South Africa’s chance to take revenge against Australia on the cricket pitch

2011-10-12 00:00

IT hurt watching the Springboks lose to Australia on Sunday after they had dominated possession and so many facets of the game.

Bryce Lawrence’s refereeing has understandably become the focus of frustrated and bitterly disappointed Springbok fans.

After all, it is the World Cup, the pinnacle of the rugby calendar played only once every four years.

The fact that a quarter-final match will be remembered more for the referee’s suspect interpretation of the rules than for the efforts and skill of the players is a bitter pill for South Africans to swallow.

Fortunately, with the help of technology, cricket is in safer hands — its implementation has improved the efficiency of umpires and has not made them redundant as originally feared.

Being a referee or an umpire is tough — there is enormous pressure to make the right decisions with cameras covering every corner and angle of the field and commentators scrutinising every decision.

Before technology, umpiring was often the cause of much controversy.

I remember Malcolm Marshall recounting stories of tours to the sub-continent with his legendary West Indian team. Marshall and his formidable fellow bowlers understood even before a ball was bowled that they would never get an LBW decision against a sub-continent top order batsman — no matter how vehemently they appealed.

I don’t believe an umpire or referee would deliberately cheat, but there is definitely a lot of margin for bias without the support of technology

This was the experience of the South African-A side who toured Sri Lanka in the 1990s. The tour was marred by dodgy decisions from the outset — all in favour of the Sri Lankans.

Appeals from the SA-A bowlers were turned down time and again. In the last game of the tour tempers finally frayed when a Sri Lankan batsman nicked off to the keeper. There was a massive appeal from the South Africans, who ran together only to see the umpire shake his head and say “not out”.

The team was furious.

The bowler ran up to the umpire demanding to know why the batsman had not been given out.

The umpire’s response was, “I can’t give it out, it was only a faint edge.”

Thankfully we now have the benefit of the Decision Review System (DRS) — provided India is not involved. DRS has enhanced umpiring, improved the percentage of correct decisions and has added another dimension to the modern game.

Inconsistent or incompetent umpiring results in ill-tempered games.

I’m amazed that the Springboks managed to keep a lid on their tempers on Sunday.

The umpires and referees are there to make sure that the game is run properly. If they do their job correctly, it’s the skill of the players that should be the only talking point at the end of a game.

South Africa will soon get a chance to avenge the Australians on the cricket field. The series opener is a T20 game at Newlands tomorrow followed by a second at the Wanderers, three ODIs and two Tests.

It will be a hard-fought series. Both teams have had large-scale personnel changes and both have high aspirations to be at the top of the ICC rankings.

After SA’s World Cup disappointment there will be many South African fans hoping the Proteas will send “Matilda” waltzing home defeated.

Neil Johnson is a former Zimbabwe, Dolphins and Wester Province cricketer turned commentator who lives in the Midlands.

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