On the face of it, the introduction of the computer into the county scorebox was a logical development, perhaps even an inevitable one, utilising technology to improve the art of cricket scoring and construct a potentially valuable database. However, a change of this magnitude needed to be conceived with infinite care and planning. Three things should have been considered essential: a pilot scheme to locate and eradicate the experimental system's inevitable blips; a comprehensive training programme; and the maintenance of a back-up system in the form of a manual scorebook.
Lamentably, none of those three essentials was available to the 18 county scorers when the reported for duty last April. Fortunately for cricket's chroniclers, almost all did keep a traditional scorebook, mostly at their own expense. A few managed to work the computer with their left hand and score the traditional book with their right. The others either had an assistant to operate the computer or had to spend long hours after play writing up their books from the machine or their notes. No thought seems to have been spared for these devoted servants of the county game, many of them elderly and most of whom are paid little or nothing.
The strain of battling with an alien machine, one whose screen was barely visible in sunlight, and learning a system which was inadequately programmed for such eventualities as short runs, unusual dismissals (stumpings off wides and handled the ball) and umpires' changes of decision was considerable. Inexcusably, although printers were promised from the start of the season, none were ever received and so there was no easy access to the data which had been recorded. If an error was made, one scorer had to stop recording play and work laboriously back through the various combinations of key strokes while his colleague concentrated on the action in front of him. Small wonder that, before the end of September, three scorers had suffered heart attacks (all, happily, have recovered) and several others were close to exhaustion.
In checking the domestic first-class scores for this almanack, I maintain close contact with the scorers and could fill several pages with quotes from their correspondence to illustrate the frustration and despair which they suffered. The friendly atmosphere of the scorebox with its rich banter was totally destroyed. The only tangible product of this innovation was a vast increase in the number of scoring errors and differences in the two records of the same match, the last of which was not unravelled until two months after the season ended. This was a system conceived without sufficient planning and foisted upon the counties without due consideration for the welfare of those compelled to operate it. The fabric of our professional game is being whittled away by mindless opportunism.
One lesson should have been learnt from this chaos. Any mechanised system of scoring a cricket match must be supported by a manuscript record. Not only is this essential to fall back on when the machine (or its operator) breaks down, but it is vital to the continuity of cricket's archives. This record should be properly bound and not a file of loose print-outs.
Bill Frindall is chief statistician of Wisden and has been BBC Test Match Special scorer since 1966.