Technology has had a big impact on cricket in recent years. But is it becoming trial by television and what, asks Chris Bond, does it mean for the future of umpires?
Whether it’s the hallowed turf at Headingley, or a picturesque village pitch in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, the sight of a man in a white coat standing behind the stumps is as much a part of the fabric of cricket as the sound of leather on willow.
Over the years umpires have survived the proverbial slings and arrows of misfiring batsmen and over-zealous fielders and remain a symbol of cricket’s great traditions.
But while the men in white coats continue to supervise the game out on the field of play, their role has come under the spotlight once again following England’s narrow victory over Bangladesh in the first Test in Chittagong.
The final two wickets of an intriguing match were only given out following a review by the third umpire in the stands, aided by the latest in technical gadgetry.
The match saw a record 26 decisions reviewed, so it was perhaps inevitable that the end came with trial by television. But where does this leave the man in the middle?
The Decision Review System (DRS) was introduced in international Test matches in 2009, and two years later for one-day internationals, in an attempt to eliminate umpiring howlers.
But seven years on and it continues to provoke debate. Proponents of the system say it cuts down on mistakes and argue that because so many big matches hinge on key moments it would be churlish not to use the technology we now have available.
However, there are many people who find the constant stream of referrals and repeated analysis of deliveries and hot spots both tedious and time-consuming, pointing out that it slows down a game that could actually do with speeding up a bit.
Yorkshire cricket legend Dickie Bird is not a fan of the growing use of this technology in cricket.
The former Test umpire, from Barnsley, does not believe it improves the game. “I don’t think it’s a good thing having all these reviews. It’s taken the authority away from the umpire and in my opinion it’s taken something away from the game itself,” he says. “They’re even going to the camera for no-balls and that’s part of the umpire’s job.”
It can be argued the referral system adds to the drama of a match as the crowd waits with bated breath to find out which way a particularly close call has gone and that there’s something almost gladiatorial about it.
But by the same token there is a nagging feeling that all these replays and referrals are detracting from the game. “I’ve been counting and in some matches you’re losing 10 to 12 overs a day because of this, and that’s a lot in a Test match where people are paying a lot of money to come and watch,” says Bird.
“In my era you made your own decisions, rightly or wrongly, and if you made a bad decision it was talked about by the Press, on the radio and by people watching at home or down the pub. It was part and parcel of the game, it’s what made cricket.”
He points out, too, that DRS is not foolproof. “The camera isn’t perfect. It can’t tell you the state of the pitch, it can’t tell you the bounce of the ball, or how much it’s seamed off the seam. And all these things need to be taken into consideration.”
But he does not believe the situation is going to revert back to how it was. “I don’t think it’s going to change, it’s here to stay.”
Bird, who umpired 66 Test matches during his career, says umpires are part of the game’s history and still play an important role, but he wonders what the future holds for them.
“I got a lot of satisfaction if I made a good decision, but is the day coming when we do without umpires?... It will be a sad day for cricket if that happens.”