From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.17 :: Apr. 26, 2012

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CRICKET / LONDON CALLING

Of DRS and verdicts

The whole game has changed in the last 20 years and it is about to change further as it begins to understand what is possible in the New Technology Age, writes Ted Corbett.

Isn't the Decision Review System the best thing ever?

Never mind it helps umpires who now never make an absolute howler, never mind the confidence it has given cricketers that justice is being done.

What about us armchair judges? We are all umpires and referees. Now we know exactly how right or wrong we are. That must be the biggest boon the game has ever received. Contented critics at home. They are a force to be reckoned with.

Once upon a time, long, long ago when satellite televised sport was buried deep in Rupert Murdoch's brain, we had to sit in our fireside chair baffled by the eccentricity of the man of judgement whether his finger was signalling out or remained firmly in his pocket.

Now life is so easy. The ball hits the pad, or squirts into the leg trap or the batsman lifts his back leg for a fraction of a second and — just as quickly as the fielders — you scream “That is OUT, OUT, OUT. If he were a decent, honest sportsman he would walk off now. No one in the history of the game has ever been so OUT!”

Before you have finished the batsman has appealed the decision or the excited fielders have demanded a review and almost instantly — well, up to five minutes in some cases — back comes the verdict.

Only after you have seen countless replays from the offside, the onside, behind and in front; been told “that's clearly not a no ball” and heard a thousand arguments one way or another. If you have a satellite dish you will get a firm opinion. Nasser Hussain says it is clearly out; Tony Greig disagrees. Ravi Shastri is firmly of the opinion it is out.

On BBC Radio men try to present a lot of balance. “Well, on the one hand,” says the commentator, “we cannot actually tell if there is an inside edge.” But “yes you can if you use your eyes and a bit of intelligence and a bit of cricket knowledge” says an insistent voice. “Of course he is...” and at that point the TV umpire's verdict comes up on the screen, usually proving that the on-field umpire is correct and always — yes, always — proving the man in front of his home TV set is right.

“I don't like to say I told you so,” you murmur, “but it was obvious from the start. Now they are in a lot of trouble. If they bring on...” and you can get back on your favourite hobby horse, proving black is white and enjoying your moment of glory and showing that you know more about the game and its angles and traditions than anyone else in the whole wide cricket world.

But then the whole game has changed in the last 20 years and if I am any judge it is about to change further as it begins to understand what is possible in the New Technology Age.

For one thing computers are just at the beginning of their reign. I was reading, recently, about a generation of machines not too far from completion which will be able to repair themselves, improve their own performance and invent new software without the aid of man.

What benefits that brings to cricket remains to be seen and depends on the men who run the game: BCCI, ECB and ICC and too many other authority voices to count. They have been slow to accept new technology, they whine that the cost is too great and some people still stick to the old belief that so long as men play the game their fate should be decided by other men as it has been for centuries.

I stand in the opposite corner. The new confidence of umpires, the certainty of the correct decision and the feeling that cricket is, for once, a stride or two ahead of football which toils under the man-made judgements and looks foolish far too often, is the right way to go.

At the moment there are too many anomalies. Sri Lanka cannot afford Hot Spot and Snicko, the Indians don't think the system is perfect and would rather not have lbw decisions made by a computer and some countries do not show the tedious replays to the crowd while some glory in the controversy.

I believe, as I have for 30 years, that in my trade and cricket's world, computers are the future. They have benefitted those of us who write or travel abroad to do their job enormously. Once upon a time I carried a ton of books, a mountain of paper and a brain that ached with the facts stuffed inside.

Now I can travel with a computer that weighs less than my partner's handbag which will check my spelling, my grammar and my syntax; offer me biographies of every cricketer who ever lifted a bat; tell me their stats, their methods, their opinions and their records; and even give me a clue about their age, their parents and their future.

No longer the panic call of “have you seen that cutting, I'm sure I had it in this pile here, oh you've got it, no not that one, the one with the ballpoint marks, oh come on hurry up” as edition time draws near.

Instead click, click and we have the answer.

Cricket can have the answer too if it pushes a little more cash in the direction of computer-generated decisions. Robots will umpire, computers will analyse and huge electronic brains will have the final word.

Get used to it.



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