James Lawton: Why Morgan's reprieve has swept arguments against technology into the dustbin
Saturday 31 July 2010
Still, some wonder why from time to time quite a number of us are so outraged by the neglect of technological assistance for match officials.
This is especially so when some philosophical giant comes along and says it is all a fuss about nothing, that sport is not real life and its unpredictability is part of its appeal and should be celebrated, not argued over when the debate reaches the intellectual pressure cooker of the local pub.
To which we have to respond by saying they are displaying a fundamental lack of understanding, of the point of sport and pretty much any other human endeavour. We could put it rather more pungently but then, however it is expressed, there is bound to be a degree of emotion.
The anger is because if sport is worth doing, if it really is deserving of the attention, even the devotion, of a large slice of humanity, it should be done right, with some attention paid to the integrity of competition and the best possible implementation of the rules.
A key aspect of this is support, whether they want it or not, for match officials who, unlike the rest of the world, are doomed to a purgatory of doubt right up to the moment they see the rerun film that tells them they have made a mistake so grotesque, so huge in its influence on a great sporting occasion, that it will probably stay with them for ever.
The need for such help is of course routinely and brusquely dismissed by the "it's only a game" crowd.
Pity, then, that they were not frog-marched to Trent Bridge this week when Eoin Morgan was able to complete a brilliant maiden Test century that would have been denied him, 22 runs short of the goal, but for a procedure that was brief, sure and, by way of a bonus, also made the crowd feel included in a process expressly designed to preserve integrity and justice in the contest they had paid generously to see.
Morgan, playing in only his third Test, was added to the roll call of centurions partly because he played the innings of his life, a beautifully measured performance that rescued England from the jaws of disaster, and, vitally, because the Decision Review System allowed him to challenge an lbw decision that was quickly revealed to be wrong. Morgan's team-mate Jonathan Trott had earlier left for the pavilion much less impressed with DRS after his appeal against a similar decision was not sustained. However, there was a forlorn beauty in Trott's anger. Unquestionably he was out, as emphatically as Morgan was in.
Inevitably, you had to be carried back to another sunny afternoon in Bloemfontein recently when Frank Lampard's World Cup "goal" against Germany was ruled out by a match official who, upon later seeing how it landed several feet over the line, was said to have groaned, "Oh, my God".
It was a cry of pain no doubt echoed a few hours later when Argentina were allowed to score an outrageously offside goal against Mexico and it certainly would have been the appropriate referee reaction after Thierry Henry was allowed to buy France a fraudulent World Cup ticket when he handled the ball so outrageously before crossing for the goal that knocked the Republic of Ireland out in a qualifying play-off at the Stade de France.
So the World Cup gave us three huge examples of the need for the planet's most popular game to adapt to the demands, and the possibilities, of the 21st century.
Here in Nottingham the message has been underlined in the most positive way with the first appearance of DRS on the soil of the home of cricket. Not only has the system protected the interests of a player who was performing at the peak of his powers, and for whom a faulty dismissal would have represented the most sickening of ambush, it has supported the most potent argument against those who say so lazily that mistakes have to be accepted because they are, well, just part of life.
They do not have to be in an age when television, which is allowed to dominate the running of sport in so many other respects, provides instant and almost invariably conclusive evidence of what actually happened. Apart from the decisions on Morgan and Trott, DRS gave Test cricket a day free of any possibility of the gut-wrenching and often match-changing errors of the past. It also ensured there would be none of the incessant, cynical appealing which had become such a growing menace to the spirit of the game.
Part of the Luddite case is that we will never be able to eradicate all the whims and the misadventures of sport. Of course we can't, and who would want to do that? Sport will always be heaped in the intangibles of life, of mood and form and performance. You cannot precisely measure the flight of a shot or the bounce of the ball or the ability of professional sportsmen to produce seamlessly, at every moment, the full reach of their talent.
Great fighters from time to time leave their best work in the gym, or the streets; great footballers, as we have been reminded so graphically recently, can arrive at somewhere like a World Cup mere ghosts of themselves.
But then there are certain things that can be controlled. Lampard's "goal" would have stood in a sport administered by anyone reasonably in touch with the second decade of the 21st century – the cheating of Henry and the offside goal of Carlos Tevez would not. At Trent Bridge there has never been a hint of such inconsistencies. Eoin Morgan was the master of every situation except the one when all his efforts might have been swept away. But they weren't. He was protected by officials who were allowed, for the first time on an English wicket, to examine the evidence before deciding his fate.
It was a great day for Eoin Morgan – and an even better one for all of sport.
King's goalscoring ability will decide the moral dilemma
There has been much moralising and heart-searching in football with Marlon King's release from prison after serving nine months of a sentence for punching a girl who resisted his sexual advances.
With a criminal record that lists 12 other offences, King is nobody's idea of a potential employee of the month, but there is one certainty. He will be kicking a football for professional reward just as soon as he achieves passable fitness.
This reality was a source of much outrage on the air waves yesterday, with some Coventry City fans protesting bitterly that new manager Aidy Boothroyd was on the record with his vow to help his former Watford player return to the game – and rebuild his life. This, we were told, is an affront to the "family" values of football, at which there was a strong urge to reach out for either perspective or the nearest available sickbag.
Football is many things but the protector of family values and a representative of an enlightened, ennobling approach to sexual equality, perhaps not.
The issue in the King case, if we can machete our way through the hypocrisy, is whether King can reasonably be denied his right both to rehabilitate himself and earn a living. No he can't, not in a society which believes everyone has a right to redeem themselves, even with a rap sheet in double figures, and certainly not by a game which has a fit and proper owners' test so porous Manchester City's former patron Thaksin Shinawatra sailed through, with Amnesty International the only serious protester.
King can score goals. Translation: end of the moral dilemma.
Ferrari must heed Massa's warning
Felipe Massa is right to reject with contempt the advice that he should forget illusions of independence, and self-worth, and get on with his true role in life : a highly paid lackey for Ferrari and their current favourite son, Fernando Alonso.
The Brazilian, having spoken at some length with his compatriot Rubens Barrichello, who for so long was required to operate in the shadow of Michael Schumacher, insists: "I cannot accept that my job is just to race, and go out there with any other idea than just winning. That is what I've worked to achieve, and why I've been ready to risk my life. If I have to settle for less, well, that changes everything."
Ferrari, and all of Formula One, should be careful not to wipe away the last hint that the sport might be regarded as a serious and open one.
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