Time to give TV umpires a bigger role

ALSO SEE: Give the umpires a break

The job of a referee or umpire in any sport is, to say the least, thankless. And now that the Decision Review System (DRS) is in the news after England’s narrow victory in the first Ashes Test, the men in white coats are under more scrutiny than ever before.

The latest round in the debate began with Stuart Broad choosing not to walk after edging one that was caught at slip via the wicketkeeper and not given out.

Die-hard Aussie supporters insist this one decision has set the tone and tenor for the series, though I beg to differ.

Tests are all about playing hard cricket and how intensely a team competes. And at this point of time, it makes for sad viewing when one sees the Aussies fare so poorly with Michael Clarke unable to inspire his mates.

I am convinced the DRS will stay in the news for a long time, even after the end of the Ashes series. We know how much heat the DRS debate generates since the Board of Control for Cricket in India considers it to be not quite 100 per cent foolproof.

Agreed, it is not always 100 per cent right but rather than shutting off the DRS, we need to look at options which can help improve the decisions made by the umpires.

As of now, teams are allowed two reviews each per innings and it is inadequate. Today, when you see a wrong decision being given by the on-field umpire in a Test, he comes under immediate scrutiny thanks to the replays made available to the commentators by TV producers and he becomes the butt of criticism.

In the current scenario, the TV umpire reviews decisions when the on-field umpire seeks some confirmation. For the better implementation of DRS, I would suggest the TV umpire gets access to the replays straightaway so that he can play a bigger, proactive role.

It would be best if the men who run world cricket give the TV umpire the right to speak to the on-field umpires in certain instances if something is wrong.

I am reminded of the infamous Zinedine Zidane head-butt in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final. The French star felled Italy’s Marco Materazzi but the referee’s decision to show him the red card was the result of some smart work done by the fourth official.

He spotted Zidane’s indiscretion and asked the referee to stop the game and give the Frenchman the right reprimand. I am sure cricket’s TV umpires should be able to step in, especially when it is apparent that their on-field colleagues have made a wrong decision.

Clearly, the pressure which the men in the middle face today is very intense and umpire bashing is easy. At least on an experimental basis, if the TV umpire is allowed to step in and communicate on his own, things can get better.

I know at this point of time it may sound blasphemous that an umpire sitting in front of a TV “ takes calls” and communicates with umpires in the middle. If we are to get over the fixation that DRS is some kind of evil and incomplete technology, more bold steps like these have to be taken.

Yes, there will be initial condemnation for this suggestion as people are already talking about too many interruptions in cricket and how technology is killing the human element.

In my view, the human element has already been killed and umpires who try and do an honest job are being riled and ridiculed. In the old days, when Pakistani umpires stood in the middle, the Englishmen joked they were competing against not 11 but 13! Today, it is not about bias but about improving the accuracy of decision- making.

Technology and sport have become inseparable. Today, in top tennis events, the chair umpire, already being assisted by line umpires, is under constant scrutiny. HawkEye technology has worked well when a player can ask for a review, especially with an ace being hit or a forehand kissing the paint.

As it is, interest in Test cricket is dwindling. And for all those who think there are too many interruptions, be assured if the TV umpire is empowered to watch replays and step in as he deems fit, it will only lead to more faith in the DRS technology.

What happened in the Stuart Broad incident is something which could have been eliminated had the TV umpire been given the power to talk to the onfield umpire and tell him that a TV-assisted review would be in order. The umpire has little chance of escape when he makes a poor decision. Why not give him a chance to get better? The teams will also not have reason to be agitated. Yes, it is time for technology to be used in improving the decision- making.

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