The decision review system has made fools of one or two umpires and heroes of one or two others, highlighting just how many rulings those on the ICC elite panel, especially, actually get right.
But, often in the shorter formats we see officials turning to the man upstairs for justification of a ruling, especially on possible run-outs, even when viewers at home can quite clearly see what the decision should be. While some cynics have suggested that is just so we can get a lingering view of the big screen, with its associated advertising paraphernalia, others have taken it as indicating we no longer really need the man in the middle.
But Wayne Knights, the New Zealand umpire who recently made a successful transition from the pyjama game(s) to the crisp white flannels of the Test arena in the Blackcaps’ pre-Christmas series with the West Indies, thinks it unlikely that a time is coming soon when the white coat-clad mortals are offed in favour of a decision-making algorithm, or that a hybrid Alex Murphy- style man/machine could stride out on a grey May morning at Lord’s.
In an exclusive interview, he pointed out: “There is so much more to umpiring than decision-making. It’s the stuff people don’t see: match and player management, ground and weather decisions and over-rate calculations – these are a core component of officiating. In short, it would never work.”
But he does concede that within a short timeframe, technology “improves umpires’ decisions as it provides that instant feedback”.
So does he feel umpire’s call had made officials err on the side of caution, or conversely more aggressive with lbw decisions – shown to be involved in about one in six dismissals in Tests since DRS’s implementation?.
“I think the best thing to do is to answer every appeal how you see and hear it,” said the 50-year-old, who was added to the ICC panel in June 2016 and had overseen 16 ODIs and 23 T20 internationals before his Test debut in December. “To a degree, benefit of doubt is removed – for example, if you think an lbw decision is hitting, give it out. Keeping it simple is the key.”
Umpire’s call seems to have been saved from the scrapheap at the last moment, according to reports from Cricinfo today.
The MCC International Committee’s workgroup, made up of luminaries such as Kumar Sangakkara, Ricky Ponting, and upstanding cricketing citizen Shane Warne, had recommended to the ICC, the game’s lawmaking body, that it be dispensed with as cricket followers have difficulty in reconciling the notion that a delivery can be both “out” and “not out”.
But as Guerilla Cricket reported recently Nitin Menon, the Indian umpire, has pointed out, it is a built-in safeguard for umpire and batsman because the ball-tracking technology is not foolproof.
And it seems the ICC committee charged with making the decision, headed by Anil Kumble, and including four former international captains and English umpire Richard Illingworth, has backed him after hearing representations from, among others, the Hawk-Eye ball tracking company itself.
Knights was promoted to New Zealand’s international panel shortly before perhaps one of the world’s most immediately recognizable characters in a white coat, Billy Bowden, was demoted – for a second time. The Aucklander officiated in the most recent Under-19 World Cup in South Africa and the women’s world T20 in 2018.
This article was written with thanks to Jim Birchall who is a freelance journo based in NZ and an occasional Guerilla Cricket commentator