 world cup final when a New Zealand fielder threw the ball onto the bat of Ben stokes when he was sprinting for 2 runs. Because he hadn’t crossed yet it should have been 5 runs but an umpiring error in the heat of the moment gave England 6 runs.
If he had given the 5 runs, English cricket would have missed out on the publicity that it has been starved of since the 2005 ashes and Ben Stokes would be forever remembered as the “nearly Botham” or the “nearly Flintoff”.
However, in contrast, New Zealand suffer another heart-breaking loss at the summit of the game and if New Zealand had won that game, there might have been a massive wave of interest and their cricket could have reached new heights but unfortunately for them that was not possible. Most readers must be thinking that it is totally unjust to New Zealand and I am not denying it isn’t but that is just the nature of the beast.
For the betterment or for the wrong, the umpires are the destiny makers of cricket and when they make an error, however hard it maybe, we must accept that.
Umpiring is an error strewn art form and the mental pressure put on them by a plethora of different factors burdens the mind and we must acknowledge that.
When a player scores a duck, we don’t blast the player without mercy in the same way we blast the umpires. We accept that everyone has a bad game and move on but were has all that sympathy gone when an umpire makes a blunder?
It is important to be sympathetic as being an umpire is a lonely world as in a team you have a lot of people to support you through bad times but an umpire has no one except from their fellow peer who is also just as stressed as him.
Don’t get me wrong, umpires can not be complacent about making the right decision in the same way players cannot complacent about scoring runs but when an umpire fails it is our duty to accept and maybe forgive.
So next time when you settle in on the sofa watching your team, before you have a rant at the television screen after a howler of a decision, have a think back to this article and acknowledge the pressure these noble beings are under and silently accept these men are human and it is time we give a tad bit more comfort.