May 27, 2008

'The on-field umpire is in the best position'

Two leading umpires talk about the ICC's proposed referrals system

The ICC's cricket committee at its meeting earlier this month recommended that trials of a referrals system - under which teams can refer three decisions by an on-field umpire to the third umpire - be approved by the board in July. Cricinfo asked two umpires on the Elite Panel, Billy Bowden and Daryl Harper, for their views.

This could be an increasingly common sight on cricket grounds in future © Getty Images

Are you going to be involved specifically with the trials of the challenge system?
Billy Bowden No, the ICC has not made a decision in what series they will use the referral system. It will definitely happen, though, during the 2008-09 season.

Daryl Harper My preliminary appointments stated I was going to be there for the trials. There's a suggestion that at some stage soon we'll have a trial of further technology. It's just another step in the process of using the best that is available to get an even contest between the two teams.

It would be quite tough on the umpires when they do introduce it because there would have to be a period of adjustment. It will take some adjustment for the umpire to make a decision, and know that within 30 seconds that batsman could be allowed to return to the crease. But these are little adjustments we have to make to our game if we are to get a better product.

Do you currently use Hawk-Eye graphics as part of your preparation process? And do you think umpires have become bolder in giving lbws thanks to exposure to Hawk-Eye graphics?
Bowden No. It is just a gadget for commentators to use to explain to the viewers what might or could have happened, not what would happen. It's all subjective, and lbws will always be a matter of opinion. One thing that is definite is, there is no doubt the on-field umpire is in the best position and has the best view to make an lbw decision

Only statistics will show if the percentage of lbws given by umpires has increased overall since Hawk-Eye's introduction. One thing is for sure, Hawk-Eye shows a lot more balls hitting the stumps than I believe. This does not really persuade me to give more lbw decisions. It's never been proven that it is 100% accurate. I call it the "Guessereye". Leg-befores will always be open to debate. There is no final outcome or definite conclusion. It's in the opinion of the umpire - who is in the best position, and not Hawk-Eye, to make the final decision. This will always be the case.

Harper I probably do give more lbws because of Hawk-Eye than I did ten years ago. My personal feeling is that the ball hitting the leg stump a decade back would very rarely be given out lbw because of the feeling that the ball was sliding down leg. But now we've seen so many times from the replays that the ball hits leg stump very often, and we give it not out much more than [the ones hitting] off stump. I've subconsciously made that adjustment.

I wouldn't say I have become bolder, but more accurate. I normally store the Hawk-Eye situation, and use that bank of information along with little details like the bounce, the pitches, and use that to make the right decision in the field.

Hawk-Eye has also shown there's the issue of parallax regarding height for umpires, where they often give lbws when the ball is going too high.
Bowden Umpires have been around umpiring cricket far longer than Hawk-Eye has existed. Umpires know the bounce, length and height of the pitches they officiate on. I would back any umpire to make more accurate lbw decisions than Hawk-Eye, whether they are 5' or 6'6" tall. Umpires will always be in the best position to adjudicate on lbws.

Harper Judging the height can be difficult, and that's why it's important for the other umpire to alert his partner at the bowler's end if the batsman moves forward out of his crease. If the batsman has moved six to 12 inches, it does make a considerable difference. When he is hit on the knee-roll standing on the crease, there's a good chance it's going to clean up the top of the stump. But if he has come forward 12 inches and the ball hits the knee-roll, it's going to go over the top. Sometimes the shorter umpires have an advantage over their taller colleagues.

Do you study tapes after a game?
Harper On occasion I've requested the ICC for a DVD of a particular bowler - one who I've been concerned with in the past. Or if it's a right-arm bowler bowling to a left-hand batsman, to see exactly where the ball is pitching so I can review and see where a majority of his deliveries are pitching. So, yes, it can be used as a training tool.

Bowden Personally, when I started umpiring at international level back in 1994, I used to look at the matches I umpired, but I've come to a stage where I know what decisions I've made, and how I have felt when I have made those decisions. I know in my heart how well I have done, and what I can do to improve for the next match. I have respected friends, colleagues and mentors that I put my trust in to give me advice and encouragement.

Still, if I need to look at an aspect of my game - whether it's decision-making, my body language, my positioning, man management of players, or ground-weather-light - I ask for tapes from the ICC or the producer after the match. I do take great pride in my performance, try to be professional, and have a good attitude at all times with everyone involved in the match.

I call Hawk-Eye the "Guessereye". It just gives the commentators something to talk about to the viewers. Leg-befores will always be open to debate. It's in the opinion of the umpire - who is in the best position, and not Hawk-Eye - to make the final decision Billy Bowden

Are you for more technology in cricket?
Harper We allowed technology into the game about 15 years ago. We are not going to reduce it now; it's only going to continue to develop into the game. Personally, I like a game like baseball, which turns over more money than cricket does and doesn't use one ounce of technology when the umpire makes a decision. If they get it right, they get it right; and if they get it wrong, so be it. Nothing is ever overturned. But we allowed technology to come in, so now we have got to work with it, make the best of it.

When Hawk-Eye is used in tennis, the path of the ball is tracked until it bounces and leaves the ground; it's the mark it makes on the ground that is the most important part. Whereas in cricket the ball pitches, travels a distance, strikes the pads, and then the predictability of where it was going can often be called into question. It must be difficult to track where the ball is going if it has travelled only 30-40 centimetres after pitching and before hitting the pad. If it travels two metres between pitching and hitting the pad, I'm sure there is a lot more data that's available for the process to determine where the ball is going to go. There's no doubt that Hawk-Eye is not 100% accurate, just like us.

I hope that when the trial comes in, there will be allowances to give the batsman every opportunity. For example, I would be disappointed if a batsman is given out when the ball just flicks the bail and doesn't strike the stump squarely - especially considering there's a degree of error involved in the process. I'm sure the administrators will think long and hard about how to make it more conducive, and it will come in time.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo