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Technology In Cricket
24 Aug 2007
By: Archie Mac


After a number of umpiring mistakes were made in the second and third Test matches between England and India, the question of whether greater technology should be used to assist umpires has once again resurfaced.

The inevitable march of science into all fields of endeavour makes it a fait of accompli that one day technology will decide the fate of batsmen, and the man in charge will make these decisions from a studio box well away from the action in the middle.

The questions to be asked are:

1. How much power should be given to the third umpire now or in the near future?

2. What decisions should be taken out of the current field umpires jurisdiction?

3. Should players been given a limited right of appeal, and how many appeals would be appropriate?

4. How much time will all this scrutiny take, and should a limit be set?

5. What role will the modern umpire have in the game of cricket?

6. The other effects of technology on the game of cricket?

How much power should be given to the third umpire now or in the near future?

There seems little doubt that in the future the third umpire or video umpire will be the official most involved in deciding the fate of a batsman.

Presently the third umpire only decides on run-out and stumping decisions, plus whether the ball has cleared the boundary or if the fielder has made contact with the boundary rope, and even then only when referred to by one of the field umpires. Current umpires of the elite panel have expressed the belief that they would prefer to keep the current status quo.

Simon Taufel currently ranked the number one umpire in the world had this to say in a recent BBC sport interview:

"Technology is all about replacing the skills of the umpire and I'd like to think I've worked my way up this far to employ those skills...

Why de-skill that part of the game just for the sake of an extra two or three correct decisions per game?...

There are undoubtedly pluses, but we need to sit down and stack them against the minuses."

It would be a real concern if the third umpire was seen to be more important then the two field umpires. You could imagine an occurrence where the field umpire gives a decision, but is then overruled by the third umpire.

It would seem the suggestion made by author and commentator Henry Blofeld has some merit; his idea was that the two field umpires and the third umpire in the studio box would rotate during the match, ideally at the completion of each session. This would confer equal status on all three officials, and hopefully make it more palatable for the field umpire to be overruled by the video umpire.

What decisions should be taken out of the current field umpires jurisdiction?

The three decisions that would seem most obvious to be taken out of the field umpires hands seem to be the LBW, the No-Ball, and the very complex 'edge' decisions, which would include bat/pad, and caught behind the wicket.

LBW: the number one question may well be just how accurate is Hawkeye. Many feel that if Hawkeye decided LBW decisions that most Test Matches would finish in less than three days, and batting averages would decrease by about 25%.

Many are not convinced by the total accuracy of Hawkeye, its failure to recognise the 'flight path' of Shane Warne's 'ball of the century', is one telling cross against its use. Others believe that it will have to be improved before it can be considered infallible.

Hawkeye in its present guise could still be used to give the umpire invaluable help; things such as Height, whether the ball pitched outside the line, or if the batsman lays some wood on the ball before it strikes his pad. The above decisions could also be decided very quickly, once referred to the third umpire.

No-Ball: this seems almost a certainty to be handed over to the third umpire, it has been demonstrated that from the current angle (45 degrees and behind) that the umpire judges the front foot no-ball law, it is inevitable that the umpire will make mistakes.

A camera is already on the line of the popping crease, and a live picture televised to the third umpire should result it an exact judication. Even if the third umpire relayed this decision to the on-field umpire after the batsman had played a shot, this should not cause any undue problems with dismissals.

It would seem a moot point as to whether the original law makers ever intended the bowler to be penalized for such a minute error in judgment as the current no-ball rule allows. The old back foot no-ball law gave the bowler a degree of leeway in his bowling action, and the number of times bowlers were called in a match was negligible.

Edges: it seems incongruous that as the batsman trudges from the field shaking his downcast head slowly from side to side, that the only person who does not know the ball came off the batsman's thigh pad, is the stoic figure of the umpire, steadfastly refusing to take even a furtive glance at the giant screen.

A recent ICC study concluded that umpires from the elite panel get 92% of decisions correct, an enviable statistic, but with the 'Snick O Meter' and 'Hot Spot' it would be almost certain that when it comes to edges (including bat/pads) modern technology would be running near or at 100%.

With this infallibility it seems almost ludicrous not to make full use of the technology now available.

Should players been given a limited right of appeal, and how many appeals would be appropriate?

The idea of giving the players the option of appealing a set number of decisions may well be a compromise, which would allow the present umpire system to continue almost in its traditional role. This has proved quite successful in tennis, but whether it would transfer to cricket is debatable.

The most commonly mooted system is two appeals, this has been suggested from former players such as Ian Healey.

The idea being that each team would have two appeals per innings (these appeals would not carry over to other innings), if an appeal was successful, for example the batting side disputed a bat/pad decision that was incorrectly given out, the batting team would still have two appeals remaining in that innings.

