Friday, 5 June 2015

Column 17, 2015 – Umpires and mistakes

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 120, Friday June 5, 2015.
[Full text below]

Last Saturday, neither side had an umpire.

They are not mandatory at our level, but both sides are ‘expected to provide’ an ECB ACO qualified umpire, and normally do. Sometimes there’s only one, but it’s rare to have none. You need them. You miss that neutral authority.

Player-umpires are always problematic. It’s difficult to accept the bloke who was bowling an hour ago and batting five minutes ago as a neutral voice of authority.

Also they invariably officiate over their teammates as batsmen – never as bowlers, as they’ll always be in the field with them for that.

This is very tricky. You always risk the wrath of ‘triggered’ teammates, or ‘robbed’ opponents.

Now. I am not going to dwell on detail or specifics here – we did enough of that in the pub afterwards, which is where it should stay. Suffice it to say that as an umpiring side, we may have fallen short of elite level.

But never mind, I say. Everyone did what they thought was right at the time, at a task they were performing reluctantly, and if there were mistakes (there were mistakes) they were honest ones, driven by the compulsion to be fair to our opponents – to the detriment of our own team – rather than biased against them. They were, if anything, admirable mistakes.

Mistakes are not such a bad thing anyway. They usually even out. Perfection is unattainable. As long as the intent is pure, we must accept any errors.

Whatever you think of DRS (I have expounded on it in the past, and if anything am becoming less of a fan as time goes by) the one thing it consistently highlights is just how difficult the umpire’s job is.

Umpire’s Call – a somewhat preposterous construction which basically reduces decision-making to tiny parameters within which the machines can’t agree – appears to be where elite umpires now operate. It is, as someone said on twitter during the proliferation of Umpire’s Calls during the second NZ Test, like arguing with your spouse: identical information can prove they are right or wrong depending on which apparently arbitrary position they took in the first place.

The thing is, mistakes are part of the game. They’re what get you out, and other people’s are how you get away with your own. They’ll never be entirely eradicated.

And would we want them to be?

The conclusion of ‘The Greatest Test’, Edgbaston 2005, was a mistake.

Kasprowicz gloves Harmison behind to the keeper and we cut to the umpire raising that flamboyantly crooked finger, the moment immortalised by the late great Richie Benaud simply shouting their names in breathless excitement: “Jones!” (pause) “Bowden!” It’s spine-tingling stuff even a decade on.

But replays clearly show that the glove was off the bat in the moment the ball struck it. DRS would have overturned that decision. Not out. Match and Ashes almost certainly lost. Is that what you want?

I’ll keep the mistakes, thanks. They’re all part of it.

- ends 494 words -

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