How about a ‘DMS’?

It has been wrong from the beginning to bill this as a contest between humans and technology, when in reality it has always been a case of humans using technology and interpreting the evidence it provides. Hawk-Eye can, at best, provide an approximation of the ball’s path, and while being relatively more accurate than human judgement, it is dependent on a number of variables, including overhead conditions, to deliver optimal projections. Hot Spot, while it has improved, can still produce misleading evidence, sometimes because of extreme conditions, but sometimes because of simple human error.

Amidst all the sound, the fury, and the emotion-heavy venting, Sambit Bal’s piece on the DRS comes as a relief. And the part underlined above really goes to the crux of a ‘To DRS or not’ argument that seems to be slipping into a game of ‘gotcha’ by the pro and anti factions.

How about we pretend, just for a moment, that we are sensible? How about we put the cart where it belongs — at the arse-end of the horse?

As Sambit points out, the point of having technology is to use it to eliminate, or at the least minimize, error. So, who makes the error? The on-field umpire. When? At the point of rendering the original decision.

Therefore, when do you really need technology? To aid me in my decision-making — not to second guess my decision after I have made it.

So how about this scenario? You are umpiring at the business end. Anderson bowls, Haddin swishes, keeper and fielder go up in appeal — and you are not sure Haddin got the nick the fielders think he did.

The operative bit here is, you are not sure. And that is when you need technology (Errors — a large part of them — stem from your being forced into a decision without having all the facts at your disposal).

So in this hypothetical scenario, the umpire whose decision is sought phones upstairs and goes, mate, can you check the visuals on this one? I know the keeper took it clean, I think I heard a noise, but I didn’t see an edge. Check?

The third umpire checks the front foot, checks Hot Spot, freezes the frame if necessary at the point of supposed impact to see if there is perceptible daylight between bat and ball, and reports his findings back to the on-field umpire. Who, now armed with as much data as is available, then makes the call yea or nay. And that is that.

Today the use of technology has created a game within a game  (You are playing against the system, you’ve got three throws of the dice, let’s see if you are good enough to put your chips on the table at the right time).

What if we move the debate away from whether or not to use tech, to when to use tech?

What if we replace the Decision Review System with a Decision Making System?

Or does that smack of a solution too simple it of course should never even be considered?

Quis custodiet…

Oh hey, it is Daryl Harper in the third umpire’s chair — what could possibly go wrong? This:

Smith, who top-scored for South Africa with 105, his 20th Test century, appeared to be given a let-off on 15 when he attempted a cut against Ryan Sidebottom and appeared to feather a nick through to the keeper, Matt Prior.

Although the onfield umpire, Tony Hill, initially turned down England’s appeals, the captain, Andrew Strauss, immediately used one of his team’s two reviews, and the TV replays seemed to indicate an audible snick as the ball passed the bat.

However, Harper upheld the onfield decision, claiming that he could not hear any noise on the replay that he was being shown in the third umpire’s booth. An angry England coach, Andy Flower, claimed that this was because he had the volume too low on his television set, and confirmed that an official complaint was being made to the match referee, Roshan Mahanama.

An umpire using technology to rule on whether the batsman nicked the ball or no has his TV volume on mute. Surprised? You shouldn’t be — Daryl Harper has throughout a colorful career moved in strange ways his blunders to perform. Remember this bit of recent history?

Harper in the third umpire’s booth had little say in the first and none in the second, but he was utterly in the thick of things for the third and fourth breakthroughs of the day. First, he sent Shivnarine Chanderpaul on his way for 70 to a delivery that would have cleared the stumps by six inches, before – and to total incredulity from players, spectators and pundits alike – he over-ruled the onfield umpire, Aleem Dar, to saw off Brendan Nash in a near identical fashion.

In police-speak, Harper has been a ‘person of interest’ ever since 1999, when in Adelaide he re-wrote the rule book when he deemed that it was possible for a player, in this case Sachin Tendulkar, to be out LBW when struck on the shoulder by a Glenn McGrath bouncer.

But let’s not go there. More recently, there was the more recent instance of Harper, again in the video umpire’s chair, giving Darren Powell out caught behind when replays — of which he watched a good half dozen — clearly showed daylight between bat and ball. In the Cape Town Test of the ongoing series, he again adjudicated Ashwell Prince caught behind — when, again, replays indicated Prince had missed the ball by a foot.

