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2007 in review: Umpiring
'Don't use technology unless it's foolproof'
December 30, 2007
Cricinfo's panel of experts evaluates modern-day umpiring and whether it needs more technological intervention
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Ian Chappell: "Part of the reason for poor umpiring is the dilution of their decision-making responsibilities" © Getty Images

Akhila Ranganna: In the fourth of our year-end specials on Cricinfo Talk, I asked our experts if they felt it was time to bring in more technology to assist umpires, especially keeping in mind some of the poor umpiring decisions that we have seen this year. Let's start with what Michael Holding has to say.

Michael Holding: No, I wouldn't go any further with technology. I think technology is being used in the best possible manner right now. I don't think you can start using technology for inside-edges and catches down the leg side - those [decisions] are the ones that usually catch out the umpires.

I don't think the umpires have done too badly. The umpires today are getting shown up because there is so much technology and so many replays available to the television companies. I will not say that umpiring [standards] have deteriorated. But what I would like to see is a few more umpires brought into the fold, so that the umpires in the Elite panel will get more rest. It is very difficult for the Elite panel now, since they are few in number. They have to be constantly on the road doing their work. Sure, everybody works for 11 to 12 months in a year, but umpiring is slightly different. It's a lot more stressful because every ball has to be concentrated on. Although they make mistakes, you'll find that their mistakes are not numerous. Some of them [the decisions] might be very important. An odd mistake might cost a team the game but at the same time they [umpires] are humans.

Technology, unless it is foolproof, shouldn't be used. When you start having three-dimensional pictures, then you have a better chance of using technology. With a flat-screen and two-dimensional pictures, you see catches that look like they've been taken when they actually haven't been. So I wouldn't get involved in that aspect of it. I think the umpires are doing a pretty good job. I'd just like to see the panel increased so that the umpires get more rest.

AR: Here are Ian Chappell's thoughts on this issue.

Ian Chappell: Well, I think in most cases technology cannot be relied on to produce the right decisions. So why would you revert to a system that's far less reliable than the one that's in place out in the middle?

To me part of the reason for poor umpiring is the dilution of their decision-making responsibilities. The administrators keep giving umpires the opportunity to refer more and more decisions [to the third umpire] rather than making the decisions out in the middle. That's what makes really good umpires: decisive guys who want to make decisions and usually get the correct decision - percentage-wise, at least in the high 90s.

I also think the administrators have taken the wrong approach, in my opinion, by worrying too much that what is said and shown on television as being a judgment on umpires.

A top Test umpire gave me the best description many years ago. He was asked if he'd ever made a mistake as an umpire and he said, "From the evidence available to me, every decision I gave was correct." That is an important and valid point. People need to be reminded that the information available to the umpire is different from what is being shown on television. In a lot of cases, what is being shown to television viewers is not conclusive. You know, if you took it on a legal basis, it wouldn't be admitted into court to judge a decision. Some decisions have got to be made by administrators on which way they're going to go with umpiring. I think a back-foot no-ball law would do much more to improve umpiring decisions than any increase in technology, but it's never discussed as an option.

In my opinion, technology should only be used when it can give the correct decision 100% of the time and I think that's a long way off yet. Hopefully, I won't be around when that happens because I think the human element of the game - which comes in the preparation of the pitch, the umpiring, and lest the players ever forget it, the actual playing of the game - because it's only when the player makes a mistake that the umpire has to make a judgment - is a very important part of the game, and I don't want to be around when it starts to disappear.

AR: And here are the views of someone who has been an umpire himself, David Lloyd.

David Lloyd: I've seen a lot of cricket around the world and I think the umpiring has been excellent. There will be mistakes made. In a different era, as a player, you used to think: well we got one [a decision] that went for us and one that's gone against us, so it evens itself out.

I think umpires are men of great integrity. In the England versus Sri Lanka series, the two Pakistani umpires, Aleem Dar and Asad Rauf, were under extreme pressure because it was a slow pitch that was dry. There was low bounce and with the spinners bowling, there were a lot of appeals but the two umpires were brilliant. Of course, mistakes were made, but overall I thought they were outstanding.

The interesting thing is that if you speak to a number of umpires on the Elite panel, they will tell you that they want more technology. They want to get their decisions right. I spoke to a top international umpire and - I'm not going to name him - he told me, "If I'm in Kolkata [at the Eden Gardens], with 86,000 people, or at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with 90,000 people, I can't hear thin edges; don't even ask me to hear them. Therefore, I feel that the third umpire is very much part of the team: the two umpires in the middle and the one upstairs." And there's a growing feeling that the number of umpires governing a game should be three not two.

AR: Sanjay Manjrekar believes that there are far bigger issues that are plaguing world cricket than the issue of umpires and technology. Here's what he has to say.

Sanjay Manjrekar: I'm of the view that when you get into a sport, umpiring errors are part and parcel of the game. When I look at what ails cricket, umpiring is never an issue for me. I think umpiring, in general, has greatly improved since we introduced neutral umpires and with the increased focus on umpires due to television. There have been a few errors from the umpires but cricketers also make errors on the field.

If you speak to a number of umpires on the Elite panel, they will tell you that they want more technology. A top international umpire told me, "If I'm in Kolkata, with 86,000 people, or at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with 90,000 people, I can't hear thin edges - don't even ask me to hear them. Therefore, I feel that the third umpire is very much part of the team" David Lloyd

We need to have a different mindset when we look at umpiring errors. If a couple of umpiring errors affect the result of a match, we also have to have a look at the teams who are getting affected because of these errors. Australia is the No. 1 team in the world despite umpiring errors. If you look at the rankings of the teams, you'll see that the better teams are on the top and umpiring is not having an adverse effect on their performances and results.

Minimum use of technology is something that I've always favoured because this is sport, where humans are involved. They will always make errors and that is the beauty of the sport.

AR: And finally, let's hear the thoughts of Tony Greig, someone who has always supported innovation in the game.

Tony Greig: Well, this is a hobby horse of mine. My formula - and I've been saying it for ten years - is that the match referee should be able to reverse a bad decision after having watched a few replays. I'm not talking about waiting for a long time, and I'm not talking about overruling the really marginal decisions. I'm talking about an inside edge - if Sachin Tendulkar gets an inside edge onto his pad and it's clear in the first replay that he wasn't out, then reverse the decision. The object of the exercise with technology should only be to make sure that the right decisions are made. I'm afraid to say that as technology gets better and better, the umpires are going to seem to get worse and worse. And that's not in the best interest of the game.

Akhila Ranganna is assistant editor (Audio) at ESPNcricinfo

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