Henry Blofeld: Technology should become the umpire's friend

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The Independent Online

The nettle of modern technology is one that the International Cricket Council, the game's governing body, is still showing a mystifying reluctance to grasp. International cricket is becoming increasingly submerged by slow motion television replays, the umpires' job is all the time being made more difficult as television understandably cannot resist the opportunity to make them seem foolish or incompetent.

If a batsman is given out and it can be shown incontrovertibly that he is not out, it makes for entertaining television. But the central fact must be that if the game of cricket cannot get its decisions right, it is in danger of becoming a laughing stock.

This was underlined on the first day of the present Test when Darrell Hair gave the New Zealand opening batsman, Mark Richardson, out lbw to Stephen Harmison. The replay, which was instantly available, showed beyond doubt that Richardson had got a thick inside edge on the ball. He took it in good part, but was compelled to walk off seven runs short of his hundred when all the world watching on television knew that Richardson was the victim of a wrong decision.

Surely in these circumstances it would be both right and sensible for the third umpire to tell the presiding umpire that he had made an incorrect decision and that he should therefore recall the batsman. It should be written into the playing conditions that the third umpire look carefully at the replay as soon as a batsman is out. If he sees anything that irrevocably shows that a wrong decision has been made, it would be his job to reverse that decision.

The third umpire would be able to see if, as in the case of Richardson, the batsman given out lbw has hit the ball. He would be able to see if the ball had pitched outside the batsman's leg stump; he would be able to see if the bowler had overstepped and it was a no ball. In this way he would be able to correct obvious wrongs.

The television technicians will swear blind that recent innovations such as Hawkeye and the Snickometer are infallible and that the third umpire should also use their evidence. If it can be proven beyond doubt that they are infallible, this would be fair enough. There must be a scientific way of establishing that this is so, but the uninitiated can only wonder if, for example, Hawkeye makes provision for a pitch with an uneven bounce and if the Snickometer has ever missed the thinnest of edges? If these doubts are shown to be unfounded, surely it would be right and fair to use this technology as an aid to the umpires rather than as a vehicle for tripping them up, which is what is happening now.

In the best of all possible worlds, of course, it should be left to the umpires in the middle to make all the decisions, as happened before the days of all these electronic innovations. The fact is, though, that television provides a huge percentage of the game's income. Those involved with the coverage are constantly trying to improve the quality and the depth of their broadcasts. Modern technology is all part of this and is most certainly not going to go away. It must, therefore, be used where possible to help the umpires come to the right decisions.

Inevitably this would slow the game up as the replays are studied, although they are available amazingly quickly after any relevant incident. However, with players' careers at stake, to say nothing of the ever-increasing amount of money in the game, it is desperately important that the right decisions should not only be made but also be seen to be made.

One detects a certain squeamishness about this in the corridors of power, but it is surely lunacy not to take advantage of all the technological help that is available. To use only part makes no sense and this is an issue which the ICC must deal with as it is squarely within their remit.

Of course, there are still going to be some decisions that will have to be left only to the two umpires in the middle. The third umpire may establish that a batsman given out lbw has been undone by a no ball, one that pitched outside the leg stump or that he did not hit the ball. Nevertheless, the initial decision to give the batsman out can only be taken by the umpire at the bowler's end. He is the man who must be sure beyond reasonable doubt that the ball would have hit the wicket. Bat/pad catches will also remain the preserve of the men in the middle, although it is still possible that the third umpire may pick up important evidence when he sees the replay.

Even with the help of the technology, umpiring will remain an exceedingly difficult job, but intelligent use of the various electronic aids would make the umpires' lot somewhat easier. It would also prevent them being made to look incompetent or stupid, as inevitably happens when replays show that they have erred.