Click here to print page

No denying technology

Saturday, August 10, 2019

There is hardly anything more unpalatable in sport than an officiating error which has influenced, or has the potential to influence, the result of a match.

Back in the day, before today's fast-moving digital technologies, officiating errors were made with those looking on being none the wiser.

Sometimes spectators, players, others, suspected an error, but proving it was impossible.

That situation still remains at the lower levels of sport.

However, at the elite level where intrusive television is ever present, everything has changed. Nowadays, visual technologies facilitating global viewing show up the error as soon as it happens, leaving a bad taste.

That's the reason replays are being used for decision-making in so many sports despite complaints from diehard traditionalists.

Last year the video assistant referee (VAR) system was successfully used at the Fifa World Cup and it's increasingly in top-level football.

The umpire's decision review system (DRS) in televised international cricket and in big-money franchise cricket has become virtually automatic over the last decade.

Only recently came news that a system is to be trialled in limited overs cricket using technology to determine front foot no balls. Under that system a television umpire, not the on-field umpire, will call no-ball when a bowler has overstepped.

Readers may recall the recent ICC Cricket World Cup when the on-field umpire missed a huge no- ball bowled to the West Indies batting champion Mr Chris Gayle. Had the no-ball been called, Mr Gayle would have had a free hit, next ball. Instead, he was dismissed.

Curiously, in the recent first (Ashes) Test between England and Australia there was much criticism of the on-field umpires, particularly Trinidadian Mr Joel Wilson who has only just been empanelled to the ICC elite list.

Criticism then was that the umpires, more particularly Mr Wilson, had erred more than usual, with several of his decisions being overturned by DRS.

As the situation now stands, the umpire's decision has to be challenged for it to be overturned. But the team making the decision to challenge must consider carefully, since further review options are reduced if the current challenge only proves the umpire right. When the decision is marginal, the option is retained. In actuality though, the umpire is given the benefit of the doubt.

In the circumstances, there have been calls from some high-profile English and Australian former players for the system of neutral umpires to be scrapped when those two teams are playing each other.

The conceited argument being that Australian and English umpires are superior to others and presumably won't be vulnerable to biased behaviour.

In all of this the elephant in the room is being studiously ignored: When it comes to elite, televised international cricket, why not simply allow the fast-improving visual technologies to have the final word in every case?

Of course that would mean making the on-field cricket umpire virtually redundant in high-profile, televised matches.

For diehard traditionalists that's simply not to be considered.

But as we know from history, it's just a matter of time. Ultimately, technology will not be denied.