Category Archives: Umpires

Do Cricketers Actually Know The Rules Of The Game?

This is from The Economist, which gives the DRS a generally favorable review:

In this series, both captains were still learning whom to trust. Having been talked into one ridiculous review too many, it is rumoured that Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s normally level-headed captain, simply stopped listening to his excitable wicket-keeper, Adnan Akmal. If anything, it has proved what even the most hard-done-by bowlers have always known deep down: umpires get it right more often than they get it wrong.

One funny — and no doubt unintended consequence — of the DRS system is that it has revealed just how badly players (and commentators) think about appeals. Judging from “excitable” characters like Akmal (but also every bowler alive), you would think players believe simply by virtue of appealing they have made 80 percent of their case. At one point during the series, for example, Saeed Ajmal was absolutely convinced that he had a leg-before, only for the review to show the ball pitching outside leg — the worst of rookie errors.

What was it like before DRS, I wonder? Did players appeal and, when turned down, sink to a hole of contempt and despair? Did they think the umpires were absolute idiots who delighted in their ignorance and power? And how do players feel now, having been shown (time and time again) that their conviction in appeals has been revealed to be little more than naive hope? So I’ll add this to the list of the Joys of DRS: the hilariously pained expressions cricketers like Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad wear on their faces after they stake their honor on the line, convince their captain to use a precious review, and then watch technology make arses of them all.

Post-Script: Commentators, too, you know. Watch this clip of a calm Aleem Dar being proved right. Listen in particular for Michael Slater shouting, “That’s out!”

India And Australia Don’t Really Hate Each Other

When the IPL first began, I wrote about the mercenary themes that dominated many of the ads (e.g., the Kolkata Knight Riders marching around in funny military-cum-cricket gear trash talking everybody else). I’m back in Bombay for holidays and I’ve noticed a similar thread for India-Australia series (dubbed “agneepath” by Star Cricket).

There are the ads featuring Australian players warning Indians to watch out for the thunder down under (“When it’s winter over there, it’s summer down here.”). There’s the comically aggressive and ludicrous ad showing Hrithick Roshan (Bollywood star) snarling at a white man for about 30 seconds before running into him in a ball of fire (someone, please make a GIF out of that!). When James Pattinson accidentally brushed Virender Sehwag on Day 2, a harmless moment that mattered little to everyone involved received a front page box in at least one Indian English daily.

But why all the macho talk? The spectacle of cable television has sadly arrived in India, a relatively young democracy that shouldn’t have to add Fox News-style partisanship to its long list of political challenges (having watched 2 days of full Lokpal Bill coverage, my despair only deepens). I worry that broadcasters think the flashy stuff — bowlers’ celebrations; sledging; batsmen running around when they reach centuries — matters just as much as the grist of cricket (balls going past bats). Which is why I prefer print, people! Buy a newspaper today!

The Activist LBW Decision Returns

It’s a weird feeling when Ian Chappell agrees with you. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be happy or crawl into a dark space and slowly rock myself back to sleep. Here’s what happened:

Ed Cowan received another marginal decision today; he was adjudged LBW padding up to a beauty from Umesh Yadav. The only problem was that HawkEye showed the ball missing off-stump. Chappell, seeing this, goes on a tear (that he brings up again during the tea break) and says if a batsman pads up to a ball, he shouldn’t even have the right to review.

Like Chappell, I have argued in two previous posts that umpires rightly take a harsher view of batsmen who pad up to balls. Batsmen, after all, are supposed to use their bat, not their pads, and if they happen to find themselves in a spot of bother (like Cowan), umpires should be a bit more tough in imagining the trajectory of the ball. As I said before:

The big problem with technology in this case is that it involves standardization, and in removing the human element, we also take out a crucial piece of the game’s drama. I say, unshackle umpires — let them decide how much consideration, say, ‘height’ deserves; let them decide if a batsman’s shot was stupid enough to get them hit on the pads, and above all, let them rule on whether or not a batsman failed at his most basic mission: to hit the ball.

