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Taufel used the ongoing Ashes series as an example where technology was being overused
Umpires are often criticised for making the wrong decisions during matches, but former international umpire Simon Taufel believes that they should be confident in the decisions they give and take a more “pragmatic” approach when it comes to the use of technology.
With more and more technology at their disposal, umpires are starting to have doubts about their own abilities and are relying on the technology to do all the work for them instead.
Taufel, who retired from umpiring after the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in October last year, was speaking at the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture at Lord’s.
Taufel is the third Australian to deliver the lecture, with the first two being Richie Benaud in 2001 and Adam Gilchrist in 2009.
Taufel is also the third non-player to deliver the speech as Desmond Tutu gave one in 2009 and the late journalist Christopher Martin-Jenkins spoke in 2006.
The 42-year-old is the first umpire to deliver the speech and currently works as the ICC umpire training and performance manager.
Using the ongoing Ashes series as an example where the Decision Review System (DRS) has been overused, Taufel explained that umpires are now hesitant to make their own decisions as they are constantly judged by cricket pundits and the public.
“In today’s cricket, the decision of the umpire is scrutinised by all these cameras,” Taufel said. “Slow motion, ultra motion, Hot Spot front on, Hot Spot leg side, Hot Spot off side, ball tracking and prediction, Snicko, stump audio, the mat and then by up to three commentary experts. After all that public scrutiny and technology, there is often divided opinion about what the correct decision was.”
Taufel also noted that there is a growing population of “armchair” critics , who believe it is their duty to evaluate the umpires and the decisions they give during matches.
“The investment by television companies in extra cameras, high-speed frame rates, computer software programs and military infra-red technology, plus high definition has certainly given the spectators a lot more information,” he said. “There is no doubt we now have a lot more ‘armchair’ experts.
“Today, everyone umpires the game by watching television. The invasive nature of this broadcasting has a double edge to it – it does put more pressure on players and umpires. Not too much now happens on a cricket field that is not captured by a camera, a microphone or piece of technology. This has the ability to bring out the best in the game and also the worst.”
However, Taufel also stated that umpires do more than just make decisions.
“We have to police (and I personally dislike this term and approach) other vital areas of the modern game,” he said. “Player behaviour, ball tampering, over rates, logos and clothing, impact of ground, weather and light, having to reduce playing times.” In that respect the introduction of technology had its benefits and even allowed the player and the viewer to understand the challenge faced by match officials during a live match.
“One benefit of the current technology system has been the reduction in dissent charges and improvement in behaviour accordingly on the field. In the majority of cases in the modern game, if an umpire has made an error, there is an ability to correct it. In an Ashes Test, if there is an error off the first ball of the game, it can be corrected at the time rather than have it on the umpire’s conscience for the rest of the day and have the players constantly remind him of it. If I make an error, it stays with me all day, all game and I have to keep focused and performing in the middle. There is no dressing room to immediately take refuge while another umpire comes out to the middle, no time off the field to regather thoughts and regroup.”
The former umpire added that fans, umpires, players and pundits all have to learn to respect the game and support each other.
“I believe the highest form of the game needs to have the highest standards of respect, spirit of cricket, behaviour and integrity – those at the highest level are setting the tone and standards for others to follow, be they players, umpires or administrators,” he said. “We owe the future of our game that much.
“The technology genie has been let out of the bottle and it’s not going to go back in. I would simply advocate that we look at ways to be as pragmatic as possible so we can get more correct decisions and deliver more justice. I do have an important message on this topic though as it is often asked, ‘what is your view on the DRS?’ I’m not sure that this is the right question.
“Perhaps we should be asking ‘are we using technology in the best way to serve the players, supporters, umpires and values of our game?’ No matter what system of technology we implement in our game, it will not be perfect or 100%. The all-human solution is not 100%, neither is the DRS and neither will be an ‘all appeals’ review system. There are trade-offs and compromises with every system adopted. It all depends how the majority believe our game should be played underpinned with the values we want to promote and preserve.”