Cricket may be in a transitional stage with the Twenty20 form dominating. Umpiring has never been so hard as each decision is scrutinised.
Men in the middle are facing up to scrutiny
Between the three International Cricket Association Emirates Elite Umpire Panel members Daryl Harper, Mark Benson and Steve Davis have officiated in more than 100 Test matches and 250 one-day internationals. They were in Abu Dhabi for the Pakistan v West Indies series and told Murray Walker about the trials and tribulations of being men in the middle.
MW: What do you feel about the state of cricket at the moment? MB: With the introduction of Twenty20 the game is in a transition stage. There will be a lot more Twenty20 tournaments. In England, people can come back from work at 5.30pm, then go and see a game of cricket that will finish in three hours. It's very similar to American baseball where people can see a result in three hours. I think it is the future of the game.
DH: Although the game has been going for 150 years it is also in a transition stage as far as we umpires are concerned. Every decision we make comes under inspection with the decision review systems being trialled at different tournaments. Not only have we got the nature of the game going from the Tests to the 50 to the 20. We also have the question of how much technology should be used in cricket. We've got our own opinions and the administrators have theirs. Somewhere in between we will find a joint agreement, so cricket's hardly in a staid situation, it has a great dynamic. You journalists must be rubbing your hands together with so much controversy to talk about.
MB: We use technology to get as many decisions correct as possible. MW: But doesn't that defeat the object of having the umpire on the pitch? MB: No, not at all. Generally the umpire on the field will make the decision as he sees it. But there are occasions when you just don't know and that's the time you go up to the stands. Usually they can tell you within 10 seconds if your suspicions are correct.
SD: I was involved in the Stanford Super Series recently and they trialled a system when instead of the players challenging the umpire, if the umpire had any doubt about any decision he could refer it to the third umpire at any time. You could guide the replays you wanted to see and on the facts that would influence your decision, like where the ball pitched. The decisions happened fairly quickly, and, interesting for me, the umpires were more likely to give the decision without the consultation it was only in those really grey areas that they would refer. So it was a bit of a safety net and the third umpire could also intervene if he felt the onfield umpires had missed something. So you had all bases covered and it seemed a good process.
DH: It's not a process that has been explored by the ICC and the powers that be yet, that's been investigated by a private concern, so it will be interesting to see what happens. MB: What was the players' reaction when an umpire didn't consult and it was referred. Were they almost celebrating when they thought it was out? SD: No, they virtually stayed where they were. MB: So there was no lack of respect to the umpires when they were out in the middle because he didn't make a decision.
SD: No, it seemed to work pretty well, but that was only one Twenty20 tournament and in Twenty20 you don't get a lot of decisions anyway. So the experiments we are going through in Test matches are probably more thorough in the way they are spread over a number of series with different conditions. So we are evolving, hopefully for the good of the game. MW: Sometimes I'm watching a Test match and my gut feeling to an lbw decision for example is "that's out" and you then see the Hawkeye TV replay and it shows the ball is only clipping the bails, what should happen then. If those decisions are given and the borderline one of pitching on or outside off stump are given, won't that cut down the lifespan of a Test match. There's going to be more dismissals.
DH: There will be more dismissals. Whereas in the past we have given the benefit of the doubt, we also have to acknowledge that the technology is not 100 per cent accurate too. A replay showing that the ball would have clipped the bails or shaved the stumps probably shouldn't be given out after consultation. Technology, at this stage, hasn't been perfected. You have to have a happy medium. SD: I do feel a bit of sympathy for games that will be played in the future without the technology and worry about the erosion of respect for the umpire in them.
MB: I don't think that will happen. Why will they lose respect? SD: Because there will be certain players who will make the comment that: "If we had technology that will be out!" That's just human nature. DH: At the highest level there is an understanding that we want to get the decisions right. I don't want to bring money into it, but these guys were playing for a million bucks last week and that's how important it is.
MW: Has the Stanford Series changed the face of the game? MB: There will be more Twenty20 competitions. I was in Canada recently for the one between Canada, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies and there was a lot of interest in that. I'm sure that the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council are itching to bring four Test playing nations together here for a Twenty 20 contest. DH: I think when we were umpiring games before the Standford Series, players were striving to win it for the point of winning the game, the competition and rivalry between the two teams. It was "them versus us", and the prize money hasn't been that significant. I think we've reached that turning point. There may be a different aspect coming into the game. There might be keener rivalry.
MB: For example, this one in Canada, where the prize money was quite good, the man of the series bowled 12 overs and won a flat in the Burj Dhabi while each man of the match won a Mercedes Benz. This was a pretty low key competition. SD: We really seem to be at an interesting point in cricket's history with all these changes taking place. MW: Do you feel that the players still show you respect? MB: Yes, I think they do. They have always been very friendly from my time as a county umpire. If you have made errors, then not many have borne a grudge against you. I think the players, in general, accept the odd error here and there, unless you make millions, and if you do, then you are going to get fired!
Steve Davis, Daryl Harper and Mark Benson are members of the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Umpires and Match Referees, sponsored by Emirates Airline - an official ICC Partner. firstname.lastname@example.org