Angus Fraser: Virtual umpiring will detract from spectator appeal
Friday 25 July 2008
Nobody with any affection for cricket enjoys seeing umpires or the game itself being made to look foolish. But that is exactly what is happening through its coverage on television, where the quality of camerawork and the images being transferred to homes continues to improve. Fans sat on their sofas see more than ever before and it is why the International Cricket Council, the game's governing body, continues to trial ways in which technology could be used to improve the game.
Unlike more fluid sports, cricket, with its natural breaks after each ball, lends itself to greater analysis and the three appeals trial, devised and promoted by Duncan Fletcher during his time as England coach, will reduce the number of howlers given by umpires. Those lbw dismissals that subsequently reveal the batsman got a huge inside edge on the ball before it thumped into his pads will be a thing of the past but, even so, the trial does not end the possibility of umpiring error dictating the result of a match. A team may have unsuccessfully challenged the verdict of the on-field umpires on three occasions, using up their quota for the innings, yet the game could still be won via a controversial decision the losing side have no control over.
If removing error from the game is what people want, then the only way it can possibly be achieved is by the on-field umpires referring every appeal to a third umpire sat in a booth with dozens of television monitors in front of him searching for a picture that informs him of exactly what takes place.
Many believe this is the way forward, that there is too much at stake in the modern game. They have a point, and it will be interesting to see whether technology will be used during the multimillion-dollar Sir Alan Stanford Twenty20 match in Antigua on 1 November. Can you imagine how players will feel if a dodgy decision deprives them of $1m (£500,000)?
Despite all this, I am not in favour of the greater use of technology. It is not because I am an old stick in the mud that is resistant to change; it is because the nature of cricket will alter completely if its use goes any further, which is what will inevitably happen if the aim is to eliminate umpiring error.
Television fees may provide cricket with the largest part of its income, but the most important people at a cricket ground are the spectators. They are the form that creates an event. If that unforgettable morning at Edgbaston in 2005, when England sneaked home by one run against Australia, had been played in front an empty ground it would have carried far less gravitas, but that is what an increased use of technology is risking.
Those watching live at a venue will no longer have the best seat in the house, they will be left in the dark every time a referral is sent to the third umpire. It can take a minute or two for the third umpire to get the images he is looking for from the television broadcaster, with an over containing two or three referrals taking seven or eight minutes. After a while punters will question whether it is worth paying £75 for such a view when a better one can be obtained on a sofa at home.
Football is reluctant to go down the technology route, even though Match of The Day occasionally spends half its show discussing penalties that should have been given, wrongly awarded offsides and countless other issues, worth far more financially than those in cricket. One of the principal reasons why referrals are loathed in either sport is because it then distances itself from the game that is played at a recreational level on pitches across the country every weekend.
If cricket goes down the technology route, where one of the supposed no-go areas of the game, challenging the decision of an umpire, becomes commonplace at the highest level, what will become of the club umpire? Officiating in club cricket is a thankless task as it is, but what will it be like when it becomes acceptable for a player to stand in the middle of the pitch verbally challenging his integrity?
Techno-aids: Where referral technology is working in sport
Hawkeye, introduced in 2006, has been largely successful, and seems to have brought added excitement. But it is not foolproof, either, with a margin of error of 5mm.
Video referees are used in the National Rugby League in Australia and New Zealand, in Super League and in internationals. The video ref can make judgements on knock-ons, offside, obstructions, hold-ups and whether or not a player has stepped into touch.
The television match official can only be used when the referee is unsure whether or not a try or goal attempt has been scored, or in the event of foul play in-goal.
Both Fifa and Uefa, the world and European governing bodies respectively, support goal-line technology that could involve the Hawkeye system.
Teams are given two challenges. If incorrect, the challenger forfeits a "time-out"; if the challenge is valid, then the decision is overturned.
Second opinion: How the referral system works
The system on trial in Sri Lanka allows players to seek reviews, by the third umpire, of decisions by the on-field umpires on whether or not a batsman has been dismissed.
A player can request a review of any decision by the on-field officials over whether a batsman is out or not out, apart from "timed out". Each team can make three unsuccessful requests per innings, which must be made within a few seconds of the ball becoming dead; no request can be withdrawn.
Only the batsman involved in a dismissal, or the captain or acting captain of the fielding team, can ask for a review. These players may consult on-field team-mates, but no signals from off the field are permitted.
A review request can be made by the player with a 'T' sign. Once a request is made, no replays of the questioned decision can be shown on big screens in the ground.
The umpire will consult the TV umpire, who will review TV coverage of the incident and relay information back, at which point the on-field umpire can either reverse his decision or stand by it.
The on-field umpire will indicates "out" with a raised finger and "not out" by crossing his hands in a horizontal position side to side in front and above his waist three times.
The TV umpire can use slow-motion, ultra-motion and super-slow replays, sound from the stump microphones and "approved ball-tracking technology". But he cannot refer to Snicko, Hot Spot or any predictive element of the Hawkeye system.
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