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Praying for change
27 Mar 2009
Lungani Zama

AND so a fine summer of Test cricket has ended. And not without its fair share of controversy. I have been firmly against the over-dependence on technology for decisions, and nothing that happened during the much-vaunted referral trial system has changed my mind.

In a word it was irritating, but more than that it brought home a few harsh truths. Some of the world’s best players, including Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, were made to look distinctly foolish on several occasions as they referred decisions that were never likely to be reversed. South Africans seemed intent on wild gambles when it came to the use of their three referrals, whilst Australia were somewhat more stringent with theirs.

But the most illuminating factor that came out of the series was the number of decisions the umpires got right. The overwhelming majority of calls they made were correct, and that in itself should be a hint to the ICC. The esteemed Elite Panel that they employ is more than capable of taking charge of a Test, and they do not need the circus of a referral system for help.

Chief amongst my reasons to dislike the system is the ridiculous amount of time it takes to make a decision. First the no-ball must be cleared, then the actual dismissal must be viewed from a variety of angles, heights and hypotheses before the trembling third umpire presses the green or red button.

For goodness sake, we will soon have teams who refer absolutely certain decisions, on the off-chance that a bowler has overstepped, or the ball has pitched a hundredth of a millimetre outside leg-stump. Even hot-spot has hardly warmed me up. Several times, it only added to the confusion and left everyone scratching their heads.

Is this what the fabled game has to be reduced to, just for the sake of a few money men intent on “getting things right”.

There is much that is not right about the world, but you do not see credit companies referring the financial stuff-ups that have graced the world markets over the last few years. We certainly don’t see Tiger Woods refer a shot that flies into the water because the wind suddenly picked up.

Human error is a part of life, and if the modern fan cannot deal with that, then they are perhaps best served sticking to sci-fi films for entertainment, because in that field technology has really taken huge strides.

And the danger of this new system is that no one seems to know where to draw the line. Here we were all thinking that the referrals were only used for dismissals, but Asad Rauf obviously has his own view on such things. The wild-haired Rauf decided to stretch referrals to include dodgy inside edge decisions, such as the one taken to hand Jacques Kallis his hundred in the last Test. Ricky Ponting was spitting mad at the decision — and with good reason, too.

Once the boundaries are torn away, we could have all manner of tight calls referred. The already dismal over-rate of several teams would dip even lower, and then we may as well put aside an hour of play each day to deal specifically with referrals.

If it was meant to move the sport forward, then it has certainly not done its job. If the powers that be want to attract more fans, then they should perhaps look at unearthing more Mitchell Johnsons, Yuvraj Singhs and Albie Morkels. Players that put bums on seats. Players who plant decent balls into the stands, and put bad ones out of the stadium.

If the authorities want to move the game forward, then perhaps they ought to allow for longer tours, to allow for touring sides to mingle with adoring fans.

The endless cycle of play-sleep-get to the next match is harming not only the players, but it also robs young fans the rare chance of rubbing shoulders with their heroes.

Some schools, or should that be unions, have gone to great lengths to get pupils up close and personal. The Test at Kingsmead was not very well attended, and had it not been for the busses of school children on the final two days, one may have thought it was a friendly club game taking place, and not a bruising battle between the world’s best sides.

But that is another issue, for another day.

The point of this article is quite simple.

It is a call for the good men at the ICC to quash any future plans of the referral system, and leave the judging to the grey-haired chaps in the middle.

Because that is how it was always meant to be.



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