Less technology please!

2007 Sep 11 by DreamCricket

Compounding fan misery, technology has made decision making inconsistent seriously impacting upon the games fortunes.

Now that he has rubbished reports of retirement, it might be true that Tendulkar is still dreaming of adding to his unparalleled repertoire that last piece of silverware that has eluded him so far—the world cup. Imagine the hype if such a possibility arises, Tendulkar playing for the last time at home in Mumbai in the final of the 2011 world cup. To spoil this hypothetical fairytale script with what Aleem Dar did during the seventh one day international at Lords—erroneously give him out. One need not be a cricket pundit to suggest that there will be a riot at the Wankhede and Mumbai will emulate what happened at the Eden Gardens in the 1996 world cup semi-final, a match abandoned amidst ugly scenes of violence.

Within minutes, in fact seconds, of a decision being given, the on field umpire is made aware of his mistake by the series of replays visible on giant screens adorning most modern grounds. And volatile crowds having witnessed the blunder are almost sure to turn brutal, a certain recipe for disaster. More because they are aware of the presence of a third umpire in the pavilion, who can, and has, on occasions in the past reversed a false decision. For example, Kevin Pietersen was recalled in the recently concluded Test series when the third umpire found a catch claimed by India as inconclusive. On the other hand, in case the verdict isn’t reversed, as was the case with Tendulkar at Lords, the field umpire immediately turns villain of the script while the batsman wrongly given out is a victim deprived of natural justice.

Half cock use of technology, in vogue for almost a decade and a half, has only added ‘confusion’ to our inventory of commonly used cricketing expressions. Compounding fan misery, technology has made decision making inconsistent seriously impacting upon the games fortunes. On occasions the third umpire sees the replay and changes his decision and on others he just lets a false decision go by because he hasn’t been called upon to adjudicate affecting the run of play. To add to the organizers woes, there isn’t much that the apex body can do to alter the scenario if they continue to rely on technology. For if they instruct the field umpires to resort to television at every available instant, the umpires in the middle look ineffective and the game is robbed of its cardinal attraction, the element of uncertainty. On the other hand if they allow technology to continue as it is, matches may be ruined by false umpiring decisions, which might then provoke nationalistic mobs to turn aggressive.

Amidst such catch 22 scenarios the only possible way forward is a return to the past devoid of technology. Remove the third umpire from the game and free the sport from over reliance on technology. Imagine a scenario in which technology is used only to adjudicate run outs and nothing more. In such a state of affairs referral to the television replay may be made compulsory for run outs, removing all possibilities of inconsistency. For Leg Before Wicket or caught behind decisions, the field umpire will rein supreme and his mistake, even if revealed later, will be part of the games aura. This is because there won’t be an occasion when such a gaffe is reversed. Spectators, as in the past, will be aware that such mistakes are cardinal to the game and may affect any of the twenty-two players in the middle.

To retain its charm and to preempt the game from turning violent, the administrators may think of instructing organizers to stop replays at grounds unless asked for by the field umpire even if that means depriving the crowd of their proximity to reruns. While this may affect spectator attendance in the short term, it is a safer fall back option when compared to prospects of carnage. The Lords crowd for example, if not made aware of the Dar mistake courtesy the electronic scoreboards, would have continued to watch the game thinking it was a Flintoff special rather than a Dar dampner that got Tendulkar out. If this sense of order is restored in the future, prospects of fan violence will certainly diminish.

Yet another positive expected to come out of a return to the past is the prospect of increased respect for umpires. While Simon Tauffel is as good an umpire as Dickie Bird, the aura surrounding Bird is far more deeply grounded. For example while Bird is part of cricketing folklore any contemporary discussion on Tauffel is marred by the disastrous leg before wicket verdict against Sachin in the second Test of the England series. With technology ceasing to be a factor, the leg before would just be one among many such dubious umpiring verdicts integral to the games ethos.

The interesting research questions here involve the extent to which the cricket field is a site for fancy experimentation versus to what extent is the sport capable of retaining its past aura if left undisturbed by technology? Weighted either way, the answer to this question could have far-reaching consequences for the ways in which the sport is administered and viewed in all parts of the cricketing world. If the essence of cricket is supreme, even without technology will it continue to appeal to its band of ardent aficionados. If it is the other way round, we might soon shift to animation.