The leg before goes to the third umpire


YOU can say what you like, love it or loathe it, be a conservative or an advanced thinker, traditionalist or reactionary: but the new use of technology made a brilliant start in the ICC Trophy at Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.

Chaminda Vaas pitches a ball precisely on the leg stump, Shoaib Malik plays a half and half shot off his legs, gets hit on the pads and Vaas and Kumar Sangakkara let out an appeal that will deafen the gods.

And what does umpire Daryl Harper do? He makes a signal as if he is asking a foreign waiter to bring over his bill and puts the whole decision on the shoulders of his mate behind the television set in the stand.

A couple of glimpses are enough to convince the third umpire Rudi Koertzen that the ball is in line and up goes Harper's arm, high, straight and full confident.

Did he get the verdict right? Absolutely. No question about it.

No argument from the pundits in the commentary box, no dispute from the terraces, no muttering from anyone around the world.

Except for Dickie Bird, five hours' time difference away in England and, presumably, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He did not like the basic idea, did not relish the decision, did not want to see batsmen given out this way.

Well, let me tell you in confidence that if I differ from Dickie I feel more certain I am in the right. He is now a media helpmate, ever ready with a quote and too often prepared to talk without engaging his brain first. So if he says "white" my automatic reaction is to bellow "black" at the top of my voice.

I think Koertzen's work as third umpire was just what was needed as the game took another stride into the 21st century.

Rahul Dravid says that he prefers the human element and I follow his logic; I am against the thought put forward by David Houghton, the former Zimbabwe captain, that "there have always been mistakes from umpires - it's part of the game".

What this decision proved was that umpire Harper got everything right. His only doubt was over the exact spot where the ball pitched and he chose to make sure by consulting the technology.

Surely there can be nothing wrong with using the technology if you have it. In my opinion it took nothing away from the status of the umpire and in some ways it added to his stature.

On the other hand I can understand the argument that says that the need for an umpire is slowly being eroded. That is in their hands and primarily it means that it is time they learnt to count.

I'll explain why in detail. It is another 21st century phenomena and all about satellite commercial television. It is also something I know about since on the 1993 tour of India I acted as what is known as a production scorer - low rates of pay but an interesting lesson in how television works - for the team putting out the Tests between India and England.

In addition my partner Jo King is now the statistician and scorer for the Channel Four production team who transmitted six of the seven Tests live in England this summer.

My most important duty nine years ago was to shout "last ball" as soon as the fifth delivery had been bowled. This nugget of information was intended to alert those TV stations around the world that if they had an advertisement to show between overs it was time to stand by.

Imagine how foolish I looked if the umpire miscounted. The best I could hope for was a glare from the producer, mutters about the penalties of having an amateur in the commentary box and sneers about the lack of education involved in not being able to count up to six without involving both hands.

Technology has moved on since those naive days and now the place I occupied has been taken by a man with a computer. But the result is the same.

If a five-ball over is bowled the stations are left sitting on their hands while the fielders change around. If a seven-ball over comes along off they go to sell soap powder, cars or office furniture while another ball is being sent down.

Fury results in the commentary box, the overseas stations and among the advertisers who may have timed their promotions around this precise moment.

I have a solution to this problem. We cannot expect an umpire to be right day-in, day-out, it's human to make mistakes and he has other events on his mind: like the on-coming rain, wides, the possibility of the ball being driven straight at his head, tiredness and what he will have for tea. We must enlist the aid of the official scorer.

In my ideal world the match referee, the third and fourth umpires and the official scorers from both sides would sit in the same booth. They would be in permanent radio contact with the umpires on the field and there would be someone to shout "last ball" at the right moment.

If satellite or commercial television is to be involved these sorts of mistakes must be eliminated. It makes everyone look foolish, it does not add to the confidence of sponsors or advertisers whose money is - directly or indirectly - going into the game. It also gives the viewer an uneasy feeling that he is not being told the story with authority.

So I suggest to ICC that their experts and the television executives get together and thrash out this minor blemish before it turns into a major problem.

Of course it is easy for the layman to think he can solve every difficulty. It is usually more complicated than it seems on the surface. Let's take being chairman of selectors for a start.

We could all do his job, couldn't we? Absolutely. Down all the years I have watched as Peter May, Ted Dexter, Ray Illingworth and David Graveney make one mistake after another. You would not imagine that between the four they have been playing, watching and supervising cricket for nearly 200 years.

It did not occur to me what hard work was involved until I went to the announcement of the England tour squads for the winter at Lord's and met Graveney afterwards. He was teasing me because I was sending my piece to India by way of the lap top I am using for this article through a mobile phone.

I was resting this modern method of communication on the bonnet of my car and Graveney thought it was hilarious.

Anyway we had a brief discussion about the party he had just named for the Ashes tour and how life had changed since contracts took all the fun out of the selection process.

Let's face it, if you give six-month or year-long contracts to a dozen players you can hardly then pick another dozen for your next Test or the following tour. Continuity reigns.

So my one quarrel with the party as announced by Graveney that morning was that James Foster, shown up the previous winter and injured this summer, was no longer the most promising young wicket-keeper in the country and that he should at least play more county cricket, or go to the Academy before he stepped up for England again.

Once we had finished our chat Graveney climbed into his car and I followed him along the road north until I lost him in traffic. The same evening I saw him being interviewed at Edgbaston, 100 miles away from cricket's headquarters, and the next day he was in Durham checking out the form of young Foster.

Barely a day goes by when this busy man is not on the radio, attending a committee meeting at Lord's, watching young players, talking to those stars he has been forced to drop and asking about the welfare of men like Graham Thorpe whose problems have made him flinch at the very thought of cricket.

Yet Graveney always has a grin on his face, always has time to discuss his charges, never passes anyone by without a cheery good morning.

England's Test stars will, in their most honest moments, admit they have questions about all the other backroom boys. Not Graveney? What you see is what you get and he never stops working.

Just proves, doesn't it, that there is more to umpiring, scoring, and picking teams for the Ashes, than meets the laymen's eye.