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Yet another unnecessary umpiring error

Yesterday I expressed the hope that England would beat Australia at Trent Bridge, and today they did.


But England fans like me were once more put through the ringer. England should have had no difficulty knocking off the 129 runs they needed in their final innings. But the Australians fought like hell to claw their way back into the contest at exactly the moment when they should have been accepting the inevitable, and once again they nearly succeeded, England scrambling home by a mere three wickets. Warne and Lee are such ignorant fellows. They never seem to know when they are beaten.

The general opinion is that this is one of the greatest Ashes series ever. And this England win is good for that series in the sense that if England had lost this game, Australia would have retained the Ashes, no matter what happened at the Oval. As it is, the Oval game is winner take all.

The closeness of this Trent Bridge game makes it all the more regrettable that this otherwise fabulous contest was disfigured by yet another important and hideously mistaken umpiring decision. Australian batsmen Simon Katich was given out leg before wicket, at a time when he was batting very well and might have gone on to help set England a lot more than 129 to win. We all make mistakes. Umpires cannot be infallible. But on this occasion, technologically generated evidence made it clear to everyone before the unfortunate Katich had even walked off the pitch that the ball (a) pitched outside the leg stump, and (b) would have gone over the top of the stumps, and that the umpire was accordingly wrong on both counts to give him out.

Some erroneous decisions by cricket umpires take many minutes to deconstruct fully, but this Katich decision was immediately revealed to be wrong. So, if the umpires had had the same technology in their hands as the commentators now have, not only would a correct decision have been given at a crucial juncture in this very close match; it would have been given with almost no delay.

The current circumstances, in which umpires are made public fools of within seconds of giving their verdicts, cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

The LBW decision that did for Gilchrist also looked dodgy, but, assuming that I understand the finer points of the LBW law, the technology was able to show that this decision was almost certainly right. But that just means that the umpire guessed right, this time. He should not have had to guess. He should have known.

Cameras are already used to settle run outs, to the general satisfaction of all involved. Today, cameras were used to show that a possible run out was not, because England’s wicketkeeper had knocked the bails off before the ball arrived, and again to establish that the catch which later on dismissed Andrew Strauss was properly held and had not hit the ground first. There was a bit of a delay, but not an excessive one given the importance of such decisions.

I understand how this situation has arisen. This clever LBW technology could not immediately be given to the umpires. It had to be refined and proved to be satisfactory. But now it has proved itself. We all – fans and players alike – now trust its verdicts more than we trust the umpires. Had the umpires had it in their hands today, who knows how the result might have gone? Who knows how many runs England might have had to chase in their final innings?

All of which made the characteristically sporting manner in which the Aussies took their defeat today all the more impressive. Considering how little practice they have had at it during the last fifteen years, they are good losers.

17 comments to Yet another unnecessary umpiring error

  • Julian Morrison

    I was discussing this very with a friend just a day or two ago. He’s lived in the USA and he says that american football over there had adopted tech to appeal the referee to the guys in the camera room – but it slowed things down horribly, everything was being appealed for purely strategic reasons. So they introduced a system where a failed appeal costs one of that game’s “time outs”. That apparently seemed to strike the right balance between fairness and strategy.

  • Craig Richardson

    An even better comparison is a system developed for baseball. Using multiple cameras, the system can reliably determine the entire trajectory of a pitched ball, from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove – seemingly very similar to the LBW system described above.

    It’s only installed in about a third of the stadiums, and only used to rate umpire’s performance for training purposes. There’s no real-time access for the umpires (who don’t even like the system) or the commentators.

    This is sad. You don’t want to eliminate umpiring entirely, but you should emphasize the things humans do best – these kinds of calls are like line outs in tennis, if the computer can do the job, let it, and let the umpire concentrate on the important stuff…

  • Johnathan

    The Katich decision did look flaky from the TV. The Gilchrist one was more defendable. I think that actually the umpires have had a decent match, overall. There were plenty of decent appeals turned down.

    Technology must be used to avoid any sense of injustice. All credit for the Aussies for being such great fighters to the end. They are a credit to the sport and both teams have shown the overpaid yobs of Premiership football how to conduct themselves: play hard but fair.

  • J

    I think this whole debate about umpiring errors, in any sport, misses the point. The fallibility of a human umpire is an integral part of the game. It doesn’t matter, in a true sense, as over time umpiring errors will work out as equally distributed across all teams. It’s simply a variable in a game full of variables like weather, wicket condition, ball condition and so on. A sudden gust of wind can be lucky or unlucky, and an umpire’s decision is the same.

    As for AUS being good losers – let’s wait until they actually lose 🙂

  • J

    True, umpires are fallible, and with all the technology in the world in their hands they will remain so. There still will always remain the vexed matter of interpretation in circumstances where the technology is unclear. See: rugby!

    But the point is, umpiring should surely be as good as it can be. Your argument is like saying that since fallibility is all part of the game, it doesn’t matter. So, let’s have a few really bad umpires, to liven things up.

    It isn’t very fair to say it, and no offence is intended, but your argument reminds me of those people (parents and teachers) who say that since life can be very nasty (which it definitely can be) they have a positive duty to go out of their way to be nasty to their kids on a regular basis. The truth is that adults being nasty to kids, like bad umpiring, happens automatically from time to time, no matter how nice adults try to be. There is no need to do it – in this case to perpetuate it – deliberately. Does that make sense? I hope so.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Whatever happened to “The referee is right – even when he’s wrong”??

