Daryl Harper has withdrawn from the Third Test between India and West Indies, in what looks like a monumental fit of pique. Apparently, Harper — almost universally hated by every cricket blogger — is angry at the criticism he’s had to withstand from Indian players (including from M.S. Dhoni), none of who has been punished. Examples:
Indian newspapers widely reported that “a very senior member of the side” had claimed that the entire team did not want Harper to officiate in the final Test. “We don’t want him – you can quote it as the reaction of the entire Indian team,” was the alleged remark.
Another India player allegedly said: “It’s Daryl Harper six not out,” complaining that Harper had made three bad decisions in West Indies’ favour.
Regular readers know that I view the cricket umpire as a mythical demi-god who cannot be questioned. I have explained this before, but briefly, it relates to Hobbes’ reasoning in the Leviathan. Because all men are equal, all men have an equal claim to power. But that would lead to anarchy, so instead we consent to a sovereign and let him/her rule. You can question how much power you’d want to give in political societies, but on the cricket field, this makes a lot of sense — and anyone who has played pick-up cricket with more than three South Asians knows the values of this advice. Games without authoritative umpires quickly fold into silliness and disputes about rules and “who’s keeping score.”
So what’s the problem? Well, we now have something the Victorians didn’t — HotSpot and cameras, for one. And people look at replays and see wrong decisions and act as if they’ve been cheated all along. “What do you know,” they say, “the umpire is fallible!” This is the wrong lesson entirely: it was precisely the umpire’s fallibility (i.e., his human-ness) that led to us give him absolute powers. Now, even if you want more technology in the game, or don’t think much of my argument, the fact is both teams went into the Test series knowing fully well that Harper would be in charge. He’s made bad decisions, but he’s still the umpire — so lay off him, and do your job.
I supported Steve Bucknor when the Indians raised a fuss about him at Sydney, and I’ll support Harper now. Complaining about umpires mid-series is a terrible display of sour grapes; it also complicates the umpire’s mind-set (if I give a bad decision against the Indians, they’ll go home and cry to their BCCI overlords). If you choose not to have DRS in a series, and if you agree to play under umpires, and if you agree with the ICC’s umpire training and testing program, then shut up and play the game.