October 25, 2005

Technology in umpiring

Not an ideal world

Martin Williamson

Earlier posts: Intro, 1, 2, 3, 4.

In an ideal world, every umpire’s decision would be right … but we all know this is not an ideal world. Technology has been held up as the way to eliminate human error, and the experiments during the Super Test should have represented another step towards that. That it failed to inspire my colleague Amit Varma, one of its staunchest supporters, shows how badly it failed.

If you go down this route (and this argument assumes that replays for line calls, where the decision is almost always black and white, are rightly here to stay) then you have to go the whole hog. You can’t embark on a quest for perfection and stop short. That means Hawk-Eye for lbws, the Snickometer for edges … and anyone who has watched cricket on TV knows, that means more delays and even then, debate remains. There was more than one decision at Sydney where the umpires, using the same replays as the third umpire, came to a different conclusion. And as for the farce where the third official, unable to decide, referred back to the on-field umpire who gave the batsman out … come off it!

The main worry is that if you do remove the element of doubt, matches would be over in half the time. While bowlers might rejoice, batsmen would find their innings cut off much earlier. And given that money is so important to those at the top, shorter games are not an option … so don’t hold your breath for the changes to be rolled out anytime soon. But that’s no bad thing. One of the great things about sport is the uncertainty, the unfairness, and the hours of argument that gives us. And although it might be an old cliché, it is nevertheless true that decisions do even themselves out. Sure, individuals suffer – ask Damien Martyn – but nobody ever said sport was fair. And for every one that suffers, someone else benefits. Swings and roundabouts.

But my biggest concern is for the journalists and players. What on earth would fill the acres of column inches if we were robbed of all those contentious decisions to mull over. And who would captains and players blame for their own deficiencies if they didn’t have the umpire to fall back on?

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Martin Williamson
Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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