Keep Harper away from all big decisions, says Nasser Hussain, writing from the vantage point of being on air as a SkyTV commentator when the Graeme Smith incident happened. Nasser could, with greater justice, have said simply, keep Harper away from all decisions, period.

Harper has his own take on things — and interestingly, he has chosen to give it on Facebook, though there exists an ICC proscription against umpires discussing their decisions in public. But what to me is more interesting is that Roshan Mahanama, the match referee, lost no time in defending Harper.

“During the review, the TV umpire followed the correct protocol and as he did not hear any noise to indicate the ball hitting the bat, he recommended Mr Hill to uphold his earlier decision. It must be noted that umpire’s decision is final,” Mahanama said.

When an official uses words and phrases like ‘correct protocol’ without specifying what it is, the ‘obfuscation’ flag goes up. What ‘protocol’ is a third umpire supposed to follow in such cases? There is visual evidence and there is audio evidence — and every commentator on duty at the time, and even fans listening in to the commentary, are unanimous that the sound of bat on ball could be heard. Mahanama, however, says:

“There have also been suggestions in a section of the press that Mr Harper had turned down the feed volume. It is clarified that the volume on the third umpire’s feed, right throughout the series, had been configured to optimise the quality of the audio, by both an SABC Head Engineer and the ICC technical advisor.”

That ‘clarification’ makes everything as clear as mud. Simple question: did the match referee check the volume levels? Was it set so you could hear the snick so plainly audible to the rest of the world, which didn’t have the benefit of the skills of head engineers and technical advisors?

The real problem is not in Harper’s serial screw-ups as it is in the ICC’s readiness to jump to the defense of its officials when they screw up. Consider this insight into how the ICC vets its ‘elite’ panel:

There is a close examination of every aspect of an umpire’s performance. Both captains and the match referee submit a report to ICC about every game. An ICC assessor then examines every appeal that an umpire is required to answer, and a comprehensive assessment is compiled. The umpire eventually receives a DVD, packed full of replays and accompanied by the written assessment, so every performance can be reviewed and sometimes reconsidered. Umpires are assessed on their abilities to judge decisions, to communicate with players and with each other, to cope with pressure and to apply the laws and regulations of the game. The ICC has a very informative description of this procedure on its revamped website, and more details can be found at

That insight comes from Harper himself, in course of an interview that also comprises some interesting comments about technology and umpiring. So then, the question the ICC needs to answer is this: when captains submit adverse reports about umpires [read the box in the Nasser Hussain piece linked to above — on one occasion, a team has actually submitted video evidence of the umpire’s blunders], what action does it take after it ‘compiles’ its ‘comprehensive assessment’?

Is there a single case in its history when the ICC has sacked an umpire from its elite panel for serial incompetence? If not, then what price all these elaborate reports and reviews and compilations?

Captains will tell you that writing a post-game evaluation of umpires is fraught with risk. The ICC promptly shares these reports with the umpires in question, so the official knows the nasty things a team, through the voice of its captain, has had to say about him. The ICC, however, takes no action on such reports — so the official, who is not punished for his blunders, gets to stand again, and take out his ire on the captain, and the team, that filed a poor report on him.

The Umpire Decision Referral System is on extended trial — and Harper has routinely made a mess of it to the point where, in true baby with bathwater style, some teams are calling for the end to the UDRS itself.

Maybe what we need is an umpire/match referee appraisal system, that rewards the good ones but also punishes the demonstrably bad officials by removing them from the elite panel. The ICC’s brief is not to shelter and protect its officials, but to run the game as well as is humanly possible — and protecting and encouraging incompetence is not consistent with that brief.

In other news, the Bangladesh media corps gets its first taste of a Virender Sehwag press conference. Which reminds me, an embarrassment of riches on TV, with England-South Africa, Australia-Pakistan, and India-Bangladesh — and me with a perfectly good TV set in the home I am currently busy setting up, but no sign of the TataSky people who promised to connect it up, yet. I’ll find someplace to watch the action from; see you guys back in here late tomorrow, or on Monday morning.

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.