Monday, 9 March 2009

A child called 'Referral System'...

Many years ago, there was a tremendous TV drama called Bodyline. Its highpoints came every time the actor playing Jardine (I can't remember who it was, but he was very good) turned to camera and uttered the words 'Harild... Lig theory...' This was the cue for Larwood to do his stuff.

We have waited some time for a modern equivalent, but we have it at last: the - very televisual - T-sign that indicates a referral by either batting or fielding team.

Now, in this life, Dave Pelzer has been abused. The offshore tax laws have been abused. The memory of Elvis has been abused. But none of them have been abused like the referral system has been abused. A technological innovation designed to protect the integrity of decision-making - and by extension, the integrity of the game - has instead brought out the worst in players, umpires and commentators.

Truth can be relied upon to be stranger than fiction, and the storyline it has developed for the test in Trinidad stays true to type. To chart its course, from Tiffin's first innings hide-behind-the-sofa bloopers to the vicious, mind-blowing inconsistencies of the Chanderpaul and Cook decisions of day four, is to read a map of the idiocies of an irredeemably flawed system.

The heart of this flaw is the concept that the players refer an umpire's decision. This politicises decision-making; it turns technology from a problem solver into a tactical device. It is essentially inequitable. England (naturally) provided a classic example. Having used their referrals up, they were unable to overturn a horrendous not out decision in favour of Brendan Nash proffered by Russell Tiffin. 

Had England been removed from what they no doubt felt was an obligation to contest a couple of early calls by Tiffin in West Indies' first innings, and had Tiffin been relieved of the pressure applied to him by an angry and impotent England, the correct decision could have been made. The solution is simple: remove the obligation to refer from the players, and allow the umpires to confer freely, and as often as they like.

The interviews at the close of play today were enlightening. Asked his opinion on the bizarre over-rule on a caught behind that allowed him to complete a century, Shiv Chanderpaul muttered 'no comment'. And asked how much time England might need to bowl out West Indies a second time, Graeme Swann replied, 'about 300 overs'. Neither was joking.

Everyone, from frustrated players to livid punters, were abused today, and it wasn't pretty.

4 comments:

Tony said...

Jardine was played by Hugo Weaving.

The Old Batsman said...

Cheers Tony - couldn't think of his name, and in the great tradition of investigative journalism, I couldn't be bothered to look it up. He had the perfect face for it, too...

Brit said...

It was always going to be a mess, this referral system. Also, having a limited number of referrals seems so arbitrary. The idea is presumably to make decisions more accurate... but why should only the first few decisions be accurate and then the rest allowed to be terrible?

It's got to be no technology at all and we just accept the umpires get some wrong, or use technology throughout.

The Old Batsman said...

Yes, the limit is arbitrary and wrong - they have it in tennis too and Federer's always doing his nut about it. I do favour the mix, because technology itself is imperfect. There has to be room for the intuition that umpires build up.