Justice for all
In the search for a better decision-making process, officials must investigate the viability of "real" technology that will assist the umpires rather than enhance television coverage
The decision making in the SCG Test reminded me of a wonderful cartoon which appeared during an Australia-New Zealand series in which the visitors suffered at the hands of the umpires.
A wife walks into the lounge room where her husband is watching the match on television. "New Zealand is winning," he says. She responds, "What, aren't the umpires playing?"
With poor umpiring decisions again a hot topic, I hope that in an attempt to find a solution, the administrators don't embrace a system that provides justice for some but not for all.
The initial response isn't promising. Cricket Australia's CEO, James Sutherland, made a worrying start when he said; "I think there is a strong argument on the technological side ... in tennis it works where a player can make only two or three [incorrect] appeals in the course of a match. That may be something that makes people think twice about using the appeals at the right time."
The problem is, the tennis challenge system applies solely to line decisions. Cricket umpires can already refer those to the third umpire. With all other decisions in cricket there is a distinct lack of conclusive evidence at times and therefore the video umpire either has to make an educated guess or rule in favour of the batsman on the benefit-of-the-doubt basis. There was a season in Australia where numerous catch decisions were referred and most of them were decided in favour of the batsmen for lack of conclusive evidence. In the end it became a farce: batsmen caught in far-flung regions like the covers and mid-on and then standing at the crease until the decision was referred.
Sutherland's comments were echoed by Malcolm Speed, the CEO of the ICC, who intimated that a player-led referral system could be trialled at the next Champions Trophy tournament in Pakistan.
Unfortunately in this debate, a couple of very important points are either forgotten or being ignored. Firstly, a lot of what is classed as "technology" involves a human hand. And secondly, television is there to provide entertaining cricket coverage for the viewers, not to participate in the game.
Not all players are rabid supporters of the "more technology" lobby. Normally Brett Lee dispenses thunderbolts but he opted for wisdom when joining the debate on umpiring in Test cricket. "It is important to keep the human element in, bowlers bowl bad balls, batsmen play false shots and sometimes umpires don't get it right," he said.
In the search for a better decision-making process, officials must investigate the viability of "real" technology that will assist the umpires rather than enhance the television coverage. However, it's equally important cricket officials also seek ways to improve the standard of umpiring.
It's ironic that umpires rely on their hearing and eyesight as much as players and yet the arbiters are generally the oldest people on the field. It's time for a concerted effort to recruit younger umpires and also allow those on the international panel to officiate in home Tests. This would mean umpires spend more time at home, which would perhaps act as an inducement to officials with a young family. Currently, the guys most likely to be attracted to the job are older umpires whose families are grown up.
A change in the law to a back foot no-ball would also help. This would give umpires longer to focus on the decision making end of the pitch rather than spend time looking for a small misplacement of a sprinting fast bowler's front foot.
|An important part of being a good umpire is making decisions and diluting that process can only have a detrimental effect on the standard of officiating|
An important part of being a good umpire is making decisions and diluting that process can only have a detrimental effect on the standard of officiating.
An umpire in the middle has only a fraction of a second to make up his mind about an appeal, and therefore he is more likely to judge in the manner that good umpires preach: first there's a line, then a ball, then a pitch, then a pad or a bat. In other words, the umpire first looks at the front line for a possible no-ball, then raises his gaze to the pitch in order to see where the ball lands, and then on to the pad and the bat. There is no consideration to who is batting but the video umpire has much more time to contemplate his decision and therefore the possibility arises that personalities will come into the decision-making process.
And finally, the crooks who infiltrated the game in the nineties are still lurking, waiting for an opportunity to satisfy their greed. They have no principles and would be tempted to try and corrupt off-field officials if those are given a greater say in what course a match takes.
It's frustrating when the course of a match is changed by poor umpiring. However, in trying to rectify the situation it's imperative to remember the overall objective in decision-making; to ensure the umpires don't "play", and to provide justice for all, not just for some.