Australian captain Ricky Ponting is right to call for an end to the increased use of technology in umpiring decisions and to defend the charm of the ‘human element’ to the game.
Ponting’s most important job as captain of the greatest cricketing nation on earth (and beyond), apart from scoring runs, is to protect its best interests. And to use technology to avoid umpiring gaffes would most certainly not be in Australia’s best interests.
The reason that men like Ponting and Ian Chappell enjoy the ‘human element’ so much is not for the charm or the tradition but because they are the best at manipulating it.
The last time Pakistan toured Australia Bob Woolmer was reprimanded by the ICC for daring to suggest that more umpires made more mistakes when in Australia than anywhere else. The reason, he said, was that they were intimidated, in equal measure, by the size and volume of the crowds and by the Australian team.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s just a statement of the obvious,” an exasperated Woolmer said on his return to Cape Town after the tour. “You take 70,000 at the MCG or 45,000 at the SCG, fill them full of beer and then listen to them yell abuse at you all day. Then Shane Warne appeals three times an over as though his life depends on it. It’s incredibly hard for the umpires…and the Australian team knows that, and knows how to maximise, too,” Woolmer said over dinner.
So when a wicket is desperately needed and the umpire is acting and looking suitably frazzled, the Aussies ‘strike’. Ask Rahul Dravid how it works.
“Next one past the edge, boys, and everyone goes up like he’s smashed the cover off it. Bucknor’s past his sell by date and Benson’s on the verge of cracking.” Or words to that effect.
Why on earth would Ponting, or any other Australian cricketer, want that particular part of their wicket taking arsenal removed? Or even compromised? The fact that 70,000 people turn for a single day of Test cricket (more than South Africa get for a whole series) is good enough reason for the team to use them to its advantage. Any other team that was suitably well supported would almost certainly do the same.
Chappell is fond of rubbishing the use of technology and becomes agitated at the thought of ‘computers ruling the game’. Ponting, too, refers back to the history of the game and fondly recalls that the human element has always been there and should remain.
What that means, in effect, is that stupid mistakes have been made for the last 128 years of Test cricket and, therefore, should continue to be made. It is easy to understand the ‘Australian way’ but not Australian logic if that is what it is. Or perhaps Chappell and Ponting are just good old fashioned Luddites with an aversion to progress and improvement.
The position and use of the third umpire is hardly unexplored territory in this column, but while nothing changes it needs to be explored again. Give the third umpire and/or match referee the right to over-rule an umpire’s decision in the case of indisputable error.
Inside edges which result in lbw, batsmen missing the ball by several inches and being given out caught, or caught off the arm, or helmet. We are NOT talking about deliveries which may or may not have pitched marginally outside leg stump; we are NOT talking about the use of hawkeye or the snickometer which are visual aids for viewers. We are talking, instead, of the kind of mistake which is instantly obvious to a million television viewers but which remains unchanged. The kind of mistake that usually happens only once or twice per Test match (outside Australia).
They are not ‘charming’ and, just because they have ‘always been part of the game’, that does not mean they still have to be today.
When a million people know instantly that an incorrect decision has been made, the game they are watching loses credibility. Really bad mistakes can be eradicated from Test cricket tomorrow if the ICC gives the match referee and third umpire the right to over-rule. And if there are any umpires who would object to being over-ruled, then they shouldn’t be in the game anyway. There’s no place for an umpire’s ego in cricket.
At the moment Australia would still beat everybody even if they did have to take all 20 wickets properly, but it would at least give other teams more of a fighting chance. And it would certainly have cost them victory in Sydney against India.
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