The Long Handle
Do you want to listen to umpires chat?
What's so interesting about two middle-aged men discussing how to operate a remote?
It cannot be doubted that technical innovation in cricket broadcasting has enhanced our viewing pleasure. To take just one example, super slow-motion replays turn cricket into ballet, vindicating once again CLR James' assertion that cricket, above all sports, has the most realistic claim to be considered art. Slow the action down enough and even a Tim Bresnan or a Jacques Kallis achieve a certain animal grace as they lumber to the wicket.
Even when the technology doesn't work, when Hawkeye gets its sums wrong, Snickometer snoozes, HotSpot has a cold and Spidercam runs low on spider power, the resulting errors bestow on us the blessing of having something else to argue about.
But not every innovation is progress. This week it was revealed that viewers of matches in the World Cup knockout stages will be able to hear conversations between the on-field and off-field umpires.
Why do we need this? It has been tried in other sports. In rugby league, for instance, viewers are allowed to hear what officials are saying to one another, and it makes for consistently terrible television:
Referee A: Brian, I couldn't quite see if that was a try.
Referee B: Sorry, could you repeat that?
Referee A: I couldn't quite see if that was a try, could you check it please?
Referee B: About a quarter past three.
Referee A: No, Brian, I want you to look at the video to see if that was a try.
Referee B: Oh, you want me to look at the video to see if that was a try?
Referee A: That's what I said.
Referee B: Righto.
Six and half minutes later…
Have you had a chance to look at the video yet, Brian?
Sorry, I couldn't get the remote to work.
Is it working now?
Yeah, no worries, I found some batteries. Watching it now.
So did he get the ball down? I couldn't quite see from where I was.
Just a second… nearly got it… almost… there, got it.
Well? Did he get the ball down or not?
Sorry mate, I can't really tell from this angle. Why don't you ask him?
There's another reason why we should be spared the tedious back and forth between umpires. When I first watched cricket, the umpire's word was final. No matter how elderly, short-sighted or unfamiliar with the rules of the game, the umpire was an unimpeachable source of authority. You didn't argue with an umpire. In fact, if you so much as pointed a finger at an umpire, you'd get into trouble.
But the modern umpire cuts a sorry figure. He is endlessly scrutinised, his mistakes analysed, his accuracy rating calculated to a hundredth of a percentage point. His finely honed, spur-of-the-moment decision-making instincts are routinely second-guessed by random player referrals. In IPL games he has to announce that the games have started, like the ring master at some tawdry circus, and he can't even tuck in during the lunch interval lest people begin to whisper that he's too rotund for the modern game.
So do we really need to hear the hesitant back and forth between the man on the field and his colleague in the booth as they try to remember how Snicko works and what the no-ball rule is and which button is rewind? Would you want your tedious, inept work conversations broadcast to an international audience of millions?
Let's face it, they are going to be replaced by androids in a few years anyway, so why not let them cling to this final scrap of umpiring dignity.
I may be alone on this, but I'm a cricket viewer and I don't want to hear what the umpires are saying. I'm perfectly happy with the comforting childhood illusion that a discussion between umpires is a lofty, learned affair, like the coming together of two wizards steeped in cricket lore; a conversation beyond the understanding of mere mortals like you or I, and one upon which we should definitely not be permitted to eavesdrop.