Time to let television technology take over

Umpires become figures of ridicule rather than respect through mistakes of the kind seen in Pakistan
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The Independent Online

It used to be the batsmen who got the benefit of the doubt, now it is umpires who need it. Under increasing pressure from television technology to get decisions right, the men in white coats have found the scrutiny nerve-racking. But it does not have to be this way and the very gadgets that now make their lives misery could, in fact, help them.

It used to be the batsmen who got the benefit of the doubt, now it is umpires who need it. Under increasing pressure from television technology to get decisions right, the men in white coats have found the scrutiny nerve-racking. But it does not have to be this way and the very gadgets that now make their lives misery could, in fact, help them.

Players, like the spectators who watch the game, want accuracy, not subjective judgement. In the second Test against Pakistan, the England captain, Nasser Hussain, was twice given out in error, mistakes TV replays could have rectified without ambiguity. When a huge television audience tuning in to matches sees these errors, umpires become figures of ridicule rather than respect.

The technology v tradition debate is not new. What is are the latest generation of slow-motion cameras and super computers that allow replays and innovations such as the red zone (the virtual carpet between the stumps that aids lbw decisions), as well as the snickometer, to be set up within seconds.

To date, most of the dissenters object to the time-wasting aspect of replaying incidents, claiming an already tardy over rate would be further slowed if they were used frequently. But, as one of Sky's commentators pointed out, after another talking point arose during England's innings at Faisalabad, eight replays were able to be shown before the next ball was bowled.

Of course, replays via the third umpire are already used to rule on run-outs and catches where there is some question as to whether the ball has carried, but these, ironically, have occasionally been ambiguous and need refining.

Where money is involved, and television has pumped millions into sport over the past 10 years, technology does not stand still. As England's tour of Pakistan nears its end, there are already plans afoot by Channel 4 to use something called the Hawk-Eye flightpath in next summer's Ashes series. The system will be used to track the ball for lbws, arguably the most contentious of all decisions.

The Hawk-Eye technology is already there and Sunset and Vine, the production company behind Test coverage in England, has given £250,000 to Roke Manor Research to refine it. The Sunset and Vine managing director, Jeff Folser, believes it will provide "something for our viewers and help the authorities too".

The system uses six cameras mounted around the ground. Two are situated behind one set of stumps at one end, two behind the other set, while the other cameras are set square on to the stumps. Apparently those configured behind the stumps work out the line, movement and speed of the ball, while those square on assess the height to which it has bounced.

Apparently, the necessary calculations will be fed into a computer programmed with the lbw laws, which will then make a judgement that will appear on a pager in the umpire's hand within seconds. It could be, unless the snickometer can suddenly discern between woody noises from those made by pads, that the only decision devoid of human judgement at any stage will be catches behind the wicket.

Trusting a machine could be the way forward, but my own feelings are that scores will plummet. As a former bowler, I was under the distinct impression that, where lbws were concerned, batsmen were given in far more often than they were given out. For that reason, batsmen will probably come to fear Hawk-Eye far more than the most trigger-happy umpire.

Ali Bacher, the co-ordinator in chief of the next World Cup to be held in South Africa, believes that, in 12 months' time, technology will determine all the important decisions in international cricket. If it does, it will have to be available everywhere, something that will presumably fall to the TV companies rather than to the International Cricket Council.

Speaking a few months ago about the next World Cup, Bacher made the point forcefully. "As long as the accuracy of the computer system is such that we are dealing with near certainties rather than probabilities, then we will be using them." Naturally not all appeals can be scrutinised but, with the third umpire allowed to intervene, mistakes could be minimised.

For those like the former Test umpire Dickie Bird, who fear that umpires will be reduced to little more than men who count pebbles and call "over", the march of technology is probably not welcome. Yet, for those players earning their living through the sport, neither is human fallibility.

The adage used 20 years ago was that umpiring decisions had a habit of evening themselves out. While that may be true over a 100-Test career, it is not much use to the marginal player trying to cling on to his place in the side.

The England selectors, no doubt aware that some players have not pulled their weight in Pakistan, are set to drop up to three players for the tour to Sri Lanka early next year. If they do, and the likes of Ian Salisbury and Graeme Hick must be in their thoughts, it will be a change in policy from the stated intention when the touring party was announced in September.

On that occasion, the chairman, David Graveney, told reporters that the selectors reserved the right to add to the party, which implied that subtractions would not be made.

According to the coach, Duncan Fletcher, the selectors will speak as soon as the third Test in Karachi is over, a conversation that is bound to involve Hick and Salisbury, who have contributed little in the two Tests that have been played to date.

So far, spinning alternatives centre around the experience of Peter Such and Robert Croft versus the promise of the Northamptonshire duo, Jason Brown and Graeme Swann, while batsmen in the frame would be John Crawley and Mark Ramprakash.


14 FEBRUARY 1998 3rd Test v West Indies, Port of Spain 1st innings c D Williams b Walsh 0 Given out caught behind by Guyanese umpire Eddie Nicholls when television replays showed ball missing outside edge

22 MAY 1999 World Cup group match v South Africa, Oval c Boucher b Kallis 2 Adjudged caught behind by umpire Venkat flicking at ball that should have been called a wide

5 JANUARY 2000 4th Test v South Africa, Cape Town 2nd innings lbw b Klusener 16 Given out lbw by Sri Lankan official B C Cooray as he set off to run, having squeezed out a yorker off bottom edge

5 JUNE 2000 2nd Test v Zimbabwe, Trent Bridge 2nd innings lbw b Nkala 0 Given out leg before by Merv Kitchen, although replays show ball would have cleared the stumps

20 JULY 2000 3rd one-day international v West Indies, Trent Bridge c Jacobs b Nagamootoo 3 Television pictures showed ball hitting his back pad and not, as Kitchen again judged, his bat

30 OCTOBER 2000 3rd one-day international v Pakistan Rawalpindi lbw b Wasim Akram 18 Adjudged out by umpire Mian Aslam even though Wasim's outswinging delivery pitched a foot outside off stump

30 NOVEMBER 2000 2nd Test v Pakistan, Faisalabad 1st innings lbw b Saqlain Mushtaq 23 Umpire Steve Bucknor failed to notice the ball striking the middle of the bat

3 DECEMBER 2000 2nd Test v Pakistan, Faisalabad 2nd innings c Moin Khan b Arshad Khan 5 Missed square cut but given out caught behind by Mian Aslam after ball brushed his pad