Sport on TV: I would refer you to my learned friend Bob but he's got the ump

Andrew Tong
Sunday 08 February 2009 01:00

From referees to referrals. The FA's Respect campaign this season has produced exactly the opposite effect. Now Test cricket's effort to help umpires get decisions right is giving them the same pariah status as their football counterparts and prompting even more criticism in the commentary box. It's a good job Dickie Bird has retired, or else he would be getting in a terrible flap. The other men in white coats would be coming for him.

Anyone who saw the crazy hour after lunch on day two of the Jamaica Test (Sky Sports 1, Thursday) must wonder if the new England captain, Andrew Strauss, thought the new playing condition meant "refer all". He may have worried his job would be hard enough after the KP fiasco. Now he has to do the umpires' job as well.

English cricket in crisis: remember that? The referrals have at least taken attention away from all the gossip about infighting in the camp. It was as if New Labour spin doctors had been hired. If so, maybe they could do Monty Panesar a good turn while they're at it. As Sir Ian Botham pointed out, Monty would want about 30 referrals per innings, not two.

Then again, if commentators were on trial on the same basis, Botham would be back flogging Shredded Wheat in no time. The experiment has brought the worst out of Bob Willis too, after a lengthy and disturbing spell when he just grinned inanely at the camera. Big Bad Bob has never been a fan of TV umpire Daryl Harper: "He's a poor umpire on the field, he's a poor umpire off the field. He shouldn't be anywhere near a Test match." Don't ever cheer up again, Bob. It's not as much fun.

Others were more lucid. Nasser Hussain invoked the example of American football and asked: "Is there a definite reason to make the third [TV] umpire change the decision?" Nick Knight differentiated between elements of doubt and "irrefutable evidence" that mistakes had been made.

Test cricket is under attack for being old-fangled and increasingly irrelevant in the face of Twenty20's onslaught, but suddenly it has reasserted its ability to fascinate the most philistine of armchair fans.

The debate raged so fiercely in the tea interval that they didn't have time to show any adverts before play resumed. If only the same could be said for ITV after they missed Dan Gosling's last-gasp winner in the Merseyside derby (ITV1, Wednesday) when a random ad break intruded two minutes from the end of extra time. It was horribly ironic that one of the adverts, about autism, said: "I used to lash out if somebody pushed my buttons".

Again, American football led the way. Sunday's Super Bowl, shown on KVOA-TV in Arizona, spliced in 30 seconds of porn with three minutes left on the clock. It has been a week for sport on TV being caught with its pants down, and it's all been rather titillating.

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