Taufel calls for pragmatic approach to technology
Simon Taufel, the former ICC Elite Panel umpire, has warned that there is a "double edge" to using technology in decision making but officials should be more "pragmatic" in utilising all available tools.
Taufel, who retired from umpiring after the World T20 in October 2012, delivered the 13th MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture at Lord's and warned that the highly intrusive nature of technology can put "pressure" on the umpire if not utilised cautiously. Yet, at the same time, Taufel said the match officials, who he called the "third team", needed to be more prudent about the use of technology.
In addition to being the first umpire to deliver this prestigious lecture, Taufel was the third Australian. The inaugural lecture in 2001 was delivered by Richie Benaud before Adam Gilchrist spoke in 2009. Taufel also is the third non-player to deliver the speech with the previous two being Desmond Tutu in 2009 and the late journalist Christopher Martin-Jenkins in 2006.
Taufel, who has been rated one of the best umpires of all time, now serves as the ICC umpire training and performance manager. Being the first umpire to deliver the Cowdrey lecture might have carried a unique honour but Taufel was equally aware of the timing: in the middle of an Ashes series during which the decision-making of the umpires and the use of the DRS has garnered as much attention as the Australians' batting.
But like a true fencer, Taufel had come equipped with all protective gear even though he called himself a "target". He said the public scrutiny faced by umpires where their every movement and facial expression is judged has its dangers.
"In today's cricket, the decision of the umpire is scrutinised by all these cameras," Taufel said. "Slow motion, ultra motion, Hot Spot front on, Hot Spot leg side, Hot Spot off side, ball tracking and prediction, Snicko, stump audio, the mat and then by up to three commentary experts. After all that public scrutiny and technology, there is often divided opinion about what the correct decision was."
Although Taufel was not against the broadcasters spending money on high-end technology, he was wary of the fast-gathering army of armchair critics, which is quick to adjudge the match official. "The investment by television companies in extra cameras, high-speed frame rates, computer software programs and military infra-red technology, plus high definition has certainly given the spectators a lot more information," he said. "There is no doubt we now have a lot more 'armchair' experts.
"Today, everyone umpires the game by watching television. The invasive nature of this broadcasting has a double edge to it - it does put more pressure on players and umpires. Not too much now happens on a cricket field that is not captured by a camera, a microphone or piece of technology. This has the ability to bring out the best in the game and also the worst."
According to Taufel, the role of the umpire today is much more than just making decisions. "We have to police (and I personally dislike this term and approach) other vital areas of the modern game," he said. "Player behaviour, ball tampering, over rates, logos and clothing, impact of ground, weather and light, having to reduce playing times." In that respect the introduction of technology had its benefits and even allowed the player and the viewer to understand the challenge faced by match officials during a live match.
"One benefit of the current technology system has been the reduction in dissent charges and improvement in behaviour accordingly on the field. In the majority of cases in the modern game, if an umpire has made an error, there is an ability to correct it. In an Ashes Test, if there is an error off the first ball of the game, it can be corrected at the time rather than have it on the umpire's conscience for the rest of the day and have the players constantly remind him of it. If I make an error, it stays with me all day, all game and I have to keep focused and performing in the middle. There is no dressing room to immediately take refuge while another umpire comes out to the middle, no time off the field to regather thoughts and regroup."
Regardless of the many backers technology has, it has many times, as during this Ashes, proved to be inconclusive. That has stoked the scepticism of the biggest detractor of the DRS, the BCCI, which has refused to adopt a mandatory DRS in a bilateral series, even threatening to not participate if such a decision was imposed.
But Taufel said everyone involved needs take a call that would only serve cricket well and increase respect among its fans. "I believe the highest form of the game needs to have the highest standards of respect, spirit of cricket, behaviour and integrity - those at the highest level are setting the tone and standards for others to follow, be they players, umpires or administrators. We owe the future of our game that much.
"The technology genie has been let out of the bottle and it's not going to go back in. I would simply advocate that we look at ways to be as pragmatic as possible so we can get more correct decisions and deliver more justice. I do have an important message on this topic though as it is often asked, 'what is your view on the DRS?' I'm not sure that this is the right question.
"Perhaps we should be asking 'are we using technology in the best way to serve the players, supporters, umpires and values of our game?' No matter what system of technology we implement in our game, it will not be perfect or 100%. The all-human solution is not 100%, neither is the DRS and neither will be an 'all appeals' review system. There are trade-offs and compromises with every system adopted. It all depends how the majority believe our game should be played underpinned with the values we want to promote and preserve."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo