August 30, 2009

Beware the referral system

Cricket's reliance on off-field help in the decision-making process is part of the problem. The game needs better umpires, not more technology
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With the referral system about to be introduced into Test cricket on a full-time basis, there are no signs that the standard of international umpiring is improving. If anything, it's going the other way. There are some real howlers being made; not mistakes, anybody can make those, but bad umpiring decisions.

Borderline decisions are part of the game, and either way they are accepted by players. However, when a left-arm over the wicket bowler isn't swinging the ball back into a right-hand batsman and an umpire awards an lbw from a length delivery, that's a bad decision. The fact that the umpire is even contemplating a decision in favour of the bowler means he has a tenuous understanding of the lbw law; that's a mistake.

For umpires to make such mistakes I'm wondering if they are being influenced by some of the gimmicks used on television. Hawk-Eye's predictive path has the ball hitting the stumps a high percentage of the time. Anybody who has watched a net session where a bowler is operating with three stumps and no batsman and landing on a good length will tell you the ball rarely disturbs the furniture. This is particularly so on pitches where there's a bit of bounce.

There are some lbw appeals where you know immediately the umpire shouldn't be giving them out, but the ball is shown on television to be clipping the outside edge of the stumps. Does this tend to influence the on-field umpire's decision-making?

The ICC needs to be wary of the referral system. What is sometimes called "technology" actually involves a human hand; it may add to the viewer's entertainment, but it should not be used to decide the fate of a batsman in Test cricket.

It would be ironic if umpires, in the name of fairness, aren't allowed to stand in Tests where their country is playing, but a behind-the-scenes-operator who has a "home side" involved in the match has a say in the decision-making process. Also, will these behind-the-scenes- operators be subject to the same corruption regulations that apply to players and officials? If they're not, they should be.

It's time to concentrate on ways to improve the standard of umpiring rather than harbour the misguided belief that the use of more "technology" is going to enhance the officiating. The reliance on off-field help in the decision-making process is part of the problem rather than being the solution.

Utilising "technology" that involves a human hand in the umpiring process could have an adverse affect on the balance between bat and ball

One solution could be to ensure the best umpires are standing wherever possible. It's ludicrous that Simon Taufel, who has been judged the best international umpire for the last five years, can't participate in an Ashes series or stand in a Test on his home ground in Sydney.

In the early part of his umpiring career former England allrounder Peter Willey was regarded very highly by the players but he didn't want to be away from home regularly, so he wasn't included on the international panel. He should have at least been umpiring Tests in England.

In my experience, if there's a really good umpire standing it has a positive influence on his partner. As captain in the Caribbean in 1972-73 I perceived there could be trouble looming in the Guyana Test, so I told the officials we would accept any other umpire as long as Douglas Sang Hue was standing. Sang Hue was one of the best umpires I played under and a man of great integrity, and I had no doubt the match would be played in the right spirit while he was on the field.

Utilising "technology" that involves a human hand in the umpiring process could have an adverse affect on the balance between bat and ball. As former West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding commented during the recent Oval Test; "Get ready for two-day Tests if they use the predictive path of Hawk-Eye in the referral system."

Holding is correct. In the last decade there has been a tendency towards flatter Test pitches, supposedly in order to avoid early finishes. With the introduction of the referral system, curators will have their work cut out prolonging matches.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Des on September 1, 2009, 11:32 GMT

    Copernicus; spot on ; third umpires should point out howlers( lbw when bat hit ball, close catches with daylight between bat and ball and ). Horrified at the potential use of technology to decide low catches ; you might as well abolish catches within three inches of ground. Channel 4/5 did an excellent job of showing that they will all look not out. Full speed definitely gives a better idea with catches.

    Umpire shouldn't have to judge no ball . Imagine telling a batsman he can only watch the ball once the bowler has landed his foot .Kallis not given lbw off Flintoff last year as it was just too quick for umpire to see . Yes I know the umpire will have to do it in county cricket and club cricket but quite unfair on the umpire in intensity of Test cricket under media spotlight.Third umpire should intervene on this as per Copernicus or use an electronic device on crease.

    Surely square leg umpire should help with hight of the ball?

  • Mainuddin on September 1, 2009, 5:32 GMT

    Popcorn, it's nice to have you back. I have been waiting for your comments since the historic Ashes triumph by the greatest nation of them all. Your comments are exactly what I expected. Keep them coming. The Australian cricket team in turmoil and its whining supporters is the perfect treat for all English fans.

