September 8, 2007

The decision, not the official

The Peter Hartley incident from the sixth ODI has shown that umpires need to set aside their egos and accept the increasing role of technology in decisions

Peter Hartley may have set a template for the considered use of technology in future © Getty Images

It is just as well for Peter Hartley that his maiden appearance as an on-field international umpire coincided with one of the most gripping contests of the summer. On a drearier day - if the series had been in the bag already and there had been no tasty sub-plots such as Dimitri Mascarenhas's five sixes in an over to distract the tabloids - some serious capital could have been made of the moment when Paul Collingwood was given his marching orders for 1, after Hartley's belated glance at the giant replay screen.

The moment was soon buried in the blizzard of action that followed, and even Collingwood himself - who had been none too pleased with the decision at the time - claimed he had forgotten about it by the time the presentation ceremony came around. "It was obviously a little bit of a mistake from the umpire," he told Sky Sports afterwards. "He didn't want to have a look at the replays; then suddenly he did after seeing it on the big screen - so thank you very much to the people who put it up there."

The fact that the furore died down so quickly is a relief because, regardless of the circuitous route that Hartley took, the right decision was reached in the end - a fact acknowledged by the ICC soon afterwards. "There is nothing to prevent an umpire reversing his decision as long as it is before the next ball has been bowled," confirmed a spokesman on Thursday. "He should have referred the decision straightaway but he had the presence of mind to refer it once he realised his mistake."

But the lack of controversy does not disguise the myriad of issues that have been thrown up in the incident's wake. The intrusion of technology has been a feature of international cricket for several seasons now, but here finally was the crossover moment. Line decisions have been television's prerogative for more than a decade, but only ever at the invitation of the on-field umpire. This time the roles were reversed. Television, the all-seeing eye, beamed incontrovertible proof of an official's error, and Collingwood was given his marching orders as 23,000 voices hooted their derision.

There were parallels with a similarly stop-start decision in the first Test at Lord's, when Kevin Pietersen edged Zaheer Khan to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, only to be stopped in his tracks as he approached the pavilion gates. And at Glasgow last month, during India's one-day warm-up against Scotland, the Scottish captain Ryan Watson was also reprieved by the cameras after driving on the up to mid-off. On both occasions, however, the referral was initiated by the men in the middle, thus maintaining the thin veneer of pretence that it is their word that is final. Hartley, unwittingly, has repainted that whole issue in a very fetching shade of grey.

Ironically, Hartley did very little wrong in terms of pure decision-making. His instinct in the heat of the moment was to give the batsman the benefit of the doubt in what, to the naked eye, was an extremely close call. Unfortunately, in that same heat of the moment, he forgot that he was no longer on the county circuit - or indeed, sat back in the TV umpire's armchair, from where he conducted his previous five Tests and five one-day internationals. He was in the middle of a high-octane international and he forgot he had tools at his disposal to aid his adjudication.

To his immense credit Hartley regained his poise quickly, and by the end of the day even Collingwood had reverted to singing his praises. "He's a great bloke," he said, "who I've played against in county cricket, and he will be a very good umpire." Hartley's personal authority is undiminished, and maybe even enhanced by the episode. But whatever route his career now takes, he'll know all too well that the umpire's decision is by no means final.

That, however, may not be such a bad thing. For too long cricket has been at the mercy of umpires who, in the words of Nasser Hussain, come over too "precious" when their pride is put on the line. Darrell Hair's ego was at the route of the ructions that split the game last summer, while on Tuesday the inaugural World Twenty20 gets underway without four of the biggest-name officials in the world. Steve Bucknor, Aleem Dar, Rudi Koertzen and Billy Bowden have all been stood down for that tournament after their parts in the fiasco at the end of the World Cup final in Barbados. That nonsense in the twilight could have been avoided with a modicum of Hartley-esque pride-swallowing.

The need to blood new officials has never been more urgent. The current crop is overworked and fraying at the edges, with even the multi-award-winning Simon Taufel succumbing to some howlers during the recent England-India series. But the era into which the new candidates are to be pitched is an unforgiving one. All sports are dogged by the nagging suspicion that their officials are redundant at the highest level, but none more so than cricket - take poor Ian Howell, who was castigated for his imperfect efforts at Trent Bridge and The Oval. Perhaps it's time, finally, to save the umpires from themselves, and transfer the final decision from the men in white coats to the man with the remote.

