The More The Umps Stuff Up, The More We Need Them
The dismal performance of the umpires in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston has raised two important questions.
Firstly, why didn’t they go to Specsavers?
Because really, the umps made so many howlers.
To take just a few minutes in the pre-lunch period on Day Five as an example, a ball that was clearly missing Joe Root's leg stump by about 10 centimetres was ruled "out". Then a ball that Root had clearly inside-edged was also ruled "out".
Yes, umpire Joel Wilson gave Root out both times, only for the third ump to overturn it. The second time, Root was so certain of his (positive) fate, he had a huge smile on his face as he called for the DRS.
This sort of thing seemed to happen throughout the match. In total, Umpire Wilson had eight decisions overturned in this match, which equalled the record… and his colleague Aleem Dar wasn’t much better.
And that raises the second question: If technology is doing a better job than humans, do we actually need umpires at all?
Perhaps it really is time to just set the robots loose to run the world in an orderly fashion.
Well, maybe not any of THOSE robots.
But seriously, there’s no doubt that that Ultra Edge, ball-tracking and all the other technological tools are mostly doing a better job -- in conjunction with the third umpire -- than on-field umpires these days.
So it has to be asked again: do we still need umps?
On balance, yes. And here’s why.
Cricket umpires sadly no longer wear the weird white overcoats of yesteryear, but these human hatstands -- as 10 daily editor Chris Harrison memorably called them this week -- are still part of the aesthetic of cricket.
Umpires can even be cricket’s greatest characters. Think of Billy Bowden’s exuberant six signal, or the slow-finger-of-death of Rudi Koertzen.
Technology helps us get key dismissals right. But we still need umps out there too, if not for their sometimes-flawed decision making, then for a touch of humanity to control the game’s mood in the heat of the battle.
Did ball-tracking ever settle a dispute between hotheads, or detect ball-tampering?
Umps still have their place. That said, an eyesight test or two wouldn’t hurt.