Saturday, 13 July 2013

Umpires Under The Hammer

Broad caught by Clarke but not out
Nothing much changes in cricket.

At the end of any given day, one side will breathe a sigh of relief that crucial decisions went their way and the other will rue the mistakes of officials. Yesterday Australia took the benefit, today it was England. They say what goes around comes around and those with grey hair and fewer original teeth who have played the game until their fingers were bent, know that to be true.

When Stuart Broad edged the ball to Michael Clarke and stood his ground, he did no more or less than he should have done. Today, its the standard and a standard that was started long ago by Australians. Just ask Jack Ikin about Bradman. Just ask Michael Holding about Ian Chappell. The fault lies not with the batsman and in some ways, not even with umpire Dar. Without doubt, he made a mistake but he isn't the umpire, as Shane Warne claimed with typically ill-considered instant wisdom on Twitter, who "always get(s) the crucial decisions wrong and always has". That guy is sitting in the sheds.

In reality, Aleem Dar is a very good umpire and yesterday, when the third umpire was looking at replays to see what they told him, rather than using replays to back up what his experience told him, Dar was standing on the ground having made the right decision. Of course, any time we concede to the concept that Warne knows what he is talking about we can be sure we experiencing a fit of some dire nature.

The blame lies with our seduction, through the media, to the thought that we must make everything perfect. That human error must be removed from the game and that technology can do just that. Our world lies in the hands of the latest gadget and in the Great Southern Land, we consume these devices with voracity in order to fix the wrongs that human frailty is prone to and fix them now. Yesterday I watched an intense woman make nine frantic, urgent and serious phone calls in half an hour and several other texts while her husband and two pre-schoolers waited nearby to continue their holiday activities beside a sparkling Clarence River. Her son fell from his bike, ran toward his mother for comfort, only to be shepherded away by a dutiful husband. Her argument seemed to be over the colour of paint. Smart phones?

We have handed the game to two dimensional, electronic beings who have no experience, who sense nothing but restricted data and then count it in 0's and 1's. So, we can tell how much faster Graeme Swann rotates the ball. Cricketers already knew that because they've heard the seam of a ball whizzing down the pitch at them and they can tell what it looks like.

The errors which stem from this reliance on technology were apparent yesterday in three decisions - Agar's stumping, Roots leg side caught behind and Trott's lbw. The Broad not out on the third day is a direct result. With ICC apologising to England on the evening of day two, are we surprised that even an expert umpire like Dar would err on the side of caution on the third?

Technology was supposed to remove "howlers" but instead, it has enhanced them. Fear of error is destroying umpires. Just look at Billy Bowden, who is so terrified of the scrutiny of slow motion that he reviews runouts even when the bails fall as the batsman passes the wicket keeper. We haven't improved the umpiring. We haven't removed the howlers. We've made it worse.
Ian Bell cover drives to 95x

The DRS rules play their own ridiculous role. Batsmen can be out or not out according to what the umpire said first and who asked for the review. Out is out. Michael Clarke, because of pressure and an ill judgment, was unable to use technology to remove Broad and neutralise the umpires mistake because of arbitrary rules designed to prevent constant re viewsruining the game. Instead, the rules ruin the game anyway and fuel its more controversial moments. Take the DRS away from captains and players and give it back to the umpires. As Geoffrey Boycott said after play, Aleem Dar should have had someone in his earpiece telling him quietly that he might have got it wrong. Let the umpires hold the review cards and if we are worried about a lack of playing experience in knowing when to apply them, give that power to the match referees, who are almost all ex Test players. Something looks on the nose, he presses a button and the third umpire reviews it.

In doing so, let's let common sense prevail. A few years back, a player was stumped in a one day game but because a close fielder's arm obstructed the moment when the bails began their fall, the batsman escaped. He was out and everyone on the ground or watching who had played the game knew it. The argument over catches decided by a two dimension lens which foreshortens the view and usually can't tell carry, is another example.

Of course, Peter Siddle summed it up in the post match press conference. "It's a long day, it's a tough day for people out there. Things are going to happen and we just have to deal with it."

In the end, its as well to remember that Australia have had three go there way and only one against. See Stuart Clark's assessment on Fox

There is far more for Australia to worry about. After battling a dead and dying pitch for the first two sessions and holding England to account, the last session slipped away from them. The Broad incident was made worse in the next over when Haddin dropped a tough chance that would have had cooled angry heads. Broad and the unflappable Ian Bell ground England to a lead which already looks a long and dangerous journey for the Australians. Bell must enjoy breaking Australians after his early career against them was one of frustration against McGrath and Warne. He arrived in the fifteenth over and just went on and on, content to allow Siddle and Watson bowl their maidens and banking his chips on loose balls later in the day. Matt Prior provided the only belligerent note but his damage was kept to a minimum. It was the hundred partnership with Broad than turned the balance of the game from Australia's to England's.

Agar's first Test wicket: Cook
The Australians showed a renewed resolve and battled right the way through. Even in the last session, as things were going away from them, they didn't wilt in the heat of the battle. Luck and a dropped catch went against them but they were confronted with some very good batting and a lesson in how to play when their turn comes: patience. James Pattinson should have been given former captain Mark Taylor's advice, for his frustration was too often deflected away from his main task of taking wickets. Siddle, the stayer and Shane Watson, bowling on a wicket perfect for the constraints he can apply, did their job well. The two left handers, Starc and Agar, were impressive.  Neither looked likely to tear England apart but both kept the threat up to their more fancied opponents. Earlier in the day, Agar had the world's best batsman, Alastair Cook, caught spectacularly at slip by Clarke for his first Test wicket.

England probably have enough to win already but wouldn't it be great if they didn't.