I was rightly pilloried in the comments for giving umpires a bit too much subjective allowance. But I really don’t have a problem with Cowan’s dismissal, even if the ball wasn’t going to hit the stumps. As Chappell said: “Batsmen are supposed to score runs.”

The DRS Debate Is Getting Out Of Hand

I understand that different people have different opinions on DRS and the current series-by-series policy. I have long been an opponent of any additional use of technology in the game (I’m an old man in many other ways), but I want to note just how unjustly skewed the debate has become.

If an umpire makes a call that is confirmed to be “correct” by Hotspot or EagleEye, the commentators will merely note that it was a good decision, and how difficult it is to be an umpire today. If they’re being really charitable, they’ll show what the umpire saw in real time. That’s it.

If an umpire makes a “bad” call that is revealed to be as such by technology, however, all hell breaks loose. The wronged batsman will lay out his personal views in the post-match press conference, the commentators will have an extended discussion about what went wrong, and Twitter catches fire. Little is said about the number of correct decisions that are made, and how they outnumber the bad ones. Even less is said challenging whether or not technology has delivered an “objective” review (in the case of Cowan’s dismissal, for example, I’m still not sure what happened). In other words, the scales are not equally placed: a “bad” decision receives many times the attention that a good decision does.

The anti-DRS crowd (with whom my allegiance lies) will lose this battle if it keeps being played out this way. Some bloggers (A Cricketing View, for e.g.) have done admirable work questioning the assumptions that technologies like ball-tracking and what not use. At this point, I can only hope broadcasters will slap a label that reads “This recreation is loosely based on true events” whenever Hawkeye is displayed.

A Beloved Cricket Umpire Dies in New York

I meant to blog this touching New York Times story when it appeared last weekend:

A patriarch of the New York City cricket world, Uncle Jerry — Jerry Kishun, 67 — was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Sept. 15. Mr. Kishun dedicated his life to fair play and adherence to rules on the cricket pitch. So to his friends and large family, the way his life ended seemed even more senseless. He was struck by a passing car on the Grand Central Parkway as he stepped out of his vehicle to check for damage after a fender bender.

The service for this man who had spent his weekdays loading trucks in a warehouse in Astoria seemed more like a state funeral. Mr. Kishun was laid out in an open coffin wearing his umpire’s hat, broad-brimmed and made of stiff white canvas that bore the insignia of the United States of America Cricket Umpires’ Association.

Why Two Cricketers Can’t Agree On Anything Anymore

During one of the warm-up games of the CLT20, Harsha Bhogle and Ian Chappell got into a bit of  a scrape. Jacques Kallis had just hit the ball to a fielder, who took a low-flying catch off the ground. Kallis, unsure about the validity of the catch, looked at the fielder, asked if it was clean, and, when told it was, headed off the ground. To Bhogle, this was the resurrection of cricket’s “gentleman” morality, one he hoped would be emulated around the world. By contrast, Chappell said it was all stupid; no one should expect the ‘spirit’ of the game to exist as it used to, and cricketers shouldn’t go around taking each other’s word.

What both were ultimately disputing was the reigning paradigm of modernity in cricket. In older days, when cricketers were amateurs, or even more recently, when they were still playing a fairly non-commercial game, the stakes were perhaps lower. Games were won, they were lost; no doubt cricketers cared deeply about results, but at the same time, the reigning paradigm emphasized good manners. That changed in recent years, to the point where cricketers can’t really trust one another. At some point, people began to argue that the ‘spirit’ of the game was nothing but a sham; there was nothing uniform or objective about it, and its application was far from universal.Why be a sucker in this scenario?

Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a new paradigm to replace it. Some have urged cricket to move from the personal to the modern through the introduction of an umpire review system. But it’s not clear at all that the cure works. Disputed catches are rarely, if ever, fully adjudicated through replays; more often than not, two fans (and two third umpires) will look at the same footage and reach different conclusions. There is an assumption that the modern replay system — and I include Hawk-Eye here — are scientific, objective versions of reality, but that’s just not the case. (Run-outs are, of course, an exception — except when they are really, really close.)

We’re going from an older paradigm — let’s try and get through this by gentlemen agreements and shared norms — to the modern administrative paradigm — let’s try and get through this by adding more rules, more technology and less ‘trust.’ The thing is, for all the failings of the old paradigm (Should a batsman walk? Should a bowler appeal even if he knows a batsman is not out?), I still think it was superior. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m wary of the new devices being unleashed, or because, deep down, I’m a Tory. (Uh-oh.)

In Defense Of Daryl Harper

Daryl Harper has withdrawn from the Third Test between India and West Indies, in what looks like a monumental fit of pique. Apparently, Harper — almost universally hated by every cricket blogger — is angry at the criticism he’s had to withstand from Indian players (including from M.S. Dhoni), none of who has been punished. Examples:

Indian newspapers widely reported that “a very senior member of the side” had claimed that the entire team did not want Harper to officiate in the final Test. “We don’t want him – you can quote it as the reaction of the entire Indian team,” was the alleged remark.

Another India player allegedly said: “It’s Daryl Harper six not out,” complaining that Harper had made three bad decisions in West Indies’ favour.

Regular readers know that I view the cricket umpire as a mythical demi-god who cannot be questioned. I have explained this before, but briefly, it relates to Hobbes’ reasoning in the Leviathan. Because all men are equal, all men have an equal claim to power. But that would lead to anarchy, so instead we consent to a sovereign and let him/her rule. You can question how much power you’d want to give in political societies, but on the cricket field, this makes a lot of sense — and anyone who has played pick-up cricket with more than three South Asians knows the values of this advice. Games without authoritative umpires quickly fold into silliness and disputes about rules and “who’s keeping score.”

So what’s the problem? Well, we now have something the Victorians didn’t — HotSpot and cameras, for one. And people look at replays and see wrong decisions and act as if they’ve been cheated all along. “What do you know,” they say, “the umpire is fallible!” This is the wrong lesson entirely: it was precisely the umpire’s fallibility (i.e., his human-ness) that led to us give him absolute powers. Now, even if you want more technology in the game, or don’t think much of my argument, the fact is both teams went into the Test series knowing fully well that Harper would be in charge. He’s made bad decisions, but he’s still the umpire — so lay off him, and do your job.

I supported Steve Bucknor when the Indians raised a fuss about him at Sydney, and I’ll support Harper now. Complaining about umpires mid-series is a terrible display of sour grapes; it also complicates the umpire’s mind-set (if I give a bad decision against the Indians, they’ll go home and cry to their BCCI overlords). If you choose not to have DRS in a series, and if you agree to play under umpires, and if you agree with the ICC’s umpire training and testing program, then shut up and play the game.

How Tough Is It To Be A Cricket Umpire?

This question came up recently during a Twitter discussion with @freehit_mj. I assumed it was universally accepted that being a cricket umpire is among the toughest — if not the most difficult — referee job in global sports today. The reason I say that is simple: 1) Cricket is an unbelievably complex game, and its rules and regulations are notorious to outsiders for their specificity and exceptions. For a good recent example, head over to Deep Backward Point for a lesson on why batsmen can’t hit the ball twice (except to protect their stumps). And 2) I can’t think of another popular game that comes close to this level of nuance. In tennis, you have a crew of linesmen to help you adjudicate calls. In soccer, the hardest thing is the off-side rule, and even then, you have help. (Soccer and other sports are certainly more physically demanding, but that’s a different matter.)

