Keeping technology on a tight rein

I welcome the International Cricket Council's (ICC) decision not to have extensive use of television technology for the World Cup 2003. This is the right way to go, as far as cricket is concerned.

Having been in Sri Lanka for the Champions Trophy, where the ICC experiment of having almost all decisions referred to the third umpire was on, I can tell you that it did more harm than good to the game.

The confidence of the umpires, who were already under so much pressure, was being undermined. In fact, we reached a point where some of them were hesitant to give the simplest of decisions.

Cricket is not a game of robots. The greatest charm about the game is its uncertainty. As cricketers we grew up receiving the good and the bad decisions. At the end of the day, they do even out.

I remember getting out to a rank bad verdict at the Eden Gardens against Pakistan in the 1986-87 season. Bowler Imran Khan had hardly appealed, but up went the umpire's finger.

I had clearly got an inside edge to the ball, but obviously the umpire did not notice it. On my way back, I was angry, even furious, but kept my emotions under check. In the dressing room, I thought hard and it occurred to me that the umpires too are humans, and they too, like all of us, are prone to making mistakes.

Learning to accept and respect the decision of the umpire is part of a cricketer's learning process. This also teaches him, on a much broader perspective, how to accept the successes and the failures in life.

There were occasions in my career, when I had got the faint edge or an inside nick and it was not noticed by the umpire. The human element in umpiring adds to the charm of the game.

Umpiring is among the most demanding jobs in cricket. Especially, in the sub-continent, where the heat and the humidity can often take its toll. Concentrating on every ball can be tough, and in the noisy venues of India and Pakistan, and on turning pitches, picking up a sound from the bat, is extremely difficult, especially on bat-pad decisions.

At the Champions Trophy, cricket was being deprived of the human element. The role of the standing umpires was considerably marginalized, and this could not have augured well for the game.

Even here, we found out that the methods were not flawless. For instance in the West-Indies-Kenya game, Brian Lara got a clear nick, and was caught behind, but the television umpire ruled otherwise. It was a blatant mistake.

The Kenyans' vociferous appeal came during a critical stage of the encounter and the match could have taken a totally different course, had Lara been declared out. But he received the benefit of the doubt, and went on to complete what eventually turned out a match-winning century.

There were also instances during the Champions Trophy, when the umpires had sufficient grounds to consult the third umpire, but chose not to do so. This added to the confusion, and the end result from the experiment would have hardly been what the ICC may have expected.

I do not agree with the view that television cameras can present a correct picture when it comes to leg-before decisions. There is a camera at third man, one at fine leg, and one on the terrace with a straight view. And the 'hawk eye', cannot be depended upon, especially regarding the height of the ball, since the camera angles can be deceptive. Only the straight umpire has the best possible view.

The umpire, already under so much stress, not only had to adjudicate, but also had to decide for which decision, he needed to consult the third umpire. This also meant, he couldn't have gone about his task with a clear mind.

After every confident appeal, some might have asked themselves the question, "should I consult the television umpire on this?" With replays being shown repeatedly on television, they had little choice.

In some respects, it was nice that the ICC decided to enforce the rule on an experimental basis in the Champions Trophy, and then arrived at a decision against its use in the World Cup, after considering the various factors.

I hold the view that the television umpire should be sought only for the run-outs, stumpings, and to confirm whether a catch has been taken cleanly. Beyond that, let's leave it to the field umpires.

It is important here to have faith in the men standing in the middle. We need to have the belief that they can come up with right decisions more often than not. We should back them, not undermine their confidence.

I felt that with the third umpire being consulted on so many decisions during the Champions Trophy, the flow of the game was being affected. And, under the circumstances, it was not entirely fair that the some of the fielding sides were being fined for slow over-rates.

Over the years, some welcome changes have occurred on the umpiring front. First, the concept of having neutral umpires for Tests did much to enhance the confidence levels of the sides.

Not for one moment am I suggesting that the umpiring in different countries was always biased, but the idea of neutrality removed the suspicions from the minds of the players. In those days, several umpiring decisions in countries like Pakistan and New Zealand did not go too well with the visiting teams.

The bringing in of television to aid the umpires was also well received by all concerned. However, let's keep technology to within reasonable limits. Or soon we might have man-made machines replacing the men in white coats.

Similarly, there was nothing wrong in the ICC move to have a panel of elite umpires. If the game's ruling body, after assessing the umpires in the various games, reaches a certain conclusion about their ability to rule correctly, and handle the pressure, then the process can only be right.

However, the extensive use of technology is a different matter altogether. As the ICC Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Speed rightly said, the World Cup is too big a stage to bring about experimental playing conditions.

The World Cup is the ultimate prize in cricket, an event looked forward to by the countless supporters of the game. Here, only the tried and tested methods must be used, and I applaud the ICC for arriving at the correct decision vis-a-vis the extensive use of television technology in umpiring.