Pros and cons of tech

Ever since the ICC announced earlier this year that referrals system would soon become a fact of life, and that additional tools like the ‘Hot Spot’ technology would be trialled as part of the initiative, there have been occasional murmurs of dissent.

Ian Chappell pegged his naysaying on the fact that ‘technology’ as we know it involves a human hand.

It would be ironic if umpires, in the name of fairness, aren’t allowed to stand in Tests where their country is playing, but a behind-the-scenes-operator who has a “home side” involved in the match has a say in the decision-making process. Also, will these behind-the-scenes- operators be subject to the same corruption regulations that apply to players and officials? If they’re not, they should be.

It’s time to concentrate on ways to improve the standard of umpiring rather than harbour the misguided belief that the use of more “technology” is going to enhance the officiating. The reliance on off-field help in the decision-making process is part of the problem rather than being the solution.

Former umpire Peter Willey took another tack shortly after Chappelli’s column, and argued that reliance on technology would have an adverse impact on human skills.

“Umpires who have done Tests for five or six years have lost the art of giving out run-outs and stumpings – they just refer everything,” Willey wrote in the October issue of Wisden Cricketer. “If you have all the technology for a number of years you are going to lose the art of giving out caught-behinds, lbws and everything else because the third umpire is doing everything for you.

“The umpire will end up hardly having to make a decision. Then he stops doing Tests and goes back into first-class cricket and he has to start learning again. It could be dangerous for an umpire’s career.”

Fair enough for a former umpire to see things from the point of view of that profession, but I am not sure the average cricket fan would be moved by an argument aimed not at improving the quality of refereeing but at prolonging the career of an umpire. Besides, if umpires increasingly refer close run outs upstairs, it only means we get better line decisions — and where’s the harm in that?

Trust Simon Taufel to bring some balance to the debate.

The man in the middle

The man in the middle

Despite your continued excellence over a number of years, no one involved can be happy all of the time. How do you handle the criticism from players and the media, including the “Awful Taufel” UK headlines of a few years back?

You do your best. If you make a judgment error, then you learn from it and become better. If you make the same type of mistake, that’s when people should be critical. But don’t forget, we’re up against around 25 cameras and all the tools of super slow motion, Snicko, Hot Spot and Hawk-Eye, and we still get 95% of our decisions correct – that’s pretty good in my book! The challenge for me is to get as close to 100% as possible, realising that I cannot be perfect but I can be excellent.

What’s your view on umpires getting more help through TV technology?

There is no easy answer when it comes to technology. The fundamentals for me are: firstly, having the right balance; having consistently accurate technology; but most of all, having the umpire make the right decision in the first place. Technology can be used to assist the umpire get the decision right, not replace him. Yes, the game has changed and we need to change with it – that’s being professional. Technology has a place, provided it gives us a more reliable and accurate answer than an umpire and it is used to enhance the game, not dominate. I’d like to see more effort put into helping umpires develop greater skills and better performances before giving all the decision-making to technology.

I’d think the bad umpire will, as the likes of Chappell and Willey warn, get lazy while the good umpire will learn to harness technology to aid his decision-making and to get things as close to 100 per cent as possible.

Incidentally, when umpires talk of getting things 95 per cent right, that is one bad decision for every ten wickets that fall, and four bad decisions in course of a Test — even assuming that all umpires are hitting the 95 per cent standard. Add to it, the four bad decisions need not be evenly spaced out across a Test but could come in a cluster, to the detriment of  the prospects of a particular team. Equally, they could come at crucial moments, and irrevocably turn the course of games. All of which is an argument for using any and all tools to try and hit the 100 per cent mark.

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10 thoughts on “Pros and cons of tech

  1. I’m not sure the “95%” figure is “95% of all dismissals” or “95% of the controversial ones” (lbws, run outs, few caught behinds etc.). Considering that lbws are just around 15% (http://blogs.cricinfo.com/inbox/archives/2009/05/dissecting_the_lbw.php), and run outs even rarer, 95% of all dismissals would mean that umpires get 1 out of 5 of lbws or run outs wrong. Which to me sounds too high an error rate.

