How difficult could it really be?

2008-01-12 00:00

I ONCE got the faintest of edges in a club cricket game and against all my principles stood my ground. The umpire, a member of my own team who was 50 and half blind, stuck his finger up and I was on my way. “How in God’s name did you hear that nick,” I said in the dressing room later. “I didn’t,’ he said, “I just got a feeling you were out and I was right, wasn’t I.”

The one and only league game I played in South Africa, 15 years ago, I got a nick to the second ball I faced and didn’t know what to do. I thought that SA played the game like Australia and so, putting aside my English upbringing, I waited for the finger. Same story, the umpire was one of ours, but this time mid-20s and good eyes and ears.

“Not out,” said he. At which point I was subjected to the biggest torrent of verbal abuse I ever heard on a cricket field and fervently wished I had walked. The fates dealt harshly with me: I batted on for 10 overs, never got off the mark and was bowled for a duck.

(Andy Capostagno, 2008)

“Not Walking is Not Cheating.”

(Martin Williamson, January 2008)

I found myself watching the game between Australia and India at the SCG last Sunday seeing that our own Test match in Cape Town ended on day four. I was appalled at the blatant errors made by the two on-field umpires, Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, as well as the third umpire or TMO.

Let’s be fair, it made for some spectacular cricket as Australia snatched victory with an over to go on the final day of play. But the big points of debate were the errors made by umpires, and the fact that Andrew Symonds was given not out more than once when TV replays showed that he was clearly out on all three occasions.

In the one instance Symonds edged a catch to Dhoni and was given not out. Within seconds the replay was there to show the “snickometer” and the infrared “hotspot” illustrating the umpire’s error. What infuriated the Indians was that Symonds’s score at the time was 30 and he went on to make 162 not out.

The Australians ended up beating the Indians by 122 runs in a real nailbiting finish. Symonds then even admitted to the press the following morning that he knew he edged it. To rub some salt into the wounds Symonds got stumped not long after that and was given not out by the third umpire after the replay showed he was clearly short of his crease.

After another stumping, Steve Bucknor did not even bother to go to the third umpire, made a judgment on the field and was again proven wrong by the TV replay. And Symonds was named man-of-the-match!

Certain members of the press defended the actions of Symonds just as much as the partisan Indian press slated the Australians as cheats. Surely if you do not walk and you know you are out then you are cheating. Not according to Martin Williamson, columnist for cricinfo.com.

He wrote: “Not walking is not cheating. Claiming a catch you know you have not caught cleanly is; the same goes for claiming a bat-pad catch when you know it was nowhere near the edge. The difference is that in one you are leaving the umpire to make his decision, in the other you are openly trying to deceive him.”

What crud! Standing and waiting for the umpire to make his decision is more deceiving, as you are in fact saying: I did not edge that. The England team that toured Australia in 1982 to 1983 was known to have decided not to walk even though they knew they were out because the only time an Australian ever walks is when his car breaks down.

The fact is that when you know you are in the wrong and you force another to judge you, you are a cheat. TV technology has now proven this sufficiently that most professional sport has incorporated and embraced it. But not cricket and rugby.

I had an interesting discussion with former international umpire Karl Liebenberg who stressed that all umpires make mistakes and should not be judged on one performance. He quoted Greg Chappell who said that TV is there to entertain and not to rule or get involved in the running of sport. Liebenberg felt that the umpires might just get replaced with individuals who just keep count of the balls.

The NFL in America has embraced the available technology, but still has a brace of officials on the field of play. They seem to make the correct call 90% of the time and if the coaches or players disagree then they can challenge the call of the officials by using whatever technology is available. The end result is that they get the call right and everybody carries on.

I am of the opinion that having the technology available gives the officials more confidence in making on-field calls, knowing that if they make an honest mistake there is still an option available to the players. The same happens in tennis where you still have your line judges and chair umpire, but if a player feels a call was wrong he gets three challenges per set and keeps the challenge if the call was wrong.

What stops us from using TV replays in rugby if we are going to implement the new experimental laws anyway? Some say there will be too much time-wasting if we have to go to the TMO every time we have doubt about something. But how often have we seen a blatant knock-on or forward pass in the build-up to a try that changed the outcome of the match?

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go to the referee and tell him that you are sure that the opposition infringed before scoring. Limit the challenges to one or two per half and let’s see how much time gets wasted. The only thing that would happen is that one referee might be shown up for making more errors than another. Corner post or touch/touch in goal decisions should be an automatic review for the TMO if there is doubt and so should a doubtful try. But let the rest of the game go on and let’s see what happens. How difficult could it be?

•Your views to refscorner@mweb.co.za

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test and Super referee who lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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