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Sunday, 9th October The League of Runners-Up is over and at last Mumbai have won something other than the Best Team In Mumbai Trophy. The injury-prone Indians lumbered to a bruising points victory over the Chris Gayle XI in a scrappy dust-up made fascinating by the flaws of the contenders. In the blue corner: Harbhajan’s half-fit Hamstring-Tweakers. And in the red corner: Daniel’s One-Trick Ponies (or perhaps, Two-and-a-half Trick Ponies, if you count Kohli and half a Dilshan).
But this is Planet IPL and Bangalore can still win this thing where it really matters: in the courts. I reckon they’d have a good case. For a start, there was clear evidence of bias towards the men in blue. After being careless enough to allow several of their players to be injured, Mumbai were granted special permission to play an extra foreigner. Yet when Bangalore asked if their captain could increase his quota of overs from four to 20, on the grounds that none of their other bowlers were any good, their entirely reasonable request was turned down.
And then there is Malinga. Watching him shatter the timber against Somerset yesterday, I began to suspect he is up to something. If my hunch is right, while the Slinger is warming up, Rayudu plants a small explosive charge at the base of each stump and then, at the moment of delivery, Malinga presses the button on his hand-held yorker detonation device. Sometimes he doesn’t even let go of the ball. No wonder his victims look so bemused.
Tuesday, 11th October That beeping noise you can hear is the sound of the ICC backing up as it slowly reverses world cricket down the same cul-de-sac into which it drove it last year. We were told that DRS was the very thing, the absolute cherry on the technology trifle and that we were heading into a brave new world in which every decision would be the right one, small deer would feed from Aleem Dar’s hand as butterflies fluttered about the popping crease and Simon Taufel’s path would be strewn with rose petals.
But no longer, it seems. The problem is not really with the technology, but the men operating it. Umpires are not good with gadgets. They can juggle little stones to count the deliveries, they’re pretty good with a small pencil and they can read the hands on a clock to within a 30-second margin of error. But that’s about it. Look how they treat the light meter, wielding it as though it were an ancient and mysterious Aztec artefact of great power that no mere mortal can defy.
A new breed of umpire, capable of wrestling with all this data, might be one solution. Computer science undergraduates could do the job and you probably wouldn’t have to pay them very much. But then, a teenager in an unironed shirt triumphantly solving the lbw equation to 17 decimal points just doesn’t have the aesthetic appeal of Steve Bucknor’s slow finger raise or the quirky fun of Billy Bowden’s stick-insect gyrations. Without the man in the white coat it just wouldn’t be the same.
So now that we’re back in technological limbo, it’s time for cricket to ask itself the big questions. Does Hawk-Eye work in the dark? If your bat was on fire, would Hot Spot still be able to detect a nick to first slip? Why aren’t wicketkeepers’ caps fitted with lie-detectors? And is accuracy all that matters? Or to put it another way, isn’t it time to bin the gadgets and let the umpires get on with umpiring?
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73