UDRS is an essential aid in an age of technological exactness

2010-03-27 00:00

IT’S been a good week for the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS). Admittedly it was rendered redundant in the Wellington Test match as gale-force winds sent heavy rollers scuttling across the ground and forced cameramen to abandon their towers. Wind is a powerful force. Apparently it can provide electricity, but it also causes chaos in classrooms and elsewhere. Incidentally a black school in Chicago, the other windy city, has just attained a 100% pass rate into college. All the boys wore uniforms, had presentable haircuts, lacked earrings and tattoos and wore ties.

Thankfully the UDRS worked on the other four days at the Basin Reserve and a few decisions were confirmed or corrected. As it happened, Asad Rauf and Ian Gould, the officiating white coats, were not on top form. Umpires are human. Everyone in a position of responsibility blunders once in a while. Great heavens above, even Julius Malema is not perfect!

Meanwhile in Chittagong — it’s come as a considerable surprise to discover that both Chittagong and Timbuktu exist — the UDRS was not operating because the hosts could not afford it. A lot of extra cameras and technicians are required, and unsurprisingly, Bangladesh had other priorities. As the instigator, the ICC ought to pay for it. Cricket has lots of money, just that the bigwigs keep it to themselves. It is widespread.

As night follows day, so the Bangladeshis were frustrated by feeble umpiring. Weak sides often suffer at the hands of the officials. Powerful sides routinely get the rub of the green. Doubtless it is psychological. So much sport is played in the mind. How else to explain home victories? The field is the same, the ball is the same, and still the home side usually prevails.

By most reckonings, four clear mistakes were made in the England first innings, with the hosts the victim on each occasion. Hundreds of runs were added by the reprieved batsmen. Two inexperienced umpires were standing and naturally they were eager to impress. Survival and caution are brothers in arms (a point lost on young male drivers). Accordingly, England were able to secure a sizeable first-innings lead of 77 and eventually romped to victory.

Traditionalists argue that cricket managed for 120 years without a review system and point out that taking the rough with the smooth had long been regarded as part of the game. No one wants to see cricketers behaving like spoilt brats. Every game has its sharp practices. Italian soccer players were once filmed working on their theatrical diving. Rugby league players are taught to linger on tackled opponents as long as possible so that the defensive line can re-form. League is the 13-aside game that emerged when rugby split along class lines. The upper class played a 15-aside game full of cavalry charges and melees while the lower order game involves lines bombarding each other as in trench warfare.

Cricket, too, has its trickery, with batsmen feigning innocence and bowlers subjecting balls to the sort of treatment otherwise seen only from outraged wives loose in their husband’s clothes closet. But umpires have mostly been given their due. A game without discipline is worthless.

However, sport is not about umpires and referees. It’s an unsparing battle between teams and individuals. At the highest levels it is also an entertainment put before vast audiences. Officials exist to apply the rules sensibly, thereby ensuring that the contest is fair. They ought not to influence the outcome. Sport becomes well-nigh unwatchable when the whistleblower is either too officious or incompetent. Justice is the essence of sport.

As far as umpiring is concerned, saturation coverage on television has changed everything. Not so long ago, even the worst decisions created barely a murmur. Now a wicket-taking bowler can be an inconsequential inch over the line and the entire community knows it instantaneously, or everyone except the poor chump called upon to endure the error’s consequences. Howlers are no longer slipped into the fifth paragraph by scribes trying to glean the truth from 100 yards away. They cause a commotion on blogs (not the most restrained area of human expression) and make headlines in the more forthright newspapers and TV channels.

Of course UDRS has its faults. Sometimes even the best technology cannot settle an issue. With the possible exception of Swiss clocks, German cars and St Paul’s Cathedral, nothing made by man is flawless. But it reduces the importance of the adjudicator, and that counts among the noblest services in sport.

Cricket, the most fractious of sporting families, can ill afford the frenzied and avoidable furores that can follow a simple umpiring blunder. Independent officials helped to take the sting out of disputes. UDRS is an essential second step towards promoting harmony in the game. Let’s not worry as much about the sensitivities of the umpires. Let’s get the decisions right.

Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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