Since the conception of Cricket, the players have always overshadowed the unsung heroes that make the sport a fair game. Yes, I’m talking about the individuals in long white shirts and wide brimmed hats – the ‘Umpire’ who used to be the be all and end all of Cricketing decisions on the field. He was, at one point of time, the critical decision maker and solely responsible for keeping the game on the straight and narrow. This was not a position one picked names out of a hat for. Careful consideration was given to each individual who also had to comply with some measure of due diligence on the field.
The umpire was the one who decided who was Out, signaled scores (Fours, Sixes, Leg byes), called No Balls, Wides and so on. He called the shots, he gave the final word, he was infallible (supposedly); there was no arguing with this guy. There was a time when technology wasn’t advanced enough to be used in sport and all we had to rely on was this one man’s decision. It always struck me as odd that we had some old guy stand, literally in the line of fire with no more than sunscreen to protect himself, to make sure the game went smoothly. But obviously it’s a necessary function he performs – that of a guardian of the laws of Cricket.
The right tool for the job
Lately though, it seems like he really doesn’t have too much to do. Even when he does, he’s under constant scrutiny by his companions, sitting comfortably in an air conditioned cabin, loaded up with all kinds of technology – monitors featuring all high speed camera angles, Hawkeye technology, wicket-cams and what have you. This adds to the pressure level, especially since he knows the technology is also available to the armchair experts watching at home. However, what’s forgotten in all this is that the tech exists primarily to avoid any human error and to help establish a, quicker, more specific and justified decision.
Of late, the few times I’ve actually watched a match, I’ve seen a field umpire make a decision and have it reversed by the third umpire thanks to slow motion and high speed camera wizardry. Case in point – Ricky Ponting’s recent dismissal against Pakistan, where he was originally adjudged ‘Not Out’ only for the Third Umpire to declare him Out (caught behind). It was disheartening to see the field umpire cross his arms across his chest, almost like a sign of apology. Personally, technology in sports, or anywhere, is quite relevant but I have to say, in cases like this it can be a bit emasculating for this once revered post.
Truth be told, it’s come to a stage where the field umpire is, in many cases, the last to know of sometimes critical decisions. With technology that’s making this man’s job redundant, I question the logic of even having him out on the field. It’s like having a traffic cop directing traffic under a working signal. Human beings are flawed, technology helps rectify a few of these flaws, but at what cost?
Why not empower the umpire with a little bit of tech as well? It’s not like the technology doesn’t exist. A field umpire could be outfitted with something as easily available, conveniently designed and lightweight enough to carry around such as a tablet. These could be loaded with dedicated apps that enable him to do more than just keep his ‘eye on the ball’ and help accurately call and make critical and accurate decisions on the field.
We’ve got guys designing apps to help fly planes, assist bankers, doctors and even military officers do their jobs. Then we’ve got guys making apps that do no more than make flatulent sounds. Is it so ill-conceived that someone could design an application that would enable an umpire to stream video footage off the same servers as third umpires do and watch a frame-by-frame playback of close calls like Run Outs etc.? An app like this could also help him keep score better and count overs or keep tabs on stats etc. and maybe even connect to his Facebook account during those really boring matches. Ok I’m kidding about the last part.
This device… this tool, could be synced to a dedicated hi-speed Wi-Fi service so the umpire is constantly fed all the relevant data that he’s required to have for making a fair call. It’s not rocket science and these individuals, vital components of the game, legends some of them, could be re-issued the respect that came with the position, otherwise it’s just not Cricket mates!
The umpire has been around since the beginning of this cherished game, so really my question is – is he still needed now? And if yes, wouldn’t it make sense to equip him with the right tools to pass judgments fairly? I say yes! It doesn't always have to be an argument of extremes. Right now, the umpiring debate has been turned into one of human versus techonology, which can be avoided by a simple marriage of the two.