    It’s more likely that they get 95% of the lbws, run outs etc. right. Which would make the analysis in your final paragraph wrong. Either ways, I think you need to corroborate the data you present before making your conclusions.

    • That 95 per cent figure is often trotted out by the ICC when defending its umpires, and it actually refers to 95 per cent correct on ALL decisions [not counting bowled]. It is not my data set, but the one that the ICC has, and says it uses as the measure of an umpire’s performance.

      • Fair enough. Personally I’m ambivalent about the use of technology. I would love to see independent studies prove that the use of technology is actually helpful (e.g. snickometer was more accurate than human umpires in x% of cases etc.) before we consider it.

        In other words, it would be great if ICC can show us the numbers and explain their reasoning, before they make any decision.

        • Fair enough, but let me make a tangential point.

          Why do we have this dissatisfaction with umpiring decisions in modern times, to an extent that did not exist before?

          The simple answer is, the technology available to commentators. We speak of technology as diluting the authority of umpires. At the same time, no sooner has the poor bloke given his verdict than commentators call for Hot Spots and Hawkeyes, multiple replays from every angle, and finally decide the idiot was wrong — and they share that insight with us, and with everyone on the ground through giant monitors.

          IMHO, that is unfair. If you think the technology is good enough to make decisions with, then give it to the umpires and let’s get it right. If you think the technology is not accurate, then stop commentators from using it to undercut the decisions made by the umpires.

  2. What is not being said as much is the fact that unlike 15years ago, have u heard of batsmen flying to reach the crease to get a run, till Jonty came, did fielders dive to throw a ball, or till fielders dive & scoop to save a boundary, till Warne came, did leg spinners come around the wicket to bowl at a right hand batsmen, till this aussie attitude to “end-at-whatever means” approach, did slip fielders fake a low ball catch even if hit the ground? … these are the typical decisions that umpires resort to technology…. it was a “gentle” and “gentlemen” game until couple of decades back….. so umpire errors went unnoticed. not that umpires those days didnt make errors…. In today’s age, we dont remember the runners – only winners. So teams do whatever it takes to win.

    Agree with Chappel’s comments on bad habits creeping into umpires, as today what is obvious for a viewer in runouts get referred to third umpire… Are umpires really that bad to give decisions even if its not a close one? Or are they using this break to sneek in few advertisements (pressure from the sponsors) ?

    • I suspect the umpires are not so much attempting to play the ad slot game, as they are trying to make sure they don’t look foolish.

      Earlier, umpires made line calls and that was that. I remember watching cricket before the era of referrals and on some occasions wondering, how the hell could the umpire have ruled on that — not because of whether the call was right or wrong, but because the umpire simply wasn’t in the right position.

      Next time, try looking at where the umpire is when the stumps are broken. Only the very, very good umpires are consistently ideally placed to be able to decide, and even they, on tight runs to the close field, don’t have enough time to get into perfect position, so there is an element of guesswork in their calling. Given all of that, I personally have no issues if every darn line call was referred upstairs — I mean, what that ensures is we get the right decision, and as a cricket watcher, I am not so interested in whether the first umpire made the call or the third umpire did, as I am in whether the call was right or wrong.

  3. I generally agree with your general point but what kind of Math will make it one wrong decision per 10 wickets if the umpires get 5% of the decisions wrong?

    • Lets not quibble. Even if its 2 wrong decisions over the course of a Test match (exactly 95%), the basic argument, I think still holds.

    • Wrong math? Sure — an error on the side of caution. 95 per cent is 9.5 right decisions out of ten. I removed the .5 from the equation. You want to go the other way? Okay, that is 2 bad decisions in every 20 wickets to fall — four for the Test. What if a team in the first innings is in big trouble, two very good batsmen mount a recovery and those two errors take them out, in the process ensuring the team is so far behind that it ends up losing? Are we going to console ourselves by saying hey, point five percent, that’s tough? We had to in an earlier age, but given we have the tech, why not shoot for perfection, is the theme of my argument. And math jugglery doesn’t change that premise, no?

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