Deferring to technology

20090305sportThe introduction of technology as a supporting tool in decision-making has not been  altogether popular, hence the ICC’s decision to test the waters with the new on-field appeal system by employing  in some series and not in others.

Whereas a number of former players have come out ‘batting’ for the application of technology in the adjudication process,  some current players including West Indies captain Chris Gayle and  Ramnaresh Sarwan, a senior West Indies player are less than enamored with the profusion of technology.  The argument appears to be that it takes away the tried and tested human element,that has worked for the game over time.

Earlier this year former Pakistani captain Javed Miandad came out in support of the system which allows players  the right of appeal against decisions by on-field umpires  which they consider dubious. It is this system that is in place  for the present West Indies versus England Test series and which, we are told, will also be employed in the ICC Champions Trophy tournament. This system is also in place  in the current Australia versus South Africa top of the table Test  clash where the winner is guaranteed the number one world ranking.

In the Australia and South Africa  series each team has two referrals per innings and the South African Captain Graeme Smith has said that he was resigned to the fact that the reviews could potentially be used up early.  “I’m sure guys are going to make mistakes.”  “It’s a new system. You’ve just got to trust the guys that are out there. Batters have generally got a good feel of what’s going on.

“More than anything else it’s more there to get the really bad decision out of the game. That’s never a bad thing. It will be interesting to see. I think both teams will probably make one or two mistakes but it’s more a nice option to have than anything else.”

Ricky Ponting, Australia’s captain  is still undecided on the issue of  referrals.

“The thing we’ve got to remember with it is there are still going to be incorrect decisions made.

It’s not something that’s going to solve every incorrect decision that an umpire might make through the course of the game. But hopefully it will take out the really obvious bad decisions that are being made which are probably the most frustrating ones for players as well.”

Interestingly, there appears to be at least a measure of reticence among several serving Test captains regarding the referral system with both Smith and Pointing making the point that the system is by no means a foolproof assurance against flawed decisions.

The referral system was first used on India’s tour of Sri Lanka last year and was also applied during the  recent two-Test series between New Zealand and theWest Indies, in the latter case the number of referrals per innings was
increased from two to three.

Miandad’s argument for the referral system revolves around what he believes has been an increase in “the number of mistakes” by umpires. The system he says “is good for the game because one bad decision can turn a defeat into a win or vice versa for any team.”

“Any initiative that can reduce the number of bad decisions and make the game ‘purer’ though once we make this argument we are going to have to be prepared to ensure the inevitable controversies and countervailing points of view that will emerge from the sheer newness of that initiative.”

Zaheer Abbas, another former Pakistan player  also backed the referral system, suggesting that.…”batsmen also needed a slice of luck like the bowlers.”

As the stakes rise in the encounters between and among cricketing nations, the ICC is coming under increasing pressure to address the problem of flawed decisions. Different pundits have different points-of-view. Former Pakistan Test wicketkeeper Rashid Latif  clearly feels that the referral system might alter the balance in an equation which he believes is heavily stacked against batsmen.

The ICC is not doing enough to ensure umpires perform consistently. And while there has been some measure of sympathy for unpires Latiff believes that account should also be taken of the fact that “one mistake can deprive a team of victory or turn a victory into defeat.”

If questions have inevitably arisen about the impact on the morale of unpires Intikhab Alam, another former Pakistan captain, has said that umpires should not feel slighted over moves to bring more technology into the adjudication process.  Alam says that the handful of umpires comprising the ICC’s elite panel “are travelling around the world throughout the year” and may be  “cracking under pressure……….. Umpires need to earn the respect of players by being receptive to new ideas,” Alam said.

While the ICC has made it clear that the new technology-driven referral system is on trial, some influential players have insisted on constantly criticizing it. Take Ramnaresh Sarwan, for example. Shortly after benefiting from the system in the first Test of the current Digicel series, Sarwan said that he was not “ a big fan of it. We played with it in New Zealand and it was a bit confusing,” Sarwan told reporters after the Jamaica Test in the current series.

“I’m not a big fan of it, but I’ll take it today [yesterday]. In our team, not many guys are keen on it, but nevertheless it is important that you concentrate on what you have to do and just try to take it out of your mind,” he added. Sarwan was on two when England unsuccessfully challenged an lbw appeal that was turned down against Andrew Flintoff to a ball television replays showed pitched outside leg stump.

When he was on five, he was ruled lbw to Steve Harmison. Sarwan asked for a referral and the decision was reversed on the evidence that the ball might have gone over the stumps. “It was 50-50.” Sarwan said.

Like Latiff said one mistake can deprive a team of victory and had Sarwan been given out the outcome of the game may well have been different.

In the final analysis it is the ICC that will have to make the call  in relation to the ultimate fate of the referral system. The ICC, however, must tred it cautiously since, whatever the ICC’s  verdict, players, umpires and cricket fans alike must acquire a level of comfort with the system. Otherwise it will not work for the game.

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