Contrivance to cock-up: what the TV review system tells us about cricket

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At the conclusion of this match, each side’s head-coach will select their ‘man of the series’. Andy Flower will most likely nominate the imperious Graeme Smith. Mickey Arthur will probably choose Daryl Harper.
     
It’s rarely either wise or useful to criticise on-field umpires. But the third official is another matter. On-field, the umpires must concentrate on every single ball, and make a swift decision having viewed the incident once only, at full speed. The TV umpire, however, is only called into play a few times a day, and is allowed to view and re-view the evidence as often and as at much length as he wishes, after which he is effectively still entitled to say ‘I don’t know’. So when he makes a complete hash of it, we are quite within our rights to complain.
        
Daryl Harper has been at best sloppy, at worst gormless. Three incidents – all now well-documented -demonstrate this. First, Cook’s LBW dismissal to what was very, very, nearly a Morkel no-ball. The delivery was, by a couple of millimetres, legitimate, but how did Harper know? He seemed at the time to almost fast-forward through the no-ball element, despite Morkel’s heel appearing dangerously close to the edge of the crease. It was only the reverse angle – which he never saw – that revealed a sliver of boot behind the line.
 
Then came snick-gate. Despite today’s confused retractions, we were first told that Harper had set the volume too low to hear the nick, which suggests he either has no common sense, or no attention to the most basic detail. For a caught-behind appeal of such a type, when any noise could only have come from bat on ball, the key evidence, obviously, is audio. Why did it not occur to Harper to turn his speaker up as loud as possible? Or if his sound-feed had gone quiet, why did this not occur to him as a problem?
 
Today’s over-turned Swann/de Villiers dismissal took the biscuit. Standing umpire Tony Hill immediately upheld the appeal. When referred, Harper would have seen on his monitor the ball pass so near to the batsman’s glove, and then his bat, that the balance of probability suggested contact. It was a close call, which demanded extensive and careful review. Harper’s baffling response was to watch it only twice, and immediately conclude de Villiers was not out. Inexplicably, he rushed it. Inexcusably, he failed to realise that as there was no firm evidence to overturn the original decision of Hill – who had a much better view – he should not have done so.
 
The decision review system (DRS) is causing more problems that it’s solving. Intended to minimise the disputes and ill-feeling caused by incorrect umpiring decisions, it has had completely the opposite effect. When a standing official gets it wrong, we forget about it fairly quickly – and forgive him because we know he only sees it once. But when the decision is referred, and at home on TV we see exactly what the third umpire can, with every angle painstaking replayed, and he then gets it wrong, the mistake is very hard to bear.
 
The present imperfections of the system are typical of cricket, in several ways. Like many aspects of the game it began with a good idea, nobly intended. Then the committees got involved, compromising and bickering until they came up with a process so contrived few people understand it. Next came the ‘sell’ to the cricketing public, by obscure officials using jargonesque language. And ultimately, the whole thing was discredited when someone forgot to turn up the volume on his TV set. Lofty principle, to fudge, to cock-up: the three evolutionary stages of all cricketing innovation.
 
With the umpires so clearly under-briefed, the techology inconsistently applied, and the match referees constantly back-peddling, the whole systems seems to have been worked out on the back of the proverbial fag packet. The ICC are making up the rules as they go along. But even when the most obvious flaws are smoothed out, does anyone really believe referrals will genuinely benefit cricket? Most test players oppose them; there’s nothing to suggest supporters feel any different. The DRS negates cricket’s most important source of drama: the fall of a wicket. Whereas a dismissal should mean sudden-death, surprise, and emotion, it now brings anti-climax. Both celebrations and angst are cut short in order for the players to stand around for five minutes while an unseen man winds his VCR back and forth.
 
Now, more than ever, test cricket must aim to enthrall and entertain, and to make the most of its inherent drama. The objective of the DRS is to obviate mistakes; how this makes for a better spectator experience is as yet unclear. Cricket is not a science lab or a law-court – it is a game, and like all games, is made only the richer by vagaries, human error, unpredictability, and above all, luck. 
 
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Speaking of luck, or at least riding it, Mark Boucher’s innings today inspired us to compile a list we’ve been thinking of assembling for some time…
 
Will they never retire? Ten players who seemed to torment us all our lives
 
1. Mark Boucher
2. Jacques Kallis
3. Courtney Walsh
4. Allan Border
5. Glenn McGrath
6. Rahul Dravid
7. Richard Hadlee
8. Desmond Haynes
9. Murali
10. Sanath Jayasuriya
 
Any omissions/better suggestions? Let us know.
Maxie Allen
 

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