Long before the third T20I between Bangladesh and West Indies on Saturday was reduced to a complete farce, an event warned that the match was not in the safest of hands. Mahmudullah Riyad came on to bowl in the 10th over and struck Shimron Hetmyer on the pads with a straight delivery. A vociferous appeal went up and local umpire Tanvir Ahmed seemed resolved to deny it, but his will seemed to visibly weaken as Mahmudullah, on one knee, increased volume and earnestness until the finger went up.
Hetmyer reviewed and Tanvir's decision was proven right. That however was not the case an hour and a half later when he twice called Oshane Thomas for no-balls erroneously in the fourth over of Bangladesh's chase. It was mere coincidence that Liton Das was caught off the second of those, which led to chaotic scenes as the big screen showed that Thomas's heel landed behind the line. While he had acquitted himself well up till that point -- keeping track of the undisciplined Windies fast bowlers' footfalls was a challenge that he was coping with -- Tanvir committed a cardinal sin when, under pressure from a petulant Carlos Brathwaite, he actually reversed the decision and gave Liton out. Liton did not move.
Both reactions -- Tanvir buckling under pressure and Liton not caring a hoot -- owe much to the farce that is umpiring in domestic cricket.
While much is made of umpires' judicial skills of detecting minute edges and divining the path of the ball after it hits pad, one of their most prized attributes is the ability to withstand pressure.
Even in the age of the Decision Review System, cricketers the world over are taught in theory and practice that the umpire's decision is final and not to be questioned. Cricketers in Bangladesh meanwhile -- be it in second division, first division or in the prestigious Dhaka Premier League -- play under conditions that make the umpire's decision merely the starting point of debate. Those debates are often ill-tempered and umpires are often victimised and abused by the players. Players' misbehaviour, however, is a symptom and not the cause -- the distinguishing factor in Bangladesh has to do not with how umpires are treated on the field, but off it.
Umpires are not custodians of the game in Bangladesh, but tools by which powerful officials can implement their wills -- in other words match officiators, who are supposed to be invested with the ultimate respect and authority in the sport, are, in Bangladesh, little more than pressure points that when pressed will swing results in the favour of the more powerful. Players merely take the cue from their club bosses. That also has the knock-on effect of umpires not really needing to hone their skills to build a career as following orders serves that purpose. That explains the mediocre standards seen through the series.
The other aspect that probably has been noticed -- albeit generally for the wrong reason -- is that the other umpire on Saturday was also Bangladeshi. Conspiracy theorists may be gleefully pronouncing that Tanvir was cheating in order to help Bangladesh win, but there is very little rationale for doing that.
Bangladeshi umpires rarely get opportunities to officiate in international matches and when they do, giving a good account of themselves and building a solid reputation are much more important professional considerations than corrupt intentions that will easily be exposed in televised matches, leading to a lasting stigma. Instead of conspiracy, the presence of two Bangladeshi umpires ensured that Brathwaite's bullying actually had an effect. A foreign umpire raised in a system where his judgement, and not orders from beyond the boundary, is paramount would likely have persuaded Tanvir to stand his ground.
In the aftermath of the incident, social media warriors were falling over themselves to connect the errors to the nefarious activities that plague domestic cricket. But that does Tanvir, a respected umpire, a disservice.
All that happened in Thomas's over has happened before. Umpires have been ridiculously off the mark before. It is to Brathwaite's immense discredit -- especially after he had become involved in a verbal scuffle with the opposition as a 12th man in the third ODI in Sylhet -- that he stopped the game for eight minutes after watching the replay on the screen because in most other circumstances, the players would have accepted the wrong decision, even if grudgingly.
Even given the misbehaviour, play was supposed to go on. What rarely, if ever, happens is that the umpire caves in to pressure as Tanvir did. In doing that he proved that even a reputed umpire like him is victim to the prevailing domestic culture which is just not conducive to regularly producing umpires capable of thriving in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of international cricket. If the best of the system is vulnerable, then what hope for the run-of-the-mill and for Bangladesh's domestic cricket reaching and sustaining a high standard?
It was a poor advertisement of Bangladesh's domestic game, but there is a silver lining. Given that the authorities do not take meaningful action even when the worst domestic infractions are reported and exposed, perhaps it is shame on an international stage and scale that will finally make them blush.