The umpire is dead, long live the umpire
The proposed new umpire review system, in which the fielding captain or the batsman can ask for a TV review of an on-field umpire’s decision, to be put on trial in the upcoming India-Sri Lanka Test series in July has come in for some critical appraisal from former umpire Dickie Bird.
Bird, undoubtedly one of the greatest umpires cricket has seen, might have retired, but his standing in the game, sees nothing funny in the ICC’s new ploy, as he puts it, to trust technology and TV cameras in a bid to cut down on on-field umpiring errors.
Bird says the new experimental rule will herald the extinction of what has long been the game’s greatest asset: the thinking umpire. He also feels compromising with the sole authority figure on the field will lead to confusion, and that the latest decision is a direct fallout of the umpiring controversies in the last India-Australia Test series Down Under a few months back.
The system, tried out on the English domestic scene in the Friends Provident trophy, was widely deemed a failure because not one decision was overturned, and many felt TV umpires were reluctant to go against their on-field colleagues. But Bird says his biggest problem is not that the authority of an on-field umpire will be compromised, but that the technology is not foolproof.
For example, the ICC has said the Hawkeye software, which will be used by the TV umpire to judge LBWs, can only be used to track the path of the ball up to the point that it strikes the batsmen. Bird, though, says that the predictive aspect of the technology will also have a bearing, because the graphics will be beamed on live TV for spectators.
There are other problems too, he feels, like the TV umpire not being allowed to adjudicate no-balls, which might lead to some funny situations if an on-field umpire fails to perceive an overstepped delivery and a consequent decision is referred.
Bird says that umpires have been making many more errors of late in important Tests, and the point of no return was the India-Australia series. The ICC was under pressure to devise a way to cut down on blatantly wrong decisions. Wrong decisions have been happening not because Elite Panel umpires are overworked or too few, but because not many of them have played at a decent level for long.