James Lawton: Technology allowed Dar to get the big decisions right, to his and cricket's benefit. Fifa take note

The failure of football to embrace technology as cricket has done is as absurd as forswearing the benefits of running water and antibiotics

Tuesday 28 December 2010 01:00 GMT

It wasn't much fun watching Ricky Ponting losing it in the small hours of yesterday morning. Not, certainly, if you had any idea of who he was and what he had achieved and remembered that most of us from time to time visit the place where, for a little while at least, everything seems pretty much impossible.

This made it a matter of relief for all but the most peevish of spirits when match referee Ranjan Madugalle settled for fining rather than heaping a final humiliation on the Australian captain by banning him from the fifth Test in Sydney.

The ref, thankfully, saw not some rabidly disputatious miscreant but a proud and most combative warrior battling, not very successfully, with the dawning certainty that for a third time on his watch the Ashes were being mislaid – this time on a scale that could only be described as monumental.

Yes, "Punter" behaved badly in the most desperate, even haunting, way when he jabbed his finger at the miraculously calm umpire Aleem Dar before interrogating Kevin Pietersen and re-opening the debate with Dar's colleague, Tony Hill. He was also demonstrably wrong in the detail of his complaint, and here we had the great redemption of a rather sad affair.

Ponting's swift statement that he had intended no disrespect to the match officials can only have been reinforced by some more rational assessment of the ruling that Pietersen had not nicked the ball into the gloves of Brad Haddin, the only man at the Melbourne Cricket Ground who seemed to believe that the England batsman was indeed out. The briefest study of the video convinced everyone but Ponting that the appeal had no foundation in fact.

It was the same with Dar's extremely courageous reprieve of Pietersen's team-mate Matt Prior, who was already on his way back to the dressing room when the umpire told to him wait while he investigated his suspicion that Australian bowler Mitch Johnson had delivered a no-ball.

Dar sought video assistance and was rewarded with an escape from a decision that might have plagued him for quite some time to come. Johnson's front foot was plainly beyond the line.

The fact that Prior, unlike Pietersen, was able to exploit his deliverance with vital runs to entrench England's already huge advantage was no doubt another blow to Ponting's battered spirit but it was much to the benefit of the integrity of the game.

You could only mourn all over again the failure of the world's most popular and profitable game to avoid the kind of catastrophes that came in Paris, when Thierry Henry was able to cheat his way to a key role in France's World Cup qualification and Frank Lampard had a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out against Germany in Bloemfontein.

In cricket, no less than in football, television covers the game in minute detail and also fuels its financial appetite. The difference is that cricket embraces technology in the entirely laudable ambition to get the vital, potentially game-changing decisions right.

Cricket accepts video evidence as a gift of the 21st century in the belief that it would be as absurd to ignore it as forswearing the benefits of antibiotics and running water.

Fifa, on the other hand, rejects technology even as it enthuses over the possibility of turning the desert enclave of Qatar in a massive air-conditioning plant in order to make the 2022 World Cup possible – either that, or ransacking the traditional schedules of the entire game.

In some quarters there is resistance to cricket's embrace of technology. Cricketers should respect the decisions of umpires, however perverse, and the game should proceed in the old-fashioned way – no matter how rampant is the return of cheap appealing and intimidation of umpires in the wake of such a Luddite decision.

If the Ponting episode was sad, it was also uplifting in the way that Dar, one of the better umpires whatever his support system, risked a loss of face in pursuit of the most important objective of all, ensuring that the right decisions are made and that, as it happened, on this occasion the evidence of the re-run film was absolutely irrefutable. It isn't always so, of course, but to a more than reasonable degree it is.

Imagine, in Ponting's fraught circumstances, how much worse the incident, and the denouement, might have been if it had been simply a case of his opinion against that of a single umpire?

The Australian captain was, it seemed, quite close to breaking point but however much he railed against the decision, however much he pointed his finger, Dar was able to tell him the facts. They were facts not shaped by the need for a split-second decision under the most appalling of pressure in a vast stadium staging one of international sport's most important events. They were coolly established by easily applied but scientific means.

When the Uruguayan official in charge of the England-Germany game saw on a television screen the scale of his mistake, when he saw that Lampard's shot had so plainly crossed the line, and maybe when he thought of all the implications of his catastrophic call, he is said to have exclaimed "Oh, my God".

Dar knew that he was never in danger of such a fate when the findings of the television review came through on his earpiece. He was able to keep his dignity and, most important of all, his control. Patiently, he explained to Ponting exactly what happened.

On another, less charged, occasion the captain might have accepted that the facts were indeed the facts, and that no wishing in the world could alter them. For the rest of us, it was refreshing evidence of the value of good sports administration, the kind that protects both the fairness of a game and the men who have to run it on the front line.

FA must see Redknapp's qualities outweigh his controversies

Tottenham's ability to win at Aston Villa after being reduced to 10 men was no mere routine football triumph.

It was a deeply impressive tribute to the instincts and man-management of their manager Harry Redknapp and gave much credence, if any more was needed, to the argument that he is the outstanding English candidate to succeed Fabio Capello as national coach.

Of course we all know about some of the freight Redknapp carries beyond the football touchline and that if Capello leaves on schedule many at the Football Association will run hard from the possibility of a successor immersed in a fight against charges of tax evasion. Yet if they are wise they will remember quite what they are pursuing. It is not tower-of-establishment respectability but a football man who knows both the game and the nature of the professionals who play it.

The FA made a grievous mistake when it failed to support Terry Venables back in the wake of the 1996 European Championship. Venables didn't win Euro '96, it is true, but he did engender a genuine sense of a team not notable for its levels of personal discipline and which, a few years earlier, had failed quite dismally in World Cup qualification. Within the FA, the worry was that Venables' business activities, and his war with Alan Sugar at Tottenham, had left him tainted. That resistance had surfaced strongly enough before his appointment but Jimmy Armfield, the FA-appointed headhunter, reported huge support from within the professional game for a man who had displayed outstanding qualities.

We can only hope that Redknapp's football assets are given the weight they are due – and are properly rewarded if he manages to extricate himself from the complications of his life beyond the day-to-day running of Spurs.

Unfortunately, he will not be able to bring along the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, his superb signing, or Luka Modric, an inheritance he has used brilliantly, or Gareth Bale, the force of football nature he has released with such splendid force and timing.

However, the performances of such players are the most compelling of Redknapp's credentials. They are the evidence of his understanding of the potential of individual players if they are given the right environment and prompting.

On Sunday Spurs were a joy to watch in their intelligence and their heart and their sweet football. If it is at all possible, Redknapp must get the chance to do the best he can for the English game.

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