This idea has many potential problems, such as; who makes the decision to appeal for the batting side? The batsman in the middle would presumably deputise if the captain was not out on the field, but batsman being batsman he may well be attempted to appeal every time he is given out LBW!

This idea has merit, but may be better off being trialed in a lesser stage than a Test Match.

How much time will all this scrutiny take, and should a limit be set?

A common argument for those opposing the use of technology is the amount of time they believe will be wasted with all of the potential queries referred to the third umpire.

This argument has some validity. It will be remembered that when the field umpires were first given the option of referring run-outs and stumpings to the third umpire, they would only refer those decisions that they were generally uncertain about. These days however umpires refer almost every single appeal made by the bowling side for these types of decisions.

Cricketers being cricketers they may just start over appealing; just in case that LBW decision that appeared to pitch six inches out side leg stump and struck the batsman on the thigh was in fact much closer than it appeared.

Frivolous appealing is nothing new to the game of cricket, the question of whether the chance to refer to third umpire would increase the amount of appealing would seem to be a resounding yes. Lets not forget the MCG experience of Steve Harmison when he had Steve Waugh clearly caught behind but no one in the English team bothered to appeal.

What role will the modern umpire have in the game of cricket?

The big concern is that one day the present umpire will be nothing more than a clothes rack that can count to six.

This above might be a bit of a stretch, things such as player behaviour, pitch condition (bowlers running in the danger zone), and when to refer to the third umpire would still give the modern field umpire a major role.

Still it would seem almost certain that the role of the field umpire will undoubtedly be diminished with the impact of science, and one can certainly understand the concerns of the current umpires of the elite panel.

The other effects of technology on the game of cricket?

Technology has had a number of impacts on cricket apart from those associated with umpiring, such as: pitch and ground preparation, player equipment and spectator enjoyment.

Pitch and Ground Preparation: the modern cricket field is a marvel of engineering, from drop in pitches, to drainage to the magnificent covers now employed by the ground staff. In all but the rarest of occurrences, 30 minutes after the cessation of rain the players can return to the field to resume battle.

The one concern is the benign state of pitches being produced around the world. Conspiracy theorists believe this is under direction from the ICC to ensure Test Matches go into the fifth day.

Will we one day see the 'Standard Test Wicket' one that is artificially produced in a green house to ICC standards and is then dropped into the appropriate ground. It would have some swing and seem on the first morning for the pace bowlers. Would settle down on day two, would be a batsman's paradise on day three, would start to take spin on day four, and would start to crumble on day five.

Captains would decide to bat or bowl depending on the make up of their bowlers. And it would certainly make it much easier to compare batsman and bowlers to their contemporaries.

Player Equipment: the modern player is spoiled when compared to his forbearers light weight pads that offer more protection then ever before. The modern batting helmet which is light and much cooler than the enervating motorbike helmet that Tony Greig wore during WSC (Greig still annoyingly refers to the modern batting helmet as a "Crash Helmet"). The dynamically designed bowling boots, which are light but offer much more support than the heavy military style boots that Lol Larwood had to wear.

Bats: But it is the modern bat that technology has had the greatest impact, light weight and 'all middle'. Even the handle which was once just a turned piece of cane, is now anywhere from a two to a 12 piece cane handle with multi-rubber insertions bound with synthetic glue.

Modern bats themselves are around three pounds and pick up like toothpicks. The pitch will also have a large impact on which bat the modern player will choose. For a slow wicket the bat will have a lower swell anywhere from four or five inches from the toe. For a faster wicket the swell will be about seven to eight inches from the toe.

It must be a little deflating for the modern bowler, not only are they bowling on flat tracks, to shorten boundaries, in crowded itineraries, but to batsmen who even when they miss-hit a big drive the ball still travels six rows back. The old saying 'that was right out of the middle' is now 'he got a fair piece of that'. It is scary to think just how far Gilbert Jessop would have hit the ball with one of these modern clubs.

Conclusion

It is time to give the third umpire more power, the area that should come under the complete auspices of the third umpire right now is that of deciding the No-Ball law. It could be argued that this would give the field umpire one less worry and more time to focus on edges and LBW appeals.

It is also time to give the field umpires the direction to refer close decisions involving edges and back pad catches to the third umpire. This should not overly waste time as the hot-spot and snick-o-meter can supply the information very quickly to the third umpire.

Although the 'Hawk-Eye' inventors claim the system infallible, many still have their doubts, it is not quite time yet to hand the LBW decisions over to the third umpire. There is no doubt that one day the LBW will be decided by 'replay' but that day is not quite here.

The Blofeld idea of rotating the three umpires (two field and video umpire), should be introduced if the third umpire was to be given more power, this would create equal status amongst all of the umpires.

As the old saying goes; time waits for no man, and neither does technology.


Note: the facts about cricket bat manufacture were taken from: More Than Cricket by Ian Davis and Brian Wood.


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