England in West Indies, 2008-09 March 10, 2009

Why the referral system may be written by monkeys

  A potentially nerve-jangling end to this largely drab series will certainly make a refreshing change, if only through having a day’s cricket in which the main talking point will be cricket, not the accursed referral system.


The referral system’s effect has largely been to overturn correct decisions and uphold wrong ones © Getty Images
 
A potentially nerve-jangling end to this largely drab series will certainly make a refreshing change, if only through having a day’s cricket in which the main talking point will be cricket, not the accursed referral system.

To those uninitiated in the arcane, murky and incomprehensible processes of top-level sporting administration, the referral system appears either to have been myopically conceived, or to have been based on some cast-off pages found in the recycling bin of a special ICC room containing in Dubai an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters attempting to write a three-volume anthology of poems about David Boon.

The system is as confused and incomplete as a dog without a head, its obvious and easily remediable flaws exacerbated by umpiring that might as well have been carried out by the same bonceless pooch.

Daryl Harper has appeared to be umpiring a different game to the one taking place in Trinidad. (In fact, the closest match I have found based on the pattern of his decision-making suggests he has been hallucinating a Test between Australia and India from December 1967 in his hometown of Adelaide, and officiating, quite well, on that instead. When he gave Strauss not out after an edge to Ramdin that was both audible and visible, he thought he was turning down a caught behind appeal from Graham McKenzie against Farokh Engineer (correctly, as it happens – Engineer’s bat brushed the ground and wicketkeeper Barry Jarman only half appealed). Whether or not Harper attended this match, watched it on television, or listened to it on the radio, remains a matter for conjecture, but it clearly lodged in his subconscious and is now seeping out at an awkward time. And the only explanation for Aleem Dar failing to overturn the indecision was that he was understandably distracted by an escaped rhinoceros rampaging around the umpires’ room.)

The referral system’s effect has largely been to overturn correct decisions and uphold wrong ones. Why the predictive element of Hawkeye is not used is, frankly, a baffling piece of cricketing Ludditery. If the technology is trusted to track the ball accurately to the point of impact − the difficult bit, requiring complex and highly advanced equipment – why not allow it to complete the task by then predicting the remainder of a parabola – the scientifically simple part, requiring some a computer or a bendy ruler?

Science, the coquettish little vamp that she is, can predict for us where comets are going to be in 200 years’ time. I think the ICC could unleash science’s smart-arsed power to compute where a cricket ball would almost certainly be six feet from where it last demonstrably was. As it is, the TV umpire is being shown the ball’s path to impact, but then being forced to guess what happens next. In my experience, in matters of science, science will generally take more accurate and better informed guesses than guesswork. Which partially explains why I have never won a Nobel Prize for physics, whereas several physicists have.

There seems no reason why, within a couple of years, a properly managed combination of Hawkeye, Snicko, Hi-Motion and Hot Spot (coincidentally the names Tiffin, Harper, Dar and referee Alan Hurst use when they’re pretending to be a hip-hop group whilst warming up before the start of play) could not be able to produce a close-to-definitive verdict on most appeals within 30 to 40 seconds. Furthermore, with the Strauss non-dismissal yesterday, an elementary psychologist, or parent, could have taken look at the England captain’s face and told the on-field umpire that the batsman was at least 135% out.

At the moment, the half-use of only some of the available technology is tantamount to using the latest electronic medical equipment to diagnose an illness, then asking a child with a pair of scissors and a plastic stethoscope to perform the operation. If I may exaggerate wildly to make a point.

COMING SOON: The Confectionery Stall Review Of The Series, and, following on from The World’s Dullest XI, the Confectionery Stall World’s Most Unpredictable XI.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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