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Umpiring and technology

Be aware of potential pitfalls

Harsha Bhogle on the issue of the increasing the use of technology in umpiring decisions

Harsha Bhogle

May 12, 2006

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'It is important to know the limits of possibility, especially since the game increasingly moves away from the on-field umpire to the television company' © Getty Images
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I fear Steve Bucknor's matchstick is lighting a fire bigger than it should and the debate on whether television doctors the pictures it shows is now assuming dangerous proportions. The inference people are arriving at seems to be that "it happens" as opposed to what some of us have tried to say, which is that "it can happen". There is a huge difference. `A judge can be corrupt' doesn't mean `a judge is corrupt'.

That was the purpose of my quotes that Anand Vasu used in his article and which have raised some eyebrows. ("The more technology ICC uses, the more they hand over responsibility to the television producer. The position of the mat is the producer's responsibility and that can definitely be tampered with," and this one "If the director is either incompetent or biased then that is a problem because he controls what the third umpire sees."). I have worked for many years in television now with ESPN Star Sports and can state categorically that I haven't seen things tampered with. And as Steve Norris, has pointed out as well, that is likely to be the case with most people I know.

However it is important to know the limits of possibility, especially since the game increasingly moves away from the on-field umpire to the television company, and by inference, to the technicians and the director. It was a similar story, as many would remember, when the debate on whether to use third country umpires was on.

The initial response, mainly from outraged umpires, was that everybody is just and that the suggestion of bias was inappropriate. The position then shifted to `an umpire could possibly be biased but isn't' (though some men, we now know, tested that assumption!) and that is why we started having third country umpires which, incidentally, is the wisest move the game could have made. By being alive to the potential pitfalls of the old system, cricket took the right decision. Today, with technology playing such a huge role in the game, we need to be aware of another potential pitfall. That is where we stand today and that is what the ICC needs to be aware of when it debates the issue of more power to technology which, as we now know, means more power to the television company that provides the technology (incidentally at its own cost!).

If an umpire's decision is challenged by a batsman, let's say for a slip catch, and the replay for whatever reason, is inconclusive, will the batsman win his appeal? Or will, in the absence of firm evidence to the contrary, the umpire's decision stand?

The only difference between the parallels I have raised is that the game is subjected to far greater scrutiny now. A rogue umpire could have got away in the past because it was his word against another man's. A rogue producer could hardly ever get away as blatantly!! Or indeed, hope to continue in his job!

The increasing move towards technology though needs to answer one other fundamental question. If an umpire's decision is challenged by a batsman, let's say for a slip catch, and the replay for whatever reason, is inconclusive, will the batsman win his appeal? Or will, in the absence of firm evidence to the contrary, the umpire's decision stand?

I believe we need to move ahead and use technology wherever possible but we need to be a little wary about outsourcing justice beyond a point.

Harsha Bhogle is a broadcaster with ESPN Star Sports

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