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April 12, 2007

The Apellate Process

Isn’t the World Cup depressing? If you include the warm up matches, the tournament has been going on for over a month now, the first match being England v Bermuda on March the 5th. In that time, England have failed to register a win against any of the major nations and will need to beat the World Champions South Africa in their next match to have a chance of staying in the tournament. From an England point of view, the batting has no confidence, the bowling is lacking bite and the fielding is mediocre. From a wider outlook: the tournament is too commercial, the new grounds too lifeless and there isn’t enough in it for the spectators.

So I have started to look elsewhere and have discovered that while this lifeless tournament that lasts almost two months has been plodding along by itself there has been some news at the County Cricket stage! Who would have believed it? So what HAS been happening while we’ve been so engrossed with the goings on in the Caribbean?

Perhaps the biggest bit of news to have come out this week is that the ECB have announced that in the 50-over tournament, they will allow referrals to the third umpire for any type of appeal if a member of either side disagrees with the decision made by the on field umpire. There are limits of course, there will only be two unsuccessful appeals allowed per team per innings and the referrals may only be requested by either the fielding captain or the batsman to whom the decision involves.

I firmly believe this will be good for the game. It will have its drawbacks for sure, but so does any element of a game of cricket. Having human on field umpires has its drawbacks. Having an open playing field has its drawbacks: if a batsman hits a big six there’s a change the ball can go out of the ground causing a hold up as it is retrieved. Having a crowd at the game has its drawbacks: they can be abusive, distracting and can make a mockery of the spirit of the game. Using leather balls has its drawbacks: they are hard and can cause injury to the players, umpired or spectators.

But if it wasn’t for an open playing field, viewing would be impaired and changes in the weather such as the wind would not affect the game in the way it does. If there was no crowd there would be no atmosphere, no 12th player to encourage the teams. There would be no reason to play. Leather balls have developed the game into what it is today, they wear over a long period of time which means that different periods of play are interesting for different reasons and the danger involved with a hard ball means that tactics such as bowling bouncers are so useful as they can be intimidating to the opposition.

You will go a long way before you find something in life which does not have its drawbacks. It is the positives for why we do things and bringing technology into the modern game has plenty of those.

Umpires make mistakes. It’s a fact of life. They’re human, its what humans do. I can be quite confident in saying that everyone who plays cricket would prefer it if umpires did not make mistakes. It certainly gives the game a bit of character but it is not fair in the slightest. I do strongly agree that over the course of a individual career, umpiring decisions balance each other out, in that batsmen will receive a similar number of decisions against them as they do in favour of them but over the course of a match? Or even a series? It is quite unlikely. It is entirely possible that if the Australian batsmen in the 2005 Ashes had not had the raw deal of LBW and caught behind decisions then Paul David Collingwood would not have an MBE.

So it is that if we can reduce the number of umpire errors we have a greater chance of producing fairer results on the day. After all, the game if cricket is more than just about individual career records, it is about teams building innings or destroying them. It is about turning those innings into strong match positions. It is about winning matches from strong positions and consequently it is about being consistent enough to go from winning matches to winning series.

But why only two referrals per side per innings? Here’s the scene:

Kent v Surrey at The Oval

Kent win the toss and elect to bat first.

Hello and welcome to this, the first televised match of the Friends Provident Trophy between Kent and Surrey. There’s a decent crowd in tonight and hopefully there will be more filtering in as the night goes on. This being a televised match, it will be the first opportunity for the players to use the new ECB rules for this tournament allowing Third Umpire referrals on any decisions.

Rob Key called tails correctly and has chosen to have a bat. Here come the batsmen now, opening the innings we have Darren Stevens and Neil Dexter.

Azhar Mahmood to bowl the first over.

0.1 Mahmood to Stevens, no run, good ball first up from Mahmood. Full and swinging outside off stump, Stevens shoulders arms.

0.2 Mahmood to Stevens, FOUR, not a bad ball but with the field up Stevens can belt that over cover for a boundary to open his account.