The intrusion of technology has been a feature of international cricket for several seasons now, but here finally was the crossover moment. Line decisions have been television's prerogative for more than a decade, but only ever at the invitation of the on-field umpire. This time the roles were reversed

Such a shift has been tried before, but without much success. In a trial run in the Champions Trophy in 2002, Shoaib Malik become the first cricketer to be given out lbw via a TV replay, but delays and indecision - particularly over low catches - dissuaded the ICC from extending the experiment, although it did receive a second airing during the Super Series in Australia in 2005. For this season's Friends Provident Trophy in England, a new variation was introduced, with each team given the option of two referrals per innings. For the final of that competition, however, the rival captains, Durham's Dale Benkenstein and Hampshire's Shane Warne, agreed to suspend the idea. No one, it seems, wants to get on the wrong side of the umpires. Until such time as umpires are made accountable to an off-field adjudicator, they will wield power that is not in proportion to their diminishing authority.

Hartley, a popular ex-pro and a man with an encouraging lack of ego, might just have stumbled upon a template for the future of umpiring. As England and India have shown in a series that has often been tempestuous, there are plenty of on-field behavioural issues that require a modern official to wield tact and diplomacy, and there are plenty of decisions that still require the naked eye to make the first call. Lbws, for instance, cannot yet be entrusted to HawkEye, because there are too many doubts about the reliability of the tracking system.

Just occasionally, however, a replay from on high - and an over-rule - might not go amiss. Marginal decisions are one thing, but howlers such as those that have cropped up all summer long are something else altogether. It might therefore be time to confer a greater responsibility on the ICC's oft-maligned match referees, who could probably do with some tangible evidence of their worth. As former pros they will have an innate cricket knowledge, and enough tools at their disposal, to do the work of the third umpire, and sufficient authority to have a quiet word if a glaring mistake has slipped through the net. If the umpires' egos can cope with the jolt, they might one day be grateful.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Neil on September 10, 2007, 22:20 GMT

    The ICC and the cricketing establishment, has been in a state of denial with regards the use of technology in making umpiring decions for some time. But the arguement for using technology gets stronger all the time with increasingly sophisticated equipment being introduced by tv companies, putting umpired constantly under the spotlight. All the umpires in the recent series in England who made poor decisions,were considered to be good umpires, but they are only human and will make mistakes, this is where they cannot compete with technology. Yes we do need to look further at the existing tools we have in place and determine whether they are good enough. But at the moment we are putting umpires in the difficult position of being scrutinized everywhere, from the ground to the newspapers. Surely its better that we give them a hand and also increase the fair play in cricket.

  • Vijay on September 10, 2007, 9:41 GMT

    I think the time has come to allow the technology to intervene the (wrong) umpiring decisions. Given that plenty of money and prestige of the nation is at stake in an intenational cricket, the umpires should be allowed to take aid of the technology to minimise their mistakes. ICC umpires are doing a fine job considering the pressure under which they have to operate in present times. But as a human being they also make some mistake. But if this type of mistakes are going to decide the fate of the series then the matter should be dealt with more seriously. To minimise all these mistakes, I think the best ting to do is to give third umpire a right to reverse the (wrong) decision made by the onfield umpires. This will relive pressure from the onfield umpire to the great extent. This move will make the game more transparant and it will give great relife to the umpires who otherwise carries a load of these bad decisions throught their life.

  • Tim on September 9, 2007, 8:28 GMT

    Personally I have no problem with the use of technology to assist the on-field umpire - they shouldn't really be subject to trial by television and the subsequent ridicule when they don't have the chance to use the systems themselves. I have one concern though - if technology is brought in, would it be used at ALL first class games or just those where full TV coverage is being broadcast? In the UK Sky broadcast selected games from a number of domestic competitions so their full armoury of technology would be available for those game, but what about other games being played the same day but not being televised? To maintain consistency surely it would have to be used at all games but who pays for all of the equipment to be installed at all of the grounds? If we only use it at selected games we would be introducing double-standards, which surely we all want to avoid - maybe the on-field umps are the best and most cost effective common system, despite their occasional lapses.....

