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Thursday, September 15, 2011

The umpire versus technology… Aleem Dar wins

There was a time when the umpire’s decision was final. For good or bad, he wasn’t questioned. There was also a time when Pakistan’s umpires were said to be a fiercely patriotic bunch, who didn’t mind giving decisions in the home team’s favour — just ask Mike Gatting or any Indian who had the fortune/misfortune of touring Pakistan in the early 70s and 80s.

It was almost impossible to defeat Pakistan at home. Of course, they had a very good team but if the old wives tales are to be believed the umpires did their best to err. It wasn’t a reputation that did them any good.

But technology came along and forced the umpires to change. In the old era, some of the decisions were so atrocious that it only reinforced the feeling that some technology can surely help. Whatever shortcomings individual bits of equipment might have, that having some form of referral system, even if it consisted only of a third umpire with access to normal TV pictures, it was or at least seems to be a better way of conducting a game.

Aleem Dar. Getty Images.

Aleem Dar was voted to the award by the 10 full member captains as well as the eight-man elite panel of match referees.. Getty Images.

And no one in the current cricket establishment showcases that change more than Aleem Dar. The umpire from Pakistan won the David Shepherd Trophy for the ICC Umpire of the Year for the third year running.

And he has won it by standing firm in the face of technology.

Technology, on it’s own, teaches us to mistrust umpires — makes them human and capable of error after error. As we see decisions getting over-turned, it’s hard not to feel for the umpire. He seems to shrink to nothingness. His mistakes shown on a giant screen, the crowd boos, the player’s smirk and the umpire can only shrug his shoulders and look away.

But this is why Dar is special. The more you watch him get things right, the more you realise that umpiring, in a strange way, is a sport too. Teams all around the world have learned to trust his eye and very rarely does he get any decision wrong. It’s his consistency that has won him accolades wherever he goes.

Other competitors were Steve Davis, Ian Gould and five-time winner Simon Taufel. Dar, 43, officiated in five Tests and 13 ODIs during the voting period, including the World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka. Dar was voted to the award by the 10 full member captains as well as the eight-man elite panel of match referees. He received the award from ICC Hall of Fame 2011 inductee Alan Davidson.

From a time when Pakistani umpires were said to be the worst in the business to a time when they consistently rank as the best in the world, Dar has sure changed things around. Of course, it also helps if you take up the job when you are pretty young.

Dar, who made his international debut as an umpire in 2000, joined the Emirates Elite Panel in 2004. In the voting period of these awards, Dar stood in five Tests and 13 ODIs. He stood in the ICC Cricket World Cup in the India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where he was an on-field umpire in eight of the matches, including the final between India and Sri Lanka.

There is another reason why players like him — he treats everyone equally and is not likely to treat himself as a child of a higher god. He keeps it cool in the mind; so cool that at times his robot sidekick hardly ever has a chance to get involved. And in the eyes of many, that’s why he’s really good.

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