Against Instant Replay: A Paean To The Umpire

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a moderate traditionalist when it comes to the technology debate in the game. There are a few reasons for that, not least that I couldn’t buy into the collective rage that descended India during the Sydney Test fiasco (a.k.a. “Bucknor-Gate”). 

There are other factors involved too, of course: first, I think the traditionalist-realist debate is, as Andrew Miller astutely pointed out, fairly overhyped. Realists — that is, those who want more technology involved — exaggerate the machine’s potential, as we all saw during the India-Sri Lanka Test series (and God, do they have to take as long as Rudi Koertzen to deliver a decision?). Traditionalists, on the other hand, go to the other extreme and want nothing to do with TVs or cameras. 

Imagine my surprise, however, when I found the traditionalist side supported in The New York Times during a discussion — of all things — the new instant replay system just put in place in baseball.  We in the cricket world are accustomed to looking down on baseball, and also thinking, just as snobbishly, that our arcane disputes are ours alone. Who else would have such qualms about using a few more lens?

Well, the author of this column does, and he makes many of the points I have put forward in this context. First, umpires matter, not just because they add drama and chance, but because they form a crucial part of the sport’s narrative. They validate the events of the stage, and reducing their importance makes the play all the more boring. Second, referalls take forever. Third, for all the talk that adding technology is essentially about fairness, we know that it is just another part of television’s takeover of the game, where the stadium and what happens in it is becoming secondary to the way the game is represented and portrayed. Are we, really, just in this for the graphics, or are we in it for the game?

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4 thoughts on “Against Instant Replay: A Paean To The Umpire

  1. Soulberry says:

    Fairness and a sport’s narrative – I quite agree with both points.

    The issue at Lanka had less to do with machines than those interpreting them or with the vested power to interpret them. At the other extreme, without going into details, Sydney was wilful interpretation without the aid of machines. In both situations – with and without machines – the human touch did much to make us look again at the spirit of fairness in sports. Which, I’m sure you’ll agree, are not merely formulated for players to follow. In an unwritten way, the judge is supposed to adhere to higher norms while applying and ensuring fairness and thus creating a sporting narrative which stands out as a memorable spectacle of human achievement in a moment of time. It is not to be confused or confounded with what passed asunder at Sydney or Lanka. Surely, neither would be representative of that essential sporting narrative we are speaking about.

    Man, through the various developmental eras he evolved, has endeavoured to discover, invent, create newer, different forms of expression and narration. Be it in the evolution of language, singing, dance, art, clothing, painting, crafts, drama and theater…man has continually tried to evolve his own methods of narration. Technology – which certainly cannot be separated from the evolution of man for the flint stones, fire, and axe were born out of technology and thereby the plough and spear – has been the essential ingredient of narration. There are some technologies we retain unmodified from an earlietr era and there are many we use which are more contemporaneous. They may even be necessary to use in that particular era.

    Narration of sport must also evolve, carrying forward its traditional grammar into a new medium, like sporting narratives progressed from newsprint to radio to television. From heavy cotton longpants and dresses at Wimbledon to clothing which is almost outerspace-like in material and design, or the swimmers at Olympic pools in lycra or the bikers participating in the Tour…technology of a particular era always provides a new narrative to sports.

    We talk about men who stormed the pool with records as they step out of their second-skins. We look at wonderment at the bikes the racers used, for we have not seen or used that technology contained in those. We wait breathlessly, staring at the screens, as slow motion cameras ease the sprinters frame-by-frame to their destiny.

    I hear Beethoven and Bach today in more crystalline digitized form than what I could ever. It is a new narrative of an old spirit.

    We can take elements from different eras to form solutions or create something new, but to deny the narrative itself, to throttle its evolution, is self-defeating and stagnating. Almost regressive like the Dark Ages before.

    To attempt to splice narrative, technology and spirit, in a mutually exclusive Gordian knot, in my opinion, is a terrible tragedy.

  2. […]  Jonathan and I may share skeptical views on instant replay. I like that. Check him […]

  3. […] Right, except everybody thought the catch was clean, including the commentators who had the benefit of a slow-mo replay. Mark Nicholas then noted studies that have shown how additional camera angles serve only to obfuscate than clarify, and we’ve seen this again and again with catches. Those who say technology will cleanly arbitrate cricket are not being realistic, and I’m not saying that because I’m a traditionalist. […]

  4. […] a primer on third umpire referrals. Regular readers know I’m a traditionalist when it comes to this problem. I don’t think technology is an elixir that will immediately […]

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