Sports
Danger of technology creating a Frankenstein
by Mahinda Wijesinghe

In a contest, the majority of spectators wish success to the under-dog. This is a human trait based on the inherent quality of compassion found in most of mankind.

When the West Indies lost the valuable wicket of top-scorer Shivnarine Chanderpaul (47) while still needing 71 runs for victory with a bare two wickets in hand against a cock-a-hoop England side in the Champion’s Trophy final, it was, as the saying goes, all over bar the shouting. But the two Barbadians, Courtney Browne and eventual Man of the Match, Ian Bradshaw, in one of the most sensational fight-backs seen in the history of One-day cricket, guided the West Indies to a win that will remain etched in the memory of cricket lovers across the globe for a long, long time. This triumph was a much-needed tonic for the struggling cricketers from the Caribbean and a fillip to their countrymen, currently devastated by the weather gods. It is also a salutary lesson to cricketers at all levels that a cricket match is not over until the last wicket falls or the final run is scored. Well played the West Indies! Their problems may not be over but this win would give them a lot of encouragement for the future.

Oscar Wilde and Frankenstein

The Champions Trophy was the testing ground for a couple of innovations, such as the Third Umpire calling no-balls, and where all the actions of bowlers were to be analysed, in order that solutions to the vexed problem of ‘throwing’ could be found. However, what probably came out of this tournament is that the future charm of our summer game is under grave threat of the TV taking over. For instance, the constant TV graphics displayed during the course of the game did more to mar than make the game. Hawk-Eye may suit tracking war missiles but cricket is a sport, let us keep even the scent or hint of war out of a sport. No doubt technology is a tool for the advancement of human progress in all walks of life but one must not create a Frankenstein. Trying to ‘expose’ the game by clever graphics, warts and all, robs the glamour in the game. Something must be left to the imagination as well. As Irish writer and wit, Oscar Wilde, observed: "To reveal art and conceal art is the artist’s aim."

Skills and Simon Taufel

Under the guise of empowering umpires with technology to attain perfection, it appears the modern trend will surely bring about a future when umpires will function merely as a counter of six balls, and a hat-stand to keep the bowler’s cap and/or pullover. What would the TV moghuls think of next? Robotic umpires? Spectators throng cricket grounds to watch and savour the skills of players, while the skill of the umpires too forms an integral part of the game of cricket. The difference being that the umpires’ skills are not so much on display, and therein lies part of the mystique. As Simon Taufel, the ICC’s Umpire of the Year, told BBC Sport: "I wouldn’t say I’m anti-technology, but I’m cautious about it. Technology is all about replacing the skills of the umpire and I’d like to think I’ve worked my way up this far to employ those skills. Why de-skill that part of the game just for the sake of an extra two or three correct decisions per game? There are undoubtedly pluses, but we need to sit down and stack them against the minuses."

Cricket Laws made a mockery of

Now comes the suggestion that the International Cricket Council is considering a proposal to allow teams to appeal against three umpiring decisions per innings, giving captains the right to refer the decisions to the third umpire. Sri Lankan attorney-at-law, Senaka Weeraratne, has brought to my attention that he had made the same suggestion way back in 1999. However, I feel this proposal would be in conflict firstly with the recently introduced ‘The Preamble - The Spirit of Cricket’ into the Laws of Cricket. Here it is clearly enunciated that "in the event of a player failing to comply with instructions by an umpire, or criticizing by word or action the decision of an umpire`85`85`85`85the umpire concerned shall in the first place report the matter to the other umpire`85..It is against the Spirit of the Game to dispute an umpire’s decision by word, action or gesture." Secondly, in Law 3, The Umpires, are accorded sweeping powers, and from where aphorisms such as: ‘The umpire’s word is Law’ and ‘Even when the umpire is wrong he is right’, have been built into cricket lore over the years. With such a background, introducing a Playing Condition enabling players to ‘officially’ question an umpire’s judgement makes a mockery of the sport. In trying to attain so-called perfection one must not lose sight of the spirit of the game and the established Laws. This proposal can lead to a welter of problems.

Alex Skelding and ‘Laddie’ Bakelman

If the ICC wishes to go ahead with this short-sighted proposal why not add a corollary to this suggestion that if the appeal is rejected there be a fine levied on the unsuccessful party? It should also be borne in mind that to create such a situation umpires would have to be wired and more technology introduced at venues. Can all international grounds across the globe afford such luxuries? Further, if this new innovation is to be introduced another long-cherished citadel of cricket is in danger of falling, namely, historical comparisons. Can a century scored or five wickets captured before ‘appeals’ were allowed and similar feats after ‘appeals’ came into operation bear comparison? No, let the umpire be. The umpire with all his foibles and his skills contributes to the mystique and the uniqueness of cricket. He is a bastion of the game. For instance, tell me a funny story about a soccer/rugby referee or a tennis/badminton umpire and I will send you, as Michael Parkinson commented, a gold ingot by return. However, as everyone knows, jokes and funny stories about the white-coated gentry from England’s Alex Skelding to our own ‘Laddie’ Bakelman can fill a library of books, though their importance has never been in question.

 

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