It's Time For Human Cricket Umpires To Retire Hurt
When I hear about technology taking someone's job I despair. But not when it comes to cricket umpires.
These glorified hatstands are as redundant as toll collectors on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As the first Ashes Test proved time and time and time and time again, there's no point asking the umpire if a player is out.
Ask him to hold your hat, your sunglasses, your SPF 50+. Give him a light meter and that handcuff-like gizmo that measures if the ball is out of shape. Just don't go asking if a batsman is out or not because, well, he is stumped.
When the Third Umpire was introduced into cricket the rationale was justice. No more incorrect decisions. And, apart from the odd howler, the Third Umpire usually gets it right. So why do we bother wasting time asking the First and Second Umpire what they think beforehand?
It's an exercise in embarrassment.
My heart bled for Joel Wilson and Aleem Dar at Edgbaston. Rather than raising their finger or shaking their heads when a bowler spun around and shrieked an impassioned plea of HOWZAT -- the honest answer would have been a shrug of the shoulders.
The technology of Test Cricket has come a long way. The mania began back in 1977 when Daddles the Duck skulked across our screens for the first time, accompanying the brooding batsman on his long walk back to the pavilion. Willow under his wing, tear dripping from his eye, the animated quack was one of the first computer graphics to complement the on-field action and part of Kerry Packer's push to package cricket for TV.
Four decades on, a glut of high-tech gadgetry and a smorgasbord of stats provide the DNA of every delivery. Atari-like graphics have been superseded by a sophisticated suite of digital devices that make NASA look like a bunch of kids farting about with a junior science kit.
Snicko, hawk-eye, super slow-mo, hot spot -- sometimes I think I've tuned into 'CSI Miami' rather than the cricket. State-of-the-art simulations and cutting edge cameras offer an autopsy of the action from every conceivable angle.
And you thought Greg Chappell played cricket with big brother.
Over many summers of cricket, additions to the wizardry have included improvements in ball tracking thanks to 230-frames-a-second cameras; a virtual protractor that rises from the pitch like a surfacing submarine to calculate the movement of the ball to the nth degree, and a two-dimensional wagon wheel which frightens my children because it resembles an upset tarantula.
Sometimes you forget that all you need to play cricket is a bat, a ball and six sticks.
When there's a rain delay nowadays we watch matches from 20 years ago complete with graphics that seem so unsophisticated. In the acid-rain delays of 2050, what could possibly appear unsophisticated about today's graphics?
Perhaps we'll be watching in 4D; perhaps the on-field umpires will have been replaced with Emirates hostesses; perhaps the tattoos on players arms will be animated...
A few years ago, Test Cricket was on death row. Now it's in the pink of health thanks to day-night Tests, a swashbuckling new breed of cricketer raised on a diet of Twenty20, as well as Daddles the Duck and the high-tech brood he hatched.
Unlike free-flowing sports such as soccer and AFL, technology has found a welcome place in cricket because of the staccato nature of the action and the need to plug its gaps. And it has found its place as arbitrator because cricket is not a game of inches but of millimetres -- that hallowed 'coat of varnish' on which games are won and lost, careers kick started and cut short.
When properly utilised, technology is the antidote to incorrect decisions in cricket. No human eye can track that frantic cherry - red, white or pink -- with pinpoint accuracy, even if the umpire has Twenty20 vision.
We have the technology for the Third Umpire to rule on every appeal without holding up the game. The other two should still be out there, just not making decisions other than when it's time for lunch, tea and stumps.