  • Tom on September 1, 2009, 3:01 GMT

    I think people watch team sports more for the drama than anything else. Bad umpiring decisions are a part of the drama of cricket - remove them and you will just add to the bordom.

  • Brad on September 1, 2009, 2:58 GMT

    This whole argument is flawed, the rules of cricket clearly state...when an umpire is in doubt whether to grant an appeal for any dismissal, the benefit of the doubt must go to the batsman.

    Technically speaking, every time an umpire refers to the third umpre...even for a run out, he is breaking the rules of the game.

    For example the Strauss catch in the Ashes series should have been ruled not out because the umpires on the ground were not convinced he caught it before it hit the ground.

    It's no wonder we are having these sorts of problems with umpires who don't have the ability to say "not out" when they are unsure. Forget media scrutiny, forget replays, the rules of the game CLEARLY state an umpire must give the benefit of any doubt to the batsman. All an umpire has to say to any media or players questioning a decision is - "i wasn't 100% sure and I was therefore obliged under the rules to say not out. We're going to have errors, but that's the beauty of the game.

  • Jeremy on September 1, 2009, 1:56 GMT

    Judged against the majority of comments posted I am amid a very small minority who fail that with increased umpiring technology and referrals we risk losing something special about this game. All players and teams throughout all eras have copped woeful and costly decisions against them. It has always been tempting to conclude that bad umpiring cost us the game, and in some instances that's probably the truth. There's always the next ball, the next batsman, the next match however to make amends. It is the test of temperament as much as of technique that has always made Test cricket in particular the highest form of the game, and with immediate and forensic TV replays the same test of temperament is also required of the audience. Better players and teams have a knack for getting on with the game no matter what umpiring error has occurred, and see it as just part of the game. Bad luck in life and how we deal with it is a test of human strength, and is deep dimension of the game.

  • jay on September 1, 2009, 1:10 GMT

    I agree with a lot of the points in this article, but hawkeye is not wrong - or at least, it is far more accurate than what any human could ever be capable of judging. But it doesn't matter because the standard is so bad that even if you just counted lbws that hawkeye considered to be hitting halfway up middle stump, that would be 2-3 additional wickets falling a game. In particular we would start seeing far more spinners in international cricket, since it would now become possible to be given out playing a sweep or padding the ball outside off stump.

  • Nilesh on August 31, 2009, 22:15 GMT

    2. What is sometimes called "technology" actually involves a human hand; it may add to the viewer's entertainment, but it should not be used to decide the fate of a batsman in Test cricket. Agree but not all technologies are created equal. Hawk-eye is not the only technology being used. Camera's, snick-o-meters, hotspot are good and helpful to make fair decisions in a close call situation and Hawkeye will also get better and more accurate as time goes along.

    3. One solution could be to ensure the best umpires are standing wherever possible. If umpires are rated on the basis of every match, then maybe. In general though, I am wary of the backlash that would happen if the umpire gave a close call to their home country and observers think that decision turned the match. It would again rake up the whole debate on bias and neutrality of umpires. We need to help umpires and availability of technology is definitely one source for the help. Its still the umpire's discretion to use it.

  • Nilesh on August 31, 2009, 21:58 GMT

    Ian,

    Its a good post and I can certainly see some valid points in your article. However, I do not agree with all of them, so let's consider each one of them.

    1. There are some real howlers being made; not mistakes, anybody can make those, but bad umpiring decisions.

    Mostly agree with this. I think umpires need to be rated on a per game basis with statistics kept on them just like the players. If an umpire makes a bad decision they should lose some points. The intensity of how many points they lose should be determined by perhaps the match referee at the end of the match. So, it could be something as simple as each umpire starts with 100 points for each match (or 20 points for each day they officiate) and each "bad" decision could cost the umpire anywhere from 5 to 25 negative points. Initially it can be a subjective decision by the match referee. This kind of tracking might help identify patterns in umpires who are consistently "below par".

    Hit 1000 character limit - continued

  • asiba on August 31, 2009, 20:31 GMT

    I propose the referral system and I am happy that it will be implemented. Thank You ICC

  • Steven on August 31, 2009, 19:21 GMT

    Hawk-eye is a joke, I have seen the predictive path saying it will hit the stumps but the ball has gone through to the keeper.

    Say NO to Hawk-eye!!

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