Umpiring December 12, 2009

The umpire is right (even when he’s wrong)

From the comfort of his sofa, Andrew Hughes waves an irate fist in the direction of the UDRS

‘Pipe down with your appeal there, laddie, or I’ll do unspeakable things with this here ICC-approved deterrent’ © AFP

UDRS! It sounds like the cry of a Bulgarian shot-putter as he lets fly. Or perhaps the first word that David Boon uttered as he disembarked at Heathrow airport in 1989.

In fact, this collection of letters stands for Umpire Demoralising Review System, an entirely new method of making cricket more complicated that is completely unrelated to the previous Player Review System, which everyone hated. You can tell it’s different because it has a completely different name, apart from the last bit.

Lots of intelligent and learned cricket folk are asking questions about UDRS. Questions such as: How does it work? Come again? Run that by me one more time? No, still not got it, could you write it down? But the only question I want to ask is: does it enhance the sofa-dweller’s viewing pleasure? Sadly, I have to say that the answer is no.

First, the details. As far as I can make out, this is how it goes. Umpire A makes a decision. Players may challenge this decision by screaming, pouting, or stamping their feet on the ground. If Umpire A remains unconvinced, a captain may, by indicating inverted commas with his forefingers, initiate the referral process.

Umpire A will then talk to Umpire C. Umpire B may also talk to Umpire C, but not without being introduced. Umpire C will watch his television. He is not allowed to tell Umpire A what he sees there, but may pass on information by implication, insinuation or cryptic clues. After a short half-hour delay, Umpire A will then shrug his shoulders to signal that the referral process has been successfully completed.

Naturally the ICC thinks it works. Apparently the correctness of decisions has gone up by 6% since it was introduced. They know this thanks to the Deciderator 2000, a calculator the size of Jesse Ryder housed in a disused storage closet in downtown Dubai. But the ICC aren’t the only ones with access to the latest technology. Thanks to the Hughes Confusometer, I have measured a staggering 350% increase in bafflement and bewilderment since UDRS was introduced.

It has also subtly altered our relationship with gadgets. Once they enhanced our experience, getting us closer to the game than the mosquito perched on Shane Watson’s faceguard. But since it has been officially sanctioned, technology has become omnipresent. The current series in Australia has featured a heart-rate monitor, a traffic-light themed lbw wizard, Hotspot, slow-mos, Snicko, Hawk-Eye, and a special device to warn us when Bill Lawry has nodded off. You have to stay on top of it all because it has become part of the game. As a result, watching a Test match these days is like sitting in the NASA control room during a space-shuttle launch.

I’ll be honest. I like the simplicity of the chap on the field being right. Even when he’s wrong. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t always fair, but then life isn’t fair, and unlike life, a game of cricket really doesn’t matter all that much. At this point I could go on about taking the rough with the smooth, suffering slings and arrows, greeting triumph and disaster and so on. But I can picture the tapping of thousands of fingers on thousands of keyboards, typing words like “old” and “fashioned” and “Who is this Neanderthal?”

So if this is the future of cricket, let’s dive in head first, rather than timidly dipping our toes in Lake Technology. For a start, why involve players in the messy business of making decisions? They aren’t cut out for it. It is tricky enough for some of them to arrive at the right ground at the right time wearing the right trousers. Let them concentrate on dropping catches, bowling wides and styling their hair.

The umpires should retain control of the means of adjudication and should be tooled up with all the latest gear. I propose that the ICC commission full-metal body suits for arbiters. These should feature state of the art Hawk-Eye-enabled visors, Snickometer antennae, and heat-detecting scanners. Optional extras to include a no-ball sensor, a tea-maker, and a hook upon which players can hang their sweaters and caps. Once they’re suited up like Judge Dredd, there would be no doubt where the authority lay.

My name is Aleem Dar. I AM the law.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England