Freehit_MJ suggests that contact sports may be more difficult. I’m not sure why. I confess I have only a vague idea of what American football referees do, but it can’t be that hard if the most disputed call is whether a foul occurred or not. I also don’t think these questions raise to the level of importance of appeals in cricket. Losing a wicket is tremendously important to a batting side, whereas a foul in soccer/basketball/etc. is only a big deal in certain situations. I think cricket accords umpires so much protection from dissent precisely because we understand how difficult the job is. For more that, go here.

Is The LBW Rule Too Tough For Amateurs?

As an addendum to my previous post, I want to know: is it too difficult to enforce the LBW rule in pick-up cricket games? In my on-and-off amateur cricket career (highlights: playing on the college quad; in my Bombay compound; on my high school basketball court), I have never, ever played in a game that allowed LBW appeals. But why? And what does it say about cricket as a game if it can’t be played properly?

A few off-the-cuff answers: 1) LBW rules are simple enough, even though I’ve argued for a more flexible approach. The problem, I suspect, is that in a pick-up game, you can’t create the Hobbesian umpire figure. That’s because the person chosen to umpire often comes from one of the teams, and is thus liable to accusations of bias. So, in this case the umpire may call wides or boundaries and keep score, but he may not make any interpretation of the future path of a ball. 1A) Many pick-up cricket games don’t employ actual stumps. We used oversized garbage cans. It’d be unfair to base any LBW on that.

2) Is it a big deal that cricket’s rules are often ignored/changed/edited at the lowest level? This doesn’t happen with other major sports — not soccer, or basketball, or tennis, right? Cricket is a Roman Catholic game: it has plenty of rules, but they are mostly ignored by its followers. But I think an optimistic spin can be used here. Isn’t there something exciting about the creative adaptation of cricket to local settings? Isn’t that precisely one of the game’s attractions — that West Indians play it differently from Indians who play it differently from some Pacific islanders? Thoughts?

The Principle Behind LBWs And Why Technology Fails

Both Russ and A Cricketing View have excellent dissections of the merits of Hawk-Eye and its use in LBW decisions. Read both, especially Russ’ thorough analysis of Tendulkar’s referral of Saeed Ajmal’s LBW appeal (ultimately upheld, to the shock of most observers in the stadium and in the commentary box).

Let me just add this: the above discussions — and the broader debate right now in cricket — concern the accuracy of the technology. That’s important, but there’s a bigger principle at stake than scientific precision. I’m increasingly of the view that LBWs are not simply about the strict rules, but about a larger point: batsmen are supposed to hit balls with bats, not with pads. And when they fail to do so — intentionally or otherwise — they should be penalized.

Stay with me here. Right now, to adjudicate LBWs, we focus on a) where did the ball land; b) did it hit a batsman’s pads in line with the stumps; c) does it seem, looking at both height and the ball’s trajectory, that the ball will hit the stumps? But what if we added other, admittedly subjective criteria, like: a) was the batsman snookered by a brilliant ball? (E.g., Shane Warne’s flipper, anyone?) b) Did the batsman fail at a basic level and simply miss a ball? c) Umpires are loath to admit it, but I’m certain some LBWs are decided depending on the situation of a match — so, tailenders are easier to give out, unless they are the 9th wicket in a close match (recall Mitchell Johnson v. P. Ohja, during V.V.S. Laxman’s innings against Austalia).

Some people really resent these decisions, seeing them as a less-than-objective divergence from set rules. There should be no room for interpretation, these people say, because the umpire will have too much independence. In an earlier post on Asad Rauf, I compared this debate to the one in America concerning “activist” judges and “originalist” ones, who prefer a very strict reading of a legal text in reaching decisions. Well, count me in the first camp here. The big problem with technology in this case is that it involves standardization, and in removing the human element, we also take out a crucial piece of the game’s drama. I say, unshackle umpires — let them decide how much consideration, say, ‘height’ deserves; let them decide if a batsman’s shot was stupid enough to get them hit on the pads, and above all, let them rule on whether or not a batsman failed at his most basic mission: to hit the ball.

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