Doubting the missiles
Posted in England in South Africa 2009-10
It really shouldn’t be like this.
On another absorbing day of Test cricket that saw a century from one of the game’s classiest batsmen and a spirited bowling display on an unforgiving pitch, we are left discussing the new umpire decision review system.
I would much rather be waxing lyrical about Hashim Amla’s technical excellence (however damaging it has been to England’s hopes of winning this game), or the prospect of a thrilling denouement tomorrow.
But it would be remiss - and, frankly, unprofessional - of me not to discuss the issue which has divided opinion throughout this contest.
The incident that sparked the most debate today was Graham Onions’ lbw shout against AB de Villiers, on 47.
Steve Davis, as so often in this match, was the umpire at the non-striker’s end, and turned down England’s appeal. The decision was referred to third umpire Amiesh Saheba but, despite Hawk-Eye suggesting that more than half the ball was going to hit leg stump, Davis’ verdict was upheld.
Saheba was within his rights not to reverse the original call because, under current International Cricket Council guidelines for an admittedly new system, there is sufficient margin for error with the prediction for Davis not to be overruled.
The premise for introducing technology to adjudicate on lbw decisions and the like is to ensure that a greater percentage of correct decisions are made.
But if the authorities do not have confidence in the technology, then it begs the question, why is it being used?
Nobody likes being on the wrong end of a bad decision - I still remind my dad of the time he gave me caught behind off my pad during my junior days - and we all know that umpires don't get it right all the time.
Yet why change an imperfect system for another imperfect system which, on recent evidence, will simply muddy the waters further?
Onions’ mood at having his appeal rejected twice will not have improved by the fact that had Davis raised his finger in the first instance, the television referral would have had no bearing on the outcome - and the lbw decision would have stood.
Presumably such a protocol has been implemented in an attempt to preserve the umpire’s authority in some way, but once again it shows a lack of faith in the system.
If the ultimate aim is to get the decision right, then what difference does it make what the on-field umpire decides in the first instance?
As you may have guessed, I am against the use of technology for anything other than line decisions, because a prediction, by definition, can never be 100% correct.
However sophisticated the cameras may become, and however many missiles Hawk-Eye tracks, you cannot ignore the fact that the margin for error will never be eliminated.
Which makes the blithe acceptance of Hawk-Eye as gospel - from the majority of commentators - all the more frustrating.
As Hawk-Eye maps the projected path of the ball on the screen, lines such as “that’s going on to hit the stumps - good decision” are routinely trotted out, and the sheer frequency of such utterances means we are in danger of stopping questioning what we see and hear.
Statistics gleaned from trials point to a 6% improvement in correct decisions using the new review system, but is this not akin to marking an exam paper without the correct answers?
The upshot is that we don’t know for sure that there are fewer wrong decisions these days; the umpire’s authority is undermined further (no matter that Davis protests otherwise); and there is the added complication of referrals being used tactically by captains and batsmen alike, which is not how it should be.
The square-leg umpire does precious little these days (how often do you see a stumping or run-out decision not referred to the third umpire), and I can’t help but think that the implementation of the review system takes us one step closer to the day when the men in white coats do little more than carry jumpers and count to six.
There is also the anomaly that the higher you go in the game as an official, the less input and authority you have. How can this be the right message to send out to budding Dickie Birds?
That 'Hot Spot' and 'Snicko' technology is being used in the current series between Australia and West Indies - and not in South Africa, for monetary reasons - is further evidence of a far from uniform, not to mention flawed, system.
It is widely accepted that player behaviour has deteriorated in recent years, and it is easy to see it heading further in that direction with the introduction of a system that has caused much disgruntlement this week alone.
Stuart Broad’s tantrum yesterday, which attracted the attention of the match referee, came after a successful South African referral, and raised further questions over time limits, how much input is acceptable from team-mates, and the subsequent impact of lengthy delays on already desultory over-rates.
Maybe that's a discussion for another day.