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Judgement time
By Pranav Soneji

Simon Taufel watches on as Muttiah Muralitharan bowls for Sri Lanka
I think we have to be cautious about how much technology we incorporate into the game
Simon Taufel

As the case for using technology in international cricket intensifies, umpires are finding their actions are scrutinised more than ever.

Television coverage can call upon infinite television replays, slowed down to 1000 frames a second, as well as computer programmes such as Hawk-eye, the "snickometer" and the "red zone" to break down every individual dismissal or appeal.

But the man in the middle has only one sighting to decide - and according to the International Cricket Council (ICC), the game's governing body, there is a 94.8% chance that decision will be correct.

"If they are getting that many right we have nothing to argue about," said Australia captain Ricky Ponting.

But the ICC want to push that figure even higher - without access to further technology.

Ever since the Elite Umpires' Panel was established in 2002, top international match officials have had their performances regularly monitored and analysed to improve their already impeccably high standards.

Ten centrally contracted umpires form the panel following a recent increase in numbers and officiate all Test matches across the world.

The umpires face a seven-step process to analyse their performance after each Test or one-day international:

  • Report of umpire's performance from two captains and match referee sent to ICC
  • Independent assessment of performance by a former international umpire
  • Edit the umpire's decisions onto DVD
  • DVD sent to ICC's independent assessor
  • Independent assessor compiles report of the umpire's performances
  • ICC sends written report and DVD to umpire
  • Discussion of report between umpire and referees manager

    "The umpires can use the feedback from the assessments to improve their performances," said Tony Crafter, a former international umpire, now an independent assessor.

    Ten ICC Elite Umpires
    Mark Benson (ENG)
    Billy Bowden (NZL)
    Steve Bucknor (WI)
    Aleem Dar (PAK)
    Billy Doctrove (WI)

    Daryl Harper (AUS)

    Darrell Hair* (AUS)
    Rudi Koertzen (RSA)
    Asad Rauf (PAK)
    Simon Taufel (AUS)
    * Darrell Hair banned from officiating in ICC full member nation matches

    "If they are unhappy with the critique they can contact the ICC and review whatever is causing the concern."

    Like cricketers, elite umpires dedicate time a proportion of their time practising in the nets before Test and one-day internationals.

    These sessions help them gain an insight into the idiosyncrasies of each individual player, as well as improve their judgement skills.

    "We can check who is close to the no-ball line, who is shuffling, these kind of things are very helpful for us," said Aleem Dar, a veteran of over 29 Test matches.

    "I go through all my incorrect decisions and dump them into a separate spreadsheet on my laptop to keep a trend of the errors I make," said Australian Simon Taufel, an international umpire since 2000.

    "I can then see if there is a commonality between all of them and use that information to go back into the nets.

    Andrew Flintoff examines the ball with umpire Aleem Dar
    Aleem Dar puts in as much practice in the nets as Andrew Flintoff

    "So for example, I see that three out of the last four LBW decisions I got wrong were because the ball pitched outside leg stump.

    "So the next time I go into the nets, I'm going to be working on balls pitching outside leg stump to correct that judgement."

    A thorny issue, and one which has as many detractors as supporters, is increasing the umpires' access to technology when making vital decisions.

    Currently the on-field officials can call upon the third umpire to advise on run outs, stumpings, close line calls and disputed catches.

    The ICC has experimented with lbw decisions referred to the third umpire, as well as the on-field officials sporting earpieces linked to stump microphones.

    But neither experiment gained approval from the players or officials.

    While technology has considerably enhanced television coverage, Taufel remains sceptical about its expansion within the game.

    South Africa captain Graeme Smith makes a point to umpire Billy Bowden
    Graeme Smith has total respect for Billy Bowden and his colleagues

    "I think we have to be cautious about how much technology we incorporate into the game and how much human element remains there as a variable."

    And South African captain Graeme Smith is another who believes the game is fine in its current state.

    "That human touch is a part of cricket, as a batsman you have one opportunity to make the most of it, you live and die by your chance," he said.

    "The umpires have an important role to play. As much as they create frustration they also create happiness too."

  • RULES IN OTHER SPORTS
     

    SEE ALSO
    Shepherd to bow out at the top
    12 May 05 |  Cricket
    Taufel wary of more technology
    17 Sep 04 |  International Teams


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