  • Himanshu on September 9, 2007, 8:08 GMT

    If I am rightly informed ICC conducted a survey and came to conclusion 95% of decisions made were correct. This implies that they are admitting that 5% decisions are incorrect. If ICC can come such to conclusion then they definitely have means to come to such conclusion. I am sure these means are technology oriented. In Lawn Tennis Technology has successfully relieved chair umpire from looking into foot faults, same technology can spare umpire from deciding no balls. This will certainly help umpires in their focus and there will be lesser mistakes. As umpire does not have to has to shift his focus in a split second from bowling crease to the batsmen's end. Technology does help in good decision-making and is being incorporated in the game though at snail's pace. These 5% incorrect decisions should brought to minimum.

  • Paul on September 9, 2007, 6:22 GMT

    Quite a lot has been said about the poor umpiring and two very bad decisions in the 'final'. But what about Collingwood's conduct? Did he get fined?

    Some time ago Kumar Sangakkara was fined for throwing his bat in the air as a sign of disgust (with himself!)when he got out playing a rash shot. Does Collingwood get away with venting his displeasure on the umps, especially when he must have been aware that Pietersen was reprieved only a couple of weeks earlier?

    Besides umpires being fair, there must be at least some guidelines to ensure that match referees are fair in their decision making.

    Yours truly,

    Paul Fernando

  • Kartikeya on September 8, 2007, 19:28 GMT

    The problem is not the umpire's ego - it is that the technology is not good enough. Since it is not good enough, it does not serve the purpose that it is supposed to serve - namely to remove the element of doubt from decisions.

    The snickometer itself has been shown to be unreliable this summer. I think we can live with the odd error of judgement from the umpires without being too pedantic about it. The Hartley-Collingwood incident was a non-event brought to the fore only be Collingwood's petulance, especially given that England have benefitted from Umpires reversing their decisions thanks to evidence earlier in the summer.

    We cannot forget that while an umpire may be right or wrong, and while TV evidence may reveal this with increasing clarity, that players should not question umpires decisions is non-negotiable. So even though Umpire Hartley's in effect reversed his decision, Collingwood as the batsman had no business getting involved.

    That principle must prevail at all times.

  • G on September 8, 2007, 16:18 GMT

    Umpires should also be held responsible for committing mistakes. They should be sacked from ICC panel. Sometimes, we dont need reply to know that an umpire's decision proved to be wrong. It is clear from the very first look. ICC should admit that if umpires are capable of what they are supposed to be, they should be sacked. The ICC match referee who is a toothless tiger should also be given power to take action against umpires. We should not even wait for long time. If a umpire is found wrong during the first half of the match, he should be changed immediately during the lunch break. This will give the umpires to be careful. Now, they are very lethargy, knowing they cannot be punished for whatever mistakes they do on the field. It is high time, ICC should make them feel their responsibility. The case of Aleem giving out to Tendulkar and Dravid in the 7th ODI is cleary a case of umpire not being fit to officiate. It is not even a close call.

  • SUBRAMANIAN N on September 8, 2007, 15:34 GMT

    Poor umpiring can ruin a match. Giving two top Indian batsmen wrongly out by Mr.Aleem Dar has ruined the Natwest Final.The batsmen had no way of getting a redressal. Technology should be used for every decision unless the decision is very onvious. This will introduce fairness in the game.

  • Chatty on September 8, 2007, 11:48 GMT

    There is certainly an urgent need to help/replace the on-feild umpires with technology. The fact that Steve Bucknor, who is suspended from standing in the Twenty20 WC due to his role in the fiasco at the World Cup final, has been short listed as the 'best umpire of the year' by the ICC shows the utterly ludicrous nature of the problem. If the best is so incompetent, what about the rest?! It is way past the time for change.

  • Dinusha on September 8, 2007, 10:28 GMT

    technology is not only more accurate than umpires but it's also 100% consistent if used correctly. i don't want to see the umps replaced by 3rd ump but i do want to see technology used to aid on-field umps in ALL decisions where the ump isn't 100% certain. however the use of technology must be both time & cost efficient. the major one being time efficient. that's where some r&d needs to be done. imo if a time limit is set on third ump decisions the time issue can be solved to a large extent. if a conclusive decision can't be made by then the benefit of the doubt rule should be applied. it's just common sense. as for those who argue current tech is not accurate enough here are the facts. hawk eye is accurate to within 5 mm. hot spot is almost 100% accurate. sniko does ok but not as good as hot spot. tv replays are extremely useful as well. the bottom line is that technology is ALWAYS going to be far more accurate than umps. technology will also be 100% consistent unlike human umps.

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