Umpiring

The two-day ICC Cricket Committee meeting is underway in Mumbai since Friday. Among other things on the agenda, the committee will discuss the use of technology in umpiring. Shiamak Unwalla discusses the merits and demerits of allowing machines to make the call.
The discussion of use of technology in umpiring is a tricky, but necessary. The Decision Review System (DRS) is extremely controversial, especially in India, so we will come to that a little later. To start off, let us look at the most basic use of technology in umpiring; one that has become increasingly common: checking for no-ball.

 
Often times of late umpires check for no-balls as soon as a bowler takes a wicket. This check is largely precautionary, but the question that arises: What about all those times the bowler over-steps but which has gone unnoticed by the umpire, but not technology? Should those not be counted? Shouldn’t there be consistency? On the flip side, it has also been seen numerous times that the bowler has bowled a perfectly legal delivery, but since the umpire was not paying attention he goes “upstairs” to clarify it once again.

 
Should umpires check for no-balls off each delivery bowled? It is understandable that this might be impractical. So how about the third-umpire checking after each ball? This would allow the on-field umpire to pay attention to any possible dismissal rather than have to look from the bowlers’ foot to the batsman in a second. Whether or not this is sustainable or practical, it is a dialogue that must be had. Checking for no-balls at random simply does not make sense. Maybe, it’s time to have technology to trigger a red light for no-ball.

 
Now let us move on to the more pressing questions. Here we turn our argument to DRS. The LBW call is one of the more contentious aspects of DRS. The reason for this is that the same delivery can be either out or not out, depending on the original decision of the umpire.

 
The problem with this is simple. Let us assume a hypothetical situation. Dale Steyn is bowling to Steven Smith. The ball pitches on middle stump, and swings late to go past the edge and rap the pads. The umpire decides that the ball would not have hit the stumps, and declares Smith not out. Steyn calls for the review.

 

The first thing done is a no-ball check. Next, Hot Spot is used to ensure that there was no inside/ outside edge. Once the thermal imaging is taken into account, Snicko is called upon to make sure there is no unwanted sound when the ball passes the bat. Finally, Hawkeye verifies that the ball would have indeed clipped the top of off stump; but only the top.

 
Since the umpire had initially declared not out, the decision stays. Conversely, had the umpire initially declared Smith out, the batsman’s review would have yielded the opposite result and Smith would have to walk back.

 
Now, let us re-imagine this scenario. Instead of Steyn and Smith, the parties involved are Rangana Herath and Tamim Iqbal. Because neither board is particularly well-off, there is no provision for Hot Spot, but Snicko suggests there may or may not have been an edge. Therefore, regardless of the decision we do not know for certain whether the batsman is definitely out, or not out. Despite the presence of technology, we are not entirely certain that the right call has been made.

 
This brings us to our crucial next point: whether or not human errors ought to be allowed. Why is it that so few cricketers ever had a problem with the likes of Dickie Bird, David Shepherd, and in more recent times Rudi Koertzen, Simon Taufel, and Aleem Dar? Koertzen, Dar, and Taufel’s careers coincided with DRS, but they made their names as highly respected umpires well before its advent.

None of the above-mentioned umpires were ever entirely accurate in their decisions; it is humanly impossible to be. The point is, it at this point it is also impossible for machines to be entirely accurate. These umpires made mistakes from time to time, but the human error was understandable, and usually evened out over time. Meanwhile, technology does not provide a foolproof alternative either.

 
The use of technology in umpiring has its obvious merits. The howlers can certainly be eliminated from the game. One can only imagine how the infamous India vs Australia Sydney Test of 2008 would have panned out had DRS been around to give Andrew Symonds out caught behind. But on the other hand, unless every possible piece of technology from Hot Spot to ball-tracking can be suitably utilised in every International match regardless of who plays whom, it will be an unfair and flawed concept.

 
Technology should be used in umpiring, but not selectively. All available technology should be used for all international games. That being said, the umpires should not be mere androids, answering to and turning to their machine overlords to carry out every task. The human factor should not be entirely discarded for a system that is also not completely precise.


(
Shiamak Unwalla is a proud Whovian and all-round geek who also dabbles in cricket writing as a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)

 

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