Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Instant-review gadgetry drains the drama out of sport

High-tech tools were supposed to help officials regulate the play in sport. Instead, they're making officials redundant, and slowing down play.

Some days you wouldn't swap for a king's ransom, and Thursday here in London was one such occasion: England were playing Australia at Lord's, the ground was full, the sun was beating down, and all was right with the world.

Best of all, I was invited to an official sponsor's box, where I found myself discussing the vagaries of the game with a bewildered American tourist and Sir Mick Jagger.

The rock star proved to be an aficionado of cricket and a thoroughly beguiling companion, shy and gracious. And his immense knowledge of the game impressed my American friend enormously, even if she didn't have the first clue what we were talking about.

Yet all the tradition and panoply of this gripping Ashes series cannot conceal a worrying trend that threatens to disrupt the ebb and flow of the sport and reduce it to the status of an interactive game show. I speak, of course, of the curse of modern living - technology.

Who'd be a cricket umpire nowadays? You have to stand for hours on end in searing heat making split-second decisions, on which not only the result of the match but entire careers may stand or fall. Your only resources are your eyes, your ears, and unwavering concentration.

Everything is stacked against you. Bowlers make appeals they don't necessarily believe in, batsmen rarely "walk" even if they've nicked the ball, and fielders claim catches they know they didn't make. Add to that a backdrop of 30,000 chattering spectators and you get an idea of just how difficult the job is.

So when television technology was introduced a few years ago to aid officials in their deliberations, it seemed like a no-brainer.

No more howlers or wrongful pronouncements: now the most sophisticated electronic innovations were at their disposal.

"Hawkeye" could calculate whether a ball ruled leg-before-wicket would actually have hit the stumps or passed harmlessly by. The "Snickometer" could provide an aural footprint of leather on wood, and "Hotspot", a heat-sensitive high-tech imaging camera, could tell whether contact had been made between bat and ball. Even in the closest calls, justice would now be done. And thus the Decision Review System was born.

But, just as in science fiction, our faithful robotic servants are turning into monsters: where once the umpires' decisions were final, now their pronouncements are little more than a basis for negotiation.

During my day at Lord's, each and every appeal for a catch or an LBW decision, however tenuous, became the subject of frenzied mid-pitch debate among the players. Did the umpire get it right? Was it worth asking for a second opinion? Did anyone hear a nick? Might it have been a no-ball? What do you think? And you? While we're about it, let's ask Joe Bloggs from the boundary.

While this cricketing equivalent of a knitting circle argued the odds, all drama gently evaporated. With each successive referral the match became more like a slowly deflating puncture.

Most depressing of all, the poor umpire, emasculated and foolish, stood twiddling his thumbs like a schoolboy anticipating a detention, while his latest ruling was picked over by teams of boffins in some darkened studio far way from the pitch.

Fewer wrongful decisions may well result from all this, but the time-honoured patterns of play - the frenzied appeal, the finger going up, the long walk back to the pavilion or the sigh of relief when the umpire shakes his head - are all rapidly becoming things of the past.

I may be old-fashioned, but I fear the game is flirting with danger. For once sport of whatever description is reduced to what one seasoned observer described as "little more than a form of PlayStation', it's only a matter of time before it loses all drama and immediacy. And without those priceless commodities, what is left to enjoy? That, at least, is what Mick and I concluded.

Of course, all this was lost on my female companion, who smiled adoringly at her hero and asked "who's winning?" every time we drew breath.

Still, at least she didn't commit the solecism of US actress Pauline Chase (1885-1962) who, upon being taken to her first cricket match at Lord's and seeing the officials in their customary white coats, said "Excuse me, but what are the butchers for?"

 

Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Sarah Geronimo. Courtesy: FLASH Entertainment

Sarah Geronimo brings her star power to Abu Dhabi this weekend

Ahead of her Abu Dhabi concert on Thursday night, we take a look at the Filipina singer Sarah Geronimo’s extraordinary career.

 Fatema holds a picture of her son Nurul Karim as she poses for a photograph in front of her slum house in Savar. Fatema lost her son Nurul Karim and her daughter Arifa, who were working on the fifth floor of Rana Plaza when it collapsed on April 24, 2013. All photos Andrew Biraj / Reuters

These women know the real price of cheap high street fashion

Survivors of the world's worst garment factory accident, struggle to rebuild their lives from the rubble of the Rana Plaza collapse as Bangladesh prepares to mark the first anniversary of the disaster.

 Visitors look at the medieval inventor Al Jazari’s water-powered Elephant Clock. The clock is on show at the 1001 Inventions exhibition at Sharjah Expo Centre. Photos Antonie Robertson / The National

1001 Inventions: in praise of Islam’s gifts to the world

Down the centuries, from camera obscura to designing a sail that allowed early seafarers to tack into the wind, Muslim scientists have made many significant contributions to science. Rym Ghazal and Asmaa Al Hameli visit an exhibition in Sharjah that celebrates those contributions

 Mumbai Indians fans cheer they team on the opening match between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2014 at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

Earn cash back with the IPL cricket in the UAE

Dunia finance promotion allows cricket lovers to earn up to 6 per cent unlimited cash back on any spending they make on a day when an IPL match is played in the UAE.

 Iranian workers at the Iran Khodro auto plant in Tehran on March 18. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

Iran’s love of cars survives devastating sanctions

Sanctions and energy subsidy reductions might have hurt the Iranian automotive industry. But car makers at one factory are still optimistic, Yeganeh Salehi reports from Tehran

 This comparison image shown on Reddit annotated the objects with vehicles from the movies.

Disney confirms that Star Wars: Episode 7 is filming in Abu Dhabi desert

Disney yesterday confirmed that the filming of Star Wars: Episode 7 is taking place in the desert in Abu Dhabi.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National