0.3 Mahmood to Stevens, OUT, slower ball from Mahmood this time. Stevens tries the same shot but only ends up chipping a catch to Butcher at extra cover who takes the catch diving forwards.

Here we go with the first of the referrals, Stevens doesn’t feel that Butcher took that ball cleanly. He was close to the ground as he took it diving forwards. Its going upstairs to the Third Umpire to have a look. Replays show that it was taken cleanly. Brilliant catch from Butcher and Stevens is on his way.

DI Stevens c Butcher b Mahmood 4 (3m 3b 1x4 0x6) SR:133.33

The reliable Matty Walker to the crease now, at the non strikers end as the batsmen crossed.

0.4 Mahmood to Dexter, 1 run, leg stump half volley and flicked in the air to square leg. Fielded by Clarke on the boundary running round from wide fine leg and they trot a single.

0.5 Mahmood to Walker, 1 run, clever stuff from the Kent batsmen. Yorker on off stump and dug out well. Dexter, alert to the field, calls him through for the single and they make it easily.

0.6 Mahmood to Dexter, OUT, length ball on off stump. Dexter takes a big step forward and tries to flick to the leg side but is rapped on the pads. Huge appeal and the umpire raises his finger. Dexter came a long way forward, that one might have been going over.

Dexter certainly thinks so! He’s called for the Third Umpire. Brave move from Dexter, if he’s given out that will be both referalls used up. Replays show it was a slower ball again from Mahmood, hit him below the knee roll and most likely going on to clip the top of middle stump. Third umpire must be convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” that the on field umpire was mistaken which he isn’t and so Dexter too is on his way.

NJ Dexter lbw b Mahmood 1 (5m 2b 0x4 0x6) SR:50.00

End of over 1 (6 runs) – Kent 6/2 (RR:6.00)

MJ Walker 1* (1b)    A Mahmood 1-0-6-2

RWT Key 0* (0b)

Interesting start there, we’ve already got both of Kent’s referrals out of the way, Mahmood picked up two wickets and went for 6 runs!

Rikki Clarke to start from the other end – what can he produce?

1.1 Clarke to Walker, 1 run, driven to mid off and a quick single taken.

1.2 Clarke to Key, OUT, Clarke strikes with his second ball! Half volley outside off stump and swinging away. Key picks the length early, his eyes light up and goes for an expansive drive. All he manages is a nick to the Batty behind the stumps. He doesn’t look happy.

RWT Key c +Batty b Clarke 0 (2m 1b 0x4 0x6) SR:0.00

Replays show Key may not have edged that. There’s a definite sound but looks as if it may have been bat on pad. Shame both referrals have been used up! Rob Key could have been the first to have an umpires decision overturned under the new rules.

Terrible start for Kent here...

Well it doesn’t seem all too fair does it? But to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, this is exactly what would have happened under the old system so nobody is any worse off. This series of events is of course entirely fabricated and very unlikely. In other matches people will benefit, meaning that the number of poor umpiring decisions should decrease meaning we have fairer matches. It would be unrealistic to have unlimited appeals though, over rates these days are already too low and too many referrals would disrupt the momentum of the match.

There are other concerns, it may undermine the role of the umpires for instance. Well the umpires still have to make the decisions in the first place and with referrals limited to 2 per innings per player, the role of the referral will be restricted and umpires will very much still be in the game.

Only time will tell whether the proposals turn out to be popular or not and how realistic they are in the real world but it is certainly refreshing to see the ECB taking positive steps towards making the game of cricket fairer. I for one hope it works out, with increased technology there is too much pressure placed on umpires to make the right decision all the time which is simply an unrealistic goal. This way we are acknowledging that umpires make mistakes and trying to create a fair game in the event that they do.

Oh and Simon Jones has just made his playing comeback for Glamorgan in a pre season friendly and returned tidy figures of 8-2-29-0 and Marcus Trescothick just struck 256* from 117 balls for Somerset against Devon in a 50 over match. Things might just be looking up for England for the forthcoming season.

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