  • Ted Schuerzinger


    The computer doesn’t call the lines correctly in tennis.

    When tennis is played on clay, the ball leaves a definite mark on the clay; it’s not uncommon for the chair umpire to come down from the chair half a dozen times during the match to examine a mark to determine whether the ball was in or out. Yet I’ve seen a bunch of clay-court matches on TV where the computer disagrees with the empirical evidence of the ball mark.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Contrast the reaction of the Aussies after this loss to the anti-American howling of the BBC after Paula Radcliffe failed at the Olympic marathon. (Frankly, the BBC were so over the top in the run-up to the Olympic marathon that when Radcliffe dropped out, I literally cheered. The fact that it allowed an American to take the bronze medal was icing on the cake.)

  • Findlay Dunachie

    Being a Scot and completely impartial about England vs Australia, can I remind the ecstatic Englishmen who are whooping about their narrow victories, that the Australians had a demon bowler (of course, I forget his name) who regularly demolished the England batsmen, but who got some injury that meant he was out of the whole Test Match series’

    Or am I wrong and is he back in business?

    Patriotism, chauvinism, nationalism, xenophobia – all these, from what I hear on the BBC, before I turn it off, seem to be perfectly permissible emotions where sport of any kind is concerned. No athlete is given any attention unless he or she is British.

    But where the British, or their allies are concerned, actually risking their lives in combat, the BBC might just well as have delivered their news commentaries to Lord Haw Haw. Are they “our men”? Somehow I don’t think I’ve heard that locution very often.

  • There are unsportsmanlike Australian cricket fans who are obnoxious in victory, as they no doubt will be in defeat. These types of sporting fans have counterparts in every other nation in the world.

    The Australian cricket team – and especially the captain – has consistently been gracious in both victory and defeat over the many years I’ve noticed their efforts. I do not understand where the “arrogant” tag comes from.

  • I say give the umpires one of those wireless PSP thingies with access to the TV coverage. The PSP is about as big as two packs of cards, has all-day battery life (and anyway, batteries could be changed at lunchtime or teatime, without delay).

    To worry about the added time, in a game which lasts five DAYS, is just silly.

    It’s just as silly to worry about adding time onto an American football match, which somehow squeezes one actual hour of playing time into a total of three hours — no one seems to worry about “slowing down the game” when a TV commercial is being aired. Even worse is that there are FIVE umpires on the field, whereas in cricket, only one is “on duty” (for stuff like LBW and stumpings).

    I am about as old fashioned and curmudgeonly a cricket fan as you’ll ever meet — just hear me on the subject of brightly-coloured (non-white) cricket clothing sometime — but this would be an undoubted improvement for the game.

    The fact of the matter is that while umpires’ mistakes do balance out over time, there’s no reason WHY, an an age of instant review, this should continue to be the case.

    And if the replay isn’t clear, the umpire’s decision stands. Nothing wrong with that.

  • cockaleekie

    “But England fans like me were once more put through the ringer.”

    that’s “wringer”, brian. other than that: well done, carry on.

  • Verity

    The most glamourous, appealing men on the entire planet are cricketers (but only when wearing whites). Every single move they make is rivetting. They are the Darcey Bussell of sport.

  • Henry Kaye

    I have been a cricket fan for 100 years (that includes my father’s passion before me!) and have had to suffer the agonies of umpiring decisions that have gone both for and against my favoured team. My understanding is that the technology now exists to limit the umpiring mistakes – and it should be used! What baffles me is that the authorities decline to say why they are resisting it.

  • Andrew Gleadall

    The LBW technology has not proved itself and is very rough, if it’s Hawkeye you’re talking about. Numerous times I have seen balls miss off stump only for the Hawkeye montage of the over show that one of the balls clipped off stump!

  • Andy cooke

    Findlay Dunachie:
    The name you are searching for is “Glenn McGrath”.
    He played (very well) in the Aussie victory at Lords, became injured ten minutes before the start of the Second Test (won narrowly by England) and was back for the Third Test.

    Ironically, his presence almost gave England the victory (instead of the draw). The Aussie bowlers (including McGrath) failed to prevent England’s batsmen from scoring high totals quickly (their scores in both innings were noticeably better than in the Second Test) and he came to the wicket as the last man in with the Aussies needing to survive four overs. He happens to be a notorious “rabbit” as a batsman, and was the Australian that most of the English bowlers would have named as their preferred target to have to get out quickly for an England victory.

    As it was, he held out and the Australians drew the match.

    He was out for the Fourth Test, and yes, his presence could have swung it for Australia. Then again, the most effective England bowler (Simon Jones) was injured for the second Australian innings, so it’s swings and roundabouts, really.

  • I think we need some caution when dealing with computer models like Hawkeye; because the results are so graphical it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “so that’s what would have happened!”, as if the model is capable of revealing Truth or of showing some alternative reality. This is not the case; it’s simply a model. It’s impossible to tell what would have happened had the batsman’s leg not been in the way. All we can do is speculate. The computer models are some very flashy, eye-catching speculation, to be sure. But they remain speculation.