Monday, October 17, 2005

Cricket: More Luddite sentiments

Rudi Koertzen thinks that extended use of technology to make umpiring decisions is a bad idea. In his own words:
We all make mistakes and I think the players actually make more mistakes than the umpires do. So they should leave it up to us to make the mistakes. We've got to live with that.
This argument is not too far away from the other nonsensical arguments one often hears about technology eliminating the "charm" of the game, or robbing it of its "glorious uncertainties". There are some basic facts that appears to elude such luddites:
  • Cricket is a game that involves players scrapping with each other. Umpires are not participants; they are external arbiters whose role it is to make sure that the game is played according to the rules. That umpires are human is a necessary evil created by the lack of technology to automatically adjudicate games.
  • Mistakes made by players are part of the game and is exactly what people pay money to watch; people don't pay money to watch umpires make mistakes. People don't pay money to watch the umpires make mistakes; they do pay money to watch the players make mistakes.
  • Umpiring errors may add to the uncertainties of the game, but there is nothing glorious about it. Cricket is a game of skill involving a combat between batsmen and bowlers/fielders. Umpiring errors are just as extraneous to cricket as the idea that there will be a coin toss after every ball to determine -- by chance -- whether the batsman is out. If the latter idea looks silly, so should the idea that umpiring errors enhance the game.
  • Officials often like to quote some statistic like "The umpires get it right 94% of the time.", as if everyone must stare at the 94% number in awe. The right question to ask is not what fraction of umpiring decisions are correct, but what fraction of umpiring errors are of a game-changing, or career-changing, nature and whether the use of technology to improve accuracy leads to a significant improvement in enabling fair outcomes.
The only valid objection I have found for the use of technology is the amount of time that is wasted in referring decisions to the third umpire. I don't understand why more effort has not been expended in speeding up this process -- giving the third umpire access to replays immediately -- so that the decision can be made in a matter of seconds rather than in minutes.


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