Rather refer to history

2009-02-13 00:00

THE first Test in the Carribean showed up a few problems and possibilities for world cricket. The problems, by and large, have been well documented in the English press this week. The prospect of a West Indian revival is still remote, as they have some way to go before even getting close to matching the feats of the super teams of the 1980s.

Amid the carnage of 51 all out, the IPL riches and KP’s supposed two-finger salute to those who continue to question his commitment to the team cause, one bone of contention escaped the notice of the media.

This is the much-vaunted referral system that the International Cricket Council have implemented — a terrible decision. For one, it has turned the hallowed grail of Test cricket into a stop-start contest complete with all the hollow tension of a game show with a silly mystery prize.

“Is he out, or is he in? Let’s go upstairs to our resident DJ, Simon Taufel, to find out!”

I think not. Cricket, from the back yard, through schoolboy level and right through to the professional ranks, has relied on bearded old men to deliver the verdicts.

Now, in the name of progression, esteemed officials such as Rudi Koertzen and the aforementioned Taufel are at the mercy of super-slo-mo replays to tell them how crap they are at their jobs.

They are sitting ducks, squirming every time a captain or a confused tailender gives them the peculiar T-sign because they are not happy with a decision.

For crying out loud, can you imagine the great WG, with all his good Grace, being given not out only for some smart-alec to pipe up, “Can we have another look at that, Ump?”.

Cricket, for better or for worse, has always given the power of governance to the two coated men in the middle. They are trusted, occasionally cursed, but at all times respected as fine custodians of the game.

This new wave of technology means they may as well pack up and get on the golf course. If a contentious decision arises — which these days means anything either than bowled — then the players may as well just forward all correspondence to Mr Hawkeye.

Of course umpires are not perfect. No South African supporter would ever accuse a certain Javed Akhtar of such a crime after his Oscar-winning impersonation of Stevie Wonder at Trent Bridge in 1998. These things happen, sadly.

But as all cricketers know, they also even themselves out. The enduring mindset, particularly in Test matches, is that tomorrow is another day. Luck might smile on you, and an umpire may miss a faint edge, and you go on to make a career-saving century.

The history of the game is littered with these “second chances”, and they only serve to heighten the drama that weaves its way around a great Test match.

Allan Donald, during that same 1998 series in England, was apoplectic when Michael Atherton gloved one to Mark Boucher and was given not out. What followed was a spell so ferocious and bloodthirsty that it made Test rugby look, briefly anyway, like tiddlywinks.

Donald later admitted that he felt like killing Atherton, but just as swiftly admitted that he did not blame the Lancastrian for standing firm.

It is part of the game, a stroke of fortune that prolongs a battle, heightens expectation and leaves the fate of a match down to human error or excellence.

Besides, umpires have always provided the game with characters who occasionally surpass even the players in popularity.

Dickie Bird is to this day a legend of the game, while David Shepherd is fondly remembered for his dainty skip, hop and a jump when the score touched Nelson.

It would be a travesty if such men were reduced to such thankless roles as sitting ducks, merely serving as ball-counters and announcers of breaks in play.

Moving with technology may seem fashionable to the ICC honchos seated around their chrome tables in an eye-catching skyscraper in budding Dubai. But, truth be told, it is perhaps more fashionable to doff a flat cap to the past and persevere with the league of gentlemen on the ICC Elite Panel.

Or else we will be forced to watch Billy Bowden head to the nearest Idols audition in a bid to reinvent himself as an entertainer. And that is an altogether unpleasant thought.

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