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Sight Screen

Thursday, January 05, 2006

To err is human...

... but to make a right royal cock-up of things, you need an ICC umpire. Oh alright, pot shots and sitting ducks; I really shouldn't.
ICC general manager (cricket) Dave Richardson, on Cricinfo, has much to say on the subject of umpires.
It is time to tell the truth: our umpires are human. Sometimes, reading criticism of decisions they make, I wonder if people realise it and believe, instead, we have sent infallible robots out to do a job that is widely acknowledged as one of the hardest in sport.

Right. So we've gotten that out of the way.
After all, players make mistakes. They drop catches, bowl bad balls and play poor shots. If someone was dropped every time they messed up then touring sides would have to take vast armies of players around with them to keep up with the changes in personnel required.
Players are retained because selectors believe they are good enough and one mistake or even a run of poor performances does not change that fact. The same is true of our Emirates Elite and International Panel umpires.
Those officials have reached the top level because they have demonstrated a consistent level of high performance, something that is backed up by the statistics we have gathered on every decision they make.

Oh, dude!
A chappie called WG Grace once made the point when he told an umpire who had in his opinion got the call wrong: 'They have come to see me bat, not to see you umpire'.
Same difference. When a batsman takes a swipe and is clean bowled; when a Herschelle Gibbs gets the World Cup in his hand and drops it; when a Shoaib Akthar gets line and length wrong on the WC stage and is spanked to the tune of 18 in an over -- mate, that's what we pay money to see.
We come to see two teams comprising 22 human beings parade their skills; we come to see them battle not just their opponents but their own human frailities; we come to see them cope with pressure; we come to see the strong willed triumph and the weak perish.
We do not come, though, to marvel at the fact that 'umpires are human beings' -- who, as happened in Sydney yesterday, can from just one end alone get as many as four calls blatantly wrong.
Take last year, 2004-05, for example. In Tests and ODIs our umpires were called upon to make more than 3700 decisions. Out of that number they were right 94.8% of the time in Tests with a 93.4% success rate in ODIs.
To put that into context, the previous year, from April 2003 to March 2004 saw the umpires get it right 91.4% of the time in Tests and 90.9% in ODIs, figures that suggest standards are improving rather than declining.

Again -- dude!
Let me see -- 40 wickets per Test if the game goes the distance? So every two and a half Tests, that is 100 wickets falling? (Ok, I know -- it doesn't work out so mathematically; this is merely for the sake of a basic argument).
So what we are really saying is the umpires are apt to get at least 6 decisions wrong in every two and a half Tests? And in this basic math, we are not even considering the nature of the error and the impact it could have on a team's fortunes?
Consider this: If a hospital boasted that it got 94 per cent of its critical operations right, what it is really saying is 6 out of every 100 patients die on the operating table. You like those odds if you are next up for surgery, mate?
There is lots more in this column, on how umpires are picked, how they are evaluated, on whether technology can help or hurt. Read on.
Then go back to the basic premise: Umpires are human; they make mistakes; that is okay coz players make mistakes too.
Um... dude? Players who stuff up and cost the team the game end up losing their place in the side. Their past record doesn't save them. How about umpires who stuff up? Do they get dropped from the Elite Panel?


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