In Defence of the Umpire: Why the World must learn to accept mistakes

Posted: August 1, 2011 by thecognitivenomad in Cricket, India in England 2011, Opinion
Tags: , ,

Chandrasekhar Jayarama Krishnan

Head of Cricket, CouchExpert

1 August 2011


The DRS debate has puffed up beyond any imaginable extent, as has the credibility of Umpire Marias Erasmus’ decision making.

It wouldn’t have been a very big deal without the deepening impact of controversies that have arisen during this wonderful Nottingham Test. But it also has ballast as this test clearly has exposed many a flaw associated to the DRS – not least helped by the twitter rant, thanks to Michael Vaughan, whose statement, cheeky as the intent might have been, only added ammunition to a Test that has virtually witnessed anything and everything that a game of cricket possibly can.

I am not saying Vaughan was stupid. His statement was so staggeringly incurious that it appeared as though he rarely made an effort to find the truth of the matter. But more often, that is not how the public, and more specifically the Media, takes it.  Goutham Chakravarthi’s recent article will clearly explain how such an incident can be blown out of proportion.

Vaughan should have known well before hand that his comments would obviously be blown out of proportion

Vaughan’s statement misleads not only the cricket public, but him included. He could well believe that by portraying an image of himself as a considerate conservative, he could exercise the right of every opinion he publicizes, if found controversial, to be disemboweled by those who adore him – a reflection that has been characterized by his heroics back in 2005.

But England can no longer afford their ex-captain’s self-delusions, not least when their quest to top the ICC tables is at its most intense. But what Vaughan has done, knowingly or unknowingly, is to add more fuel to the debate involving the consistency and correctness of technology.  The situation is a mess, in large part because the common man now knows that a cricketer can hoodwink technology to make the tide turn his way.

As much damage Vaseline had done to cricket balls in the past, Vaughan’s theory of the same substance being used in bats to dodge hot-spot has ignited the sparks in those criminal minds of today’s bad world. So for every decision that looks contentious, different sections of the media and public will end up accusing players from the home and/or the away team for ‘cheating’.

Fingers will be pointed at many, endless debates over what is right and wrong will persist, only for the poor old game of cricket to react to all these soulless exercises with disdainful apathy. After all, how much chaos can a sport consume?

What if only one individual was responsible for a contentious decision? What if he was paid to decide what is right and what is wrong? What if was his role to decide whether a batsman is in or out? I am, of course, talking about the Umpire. This is how the sport has been played for over a century.

If his decision was incorrect, fingers will be pointed towards him. The debates will revolve around whether this individual needs time off from the stressful activities and schedules one tends to associate with umpires these days. What Dravid negotiated on a spiteful pitch, with his immense powers of concentration, is what Umpires are expected to do through five whole days – one that translates to a mammoth 30 hours.

They are there because they are the best in the business. You hit some, you miss a few, or you nick one to the keeper or the slips – even if your concentration is unflappable. Likewise, you make mistakes – you may think someone nicked it, or you might have missed an inside edge that could unfortunately rule a batsman out LBW. You do it because you are human, and unlike technology, people cannot outwit you – for a human being is not programmed.

But you are there among the elite because in a sample set of 100 decisions you make, in over 90 instances, you are right. If you are not good, you are demoted and someone with a better consistency rises. But like a cricketer who has been dropped from the squad, you can go back to your roots, work on areas where you feel you require improvement, and come back as a mentally tough umpire targeting better statistics. Asad Rauf is having an unbelievably outstanding series!

Marais Erasmus raised a lot of eyebrows with a few of his decisions during the on-going Trentbridge Test

Indeed, there is a strange karmic genius to this argument – one can rather trust a human over a machine, for one doesn’t know who has programmed that machine. But machines, or rather technology, can be used for verification – instances that require quantifying the degree of an Umpire’s decision-making correctness, one that is done behind the scenes.

I’m okay for the use of technology in the sport, as long as people do not question the motives of those who can overcome it. For every Antivirus, there exists an Anti-Antivirus-Virus. Nothing is perfect, and as long as we learn to accept that, the sport will move ahead with more conviction. Else, the perpetuity of the endless debates will continue until that inevitable day when mankind would end up regretting excess reliance on technology for even the most basic of tasks in life.

Marais Erasmus – yes, you have made blunders. Yes, you have had a very ordinary test. Yes, you are dubiously referred to as the ‘Not-Out’ umpire, but we respect you because of what you’ve achieved to get to where you are today. Technology will make you look silly at times, but doesn’t it do that to all of us?

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