Cricket: Earpieces for Edgbaston

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The Independent Online
EAR PIECES are about to raise their ugly little heads again. They were never likely to go quietly after their first, and so far solitary, appearance, in a World Cup match at Hove, and it now seems certain that efforts will be made to introduce them to the English game next season.

The International Cricket Council have yet to discuss their use, although it is seven months since they were made aware of their existence. During the group match between South Africa and India, both Allan Donald and Hansie Cronje took to the field with ear-pieces through which the coach, Bob Woolmer, imparted advice and instructions. It was at first suggested that Cronje was suffering from an ear infection but when the truth emerged 17 overs into the game, the match referee, Talat Ali, ordered the removal of the gadgets after consulting ICC officials.

"We haven't discussed it since then because we haven't had a meeting," an ICC spokesman said, "but it will be on the agenda of our cricket committee when they have their annual meeting probably in March." That will make it 10 months from the introduction of revolutionary devices which could change forever the way the professional game is played.

Woolmer is intent on introducing earpieces - those on the field cannot talk back - next summer when he returns as Warwickshire coach. He and Dennis Amiss, the county's chief executive, will raise their use with the England and Wales Cricket Board well before then. The board may well choose to wait until the ICC has ruled.

While Woolmer will point to their place in an ever-changing game, the purist may well think that they increase the importance of off-field influences to an unacceptable degree. "It can make the game better," Woolmer said when he first developed the idea, "because it can eliminate errors at the time. There's no reason both sides shouldn't have them and react accordingly."

All cricket watchers would agree that it is sometimes easier to see how a game is evolving off the field and to spot any weaknesses and shortcomings.

For his part, Woolmer would insist that advice has been offered to the players for years by taking on a replacement pair of gloves or a drink for the bowler. Earpieces, therefore, merely save time.

Constant coaching while the game is continuing might also remove the game's instinctive qualities. The ICC, when they get round to it, have an unenviable choice between moving with the times and preserving traditional virtues.