So Hair wasn’t banned from internationals entirely…

So the news came through this morning, from our good friends in Kenya no less, that Darrell Hair, the Australian umpire, will officiate in next week’s tri-series. This caused no end of confusion.

He was banned from umpiring in internationals in November – but only from matches involving Full Member sides. He is perfectly entitled to umpire matches between the Associates – in spite of the ICC’s executive board stating in November that they have “come to the conclusion that they’ve lost confidence in Mr Hair”. I’m not the only one who tripped over this inexplicable condition.

What message does this send to the Associates? Do the ICC not feel they deserve anyone better than a banned umpire? Why ban him for some one-dayers and not others? This tri-series has been awarded official ODI status so there is no doubt (or at least there shouldn’t be) that the ICC are taking the series seriously, as they should. Why, then, is he allowed to umpire the Associates but not Full Member sides? It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It’s like firing someone from their job for incompetence but letting them share the tea duties. Well, not quite, but you get my drift.

Martin Williamson has written a thorough and accurate comment which is worth a read. And if you can make sense of the whole fiasco, leave a comment.

Bad Hair Day

The ICC has decided that Darrell Hair has raised his last finger in international cricket, deciding that he will not officiate in any more fixtures, until his contract runs out in 2008. A vote of the full ICC board went 7-3, with only Australia, New Zealand and England voting for him to continue.

Given the lack of confidence in Hair by so much of the international cricket fraternity this decision does not come as a surprise.

Count me in as a reactionary if you like, but I think this is a dreadful day, one that continues the trend of the last two decades in undermining the authority of the umpires. One of the key points of the old game was that you accepted the authority of the umpires, regardless of whether or not you agreed with his decisions. The ICC, like it or not, have sent a pretty clear message to Hair’s colleagues here, and that message is, “Don’t look to us for help, we won’t back you up. You are on your own out there.”

The way things are continuing, you can expect to see other undermining principles like automatic third umpire decisions for leg-before appeals before too much longer, and the umpire’s main job will be to hold the bowler’s sweater.

Oh well. Roll on the Ashes!

Line and Lens

The role of the camera on the cricket pitch is frequently scrutinised. The Oval ball-tampering saga, and the lack of video evidence, is just one of the more recent examples.

To what level should cameras be used as proof? What happened in the fourth over of England’s reply yesterday raised this question in the more usual fashion. With both fielder and batsman adamant, and neither umpire certain, inconclusive camera shots gave Strauss the benefit of the doubt. Such scenarios come often enough. Whilst ‘Hi-Motion’ technology exists, it isn’t used on regular coverage, and the frame-by-frame replays the third umpires get can be described as ‘bitty’ at best. Cameras are imperfect recorders. The long-angled lenses used in sailing make the boats look as if they’re all about to crash, and whilst those tend to cover huge distances, cricket footage is hardly close study work. You can never find the ideal replay in a 2D, single angled image. Circles have infinite angles and Sky do not have infinite cameras.

In general terms, I do think technology is a good thing. Especially in the outfield, where so much relies on the word of the fielding side in games that are not televised. A recent county game I went to saw a batsman run out off a ball the crowd believed went for four. Sometimes, a fielder can honestly have no idea if he let go of the ball before or after he touched the rope. Equally, who can blame the umpire who prefers to trust the pause button on a camera that is in position in judging a run out? But when judging the cleanness of catches, I feel there is an overuse of replay footage. The laws, amended by the ICC to include TV umpires, state:

“Should both umpires be unable to make a decision, a not out decision shall be given by the bowler’s end umpire. Only if the line of vision of both umpires is obscured shall the bowler’s end umpire be entitled to refer the decision to the third umpire”

Can anyone remember an instance where a questionable catch wasn’t referred?

During India’s tour of the West Indies, Billy Doctrove refused to judge on a fairly referred catch. Chaos ensued. Yesterday, replay upon replay upon replay still left those commentating split. Whilst television can often do no better than the real time appreciation of the field umpires, surely this law should only be used in times of complete uncertainty.

Cricinfo’s Wicket to Wicket part deux

Cricinfo’s new blog Wicket to Wicket, as mentioned yesterday, looks pretty promising. I like the idea of having a debate, and allowing the senior writers free-reign to offer their opinions. Looks like it will work pretty well. As ever, if you have any thoughts on it, leave a comment and I’ll pass them on. The debate this week is the use of technology and TV to aid umpiring, following the experiments in the recent Super(flous) Series (TM Dileep).

Farcial umpiring and a poor deal for spectators

…decisions take so long in Cricket. The players came back onto the field for one over. 6 balls. Strauss couldn’t pick up the ball at all. Umpires appeared to offer the light to the batsmen who rightly took it (as any batsman would), but they didn’t take a light reading. Off walk Strauss and Thorpe. Smith and South Africa stayed on the pitch, wondering what was going on – then spent a couple of minutes looking at the stump camera’s cable to see if the ball would go underneath it! What the hell’s going on?

Vaughan at the Wanderer’s was fined his entire match fee – 100% – for asking for consistency in offering the light to batsmen. It’s an utter farce and the umpires must be held responsible, especially Bucknor.

Law 9, clause d states:

(d) If at any time the umpires together agree that the conditions of
ground, weather or light are so bad that there is obvious and
foreseeable risk to the safety of any player or umpire
, so that
it would be unreasonable or dangerous for play to take place,
then notwithstanding the provisions of (b)(i) and (b)(ii) above,
they shall immediately suspend play, or not allow play to
commence or to restart. The decision as to whether conditions
are so bad as to warrant such action is one for the umpires
alone to make.

I don’t think this clause has been used all series. Certainly not at the Wande I don’t think the umpires are interpreting this rule correctly. It is my understanding that the light’s quality during a Test match is “tested” at various intervals. For argument’s sake, let’s say good/excellent light equals 10. At 4pm it starts to get gloomy, and the umpires re-test the light which comes to 8, a minor reduction. Why can’t there be a standardised format, which would introduce much better consistency, for light metering? If the light falls below X, take another reading. If it then falls further to Y, offer the light and don’t come back on the park until it reaches X.

Another suggestion: how about having a light meter embedded in the stumps? This would be accurate, and constantly monitored by the 3rd umpire. It could even be relayed to “The Big Screen” for spectators to see? I suppose the argument against this could be it could cause a tactical change in captains, who would be able to see whether the light was decreasing (but – they’ve got eyes, they can see the bloody light anyway).

Post your thoughts if you have any.