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Sport  


 

The umpire isn’t always right
By Ivo Tennant
“Give them the gizmos,” thundered Wisden nearly 10 years ago. Technological advances and camera angles were such that the game at international level had reached a stage at which it appeared that two cricket matches were taking place simultaneously. One was at the actual ground and the other on television, often highlighting incidents unseen by the naked eye of spectators and umpires alike without recourse to replays.
Back in the old days, or at any rate in the 1970s, Jim Laker would on occasion pronounce on the BBC in his dry and succinct commentary on an unsuccessful appeal or dubious decision with the aid of a replay. Yet the BBC did not have the technological capacity for the close-up pictures of today, and anyway, in that era the angle often would be obscured by the wicketkeeper, hence making scrutiny of marginal decisions nigh impossible.
As the years and decades went by, however, it was apparent that the wholly understandable stance of officials - “the umpire’s word is final” - was an outdated concept to anyone watching at home who could see that, in actuality, the umpire’s word was incorrect. Increasingly it was felt that, for cricket and television to have a meaningful relationship; cricket had to keep up with television.
Dr Paul Hawkins and his Hawk-Eye, the innovation whereby there was a pretty clear view of whether a ball was going to hit the stumps or pass over them, and whether it had pitched outside the line, initially ploughed a difficult financial furrow until introduced on Channel 4 and Sky Sports in 2001. Technology now existed not just in the form of replays but replays with a proof mechanism, even though there was a valid argument that this gadgetry was never going to be 100% accurate and that its use would slow down further an increasingly sluggish over rate.
Based on missile guidance systems, something that Laker’s generation would have associated only with warfare, Hawk-Eye monitored the flight, trajectory, movement and speed of the ball, both out of the bowler’s hand and off the pitch. The information was fed into a computer that almost instantaneously produced an exact replay of the ball in virtual reality, adding in its predicted path if it had not hit the batsman’s bat or pad.
The umpires, of course, were concerned by technological advances. Which one would have wanted his decision overturned by a third umpire in some distant eyrie? The estimable and likeable Mark Benson was the first to suffer, in 2008 when Tillakaratne Dilshan appealed successfully to the television replay umpire, Rudi Koertzen, after being given out caught behind in a Test between Sri Lanka and India. Perhaps it was not coincidental that Benson’s career on the ICC’s international panel was short-lived. Others, such as David Shepherd, were shown up for not spotting no-balls through a battery of cameras that had not existed in Syd Buller’s day. He talked, briefly, of quitting. Benson was to revert to standing in county cricket in England, which was only occasionally covered by Sky.
Run-outs and stumpings were somehow less contentious than lbw decisions. Here, in an era in which batsmen were increasingly flinging themselves at the crease in the one-day game, was seemingly an acceptable way of judging if a quick single had been properly completed. Spectators enjoyed the expansive signal for a replay, given particular dramatic effect by Billy Bowden, and the tension while the television umpire came to his decision.
There were, of course, endless debates over the extent of the use of technology as its use became more prevalent: why a camera could be used to arbitrate over whether a ball had gone for four or six, but not over whether it had hit a batsman’s glove. Simon Hughes, the ultimate television analyst, reckons technology is always on the game’s side. “The day umpires are abolished, leaving the running of cricket to people watching monitors, is the day it ceases to be a sport and becomes, instead, more closely associated with the security industry,” he said.
In 2011 cricket is so reliant on television for its income that it will follow television’s lead. Once Sky had successfully pushed for greater use of technology, the inevitable could no longer be delayed. Yet this meant that Test matches would be played under different circumstances around the world, which was not ideal. The umpire may be well remunerated nowadays, but at international level he is under great pressure and deserving of sympathy - which is not always forthcoming. Dickie Bird was once officiating at a one day bowl-out, when no one could hit the stumps. “And they expect me to give lbws,” was his verdict. - [ESPN]

 

Zimbabwe target Dizzy heights
By Sam Sheringham
Jason Gillespie’s favourite thing about coaching in Zimbabwe is that no-one seems to know who he is.
“I’m pretty anonymous here,” says the former Australia fast bowler, whose mop of curly black hair, dark eyes and goatee beard were all too familiar to the world’s top batsmen when he and Glenn McGrath were terrorising them for more than a decade.

“I enjoy just being able to go shopping and I get around pretty unnoticed.”
Gillespie arrived in Zimbabwe in August along with legendary South Africa paceman Allan Donald as the star names in a restructuring of domestic cricket aimed at raising standards in the country following its voluntary withdrawal from Test cricket in 2006 after a run of pitiful performances.
They were named coaches of two of five new franchise teams competing against each other in first-class and 40-over competitions, as well as a sponsored Twenty20 league, which has attracted the likes of Andrew Hall, Lance Klusener and West Indies batting icon Brian Lara.

Lara, who was reportedly paid $30,000 for a three-match stint, has also been involved in Zimbabwe’s preparations for the Cricket World Cup, helping their batsmen prepare for conditions in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, where they open their campaign against Australia on Monday in Ahmedabad.
Assistance from some of the biggest names in world cricket, and the return of former players Alistair Campbell, Grant Flower and Heath Streak (as chairman of selectors, batting coach and bowling coach respectively), has brought a sense of purpose back to Zimbabwe cricket going into the tournament in the subcontinent and their scheduled return to Test cricket with a series against Bangladesh in May.
Gillespie, nicknamed “Dizzy” after the legendary jazz trumpeter, was drawn to Zimbabwe by the opportunity to launch his coaching career in a country he had enjoyed touring as a player.
While he has been impressed by the competitiveness of the new domestic competitions, he still believes administrators can do more to create a platform for young players to flourish.
“There are still lots of issues here and they need to invest heavily in junior cricket, grounds and facilities,” says Gillespie.
“You hear stories of players not getting paid on time and some franchises still haven’t received all their playing gear.

“It is not good enough to keep players waiting when they have commitments themselves. They need to work hard to make sure players are looked after because players are the product.
“If you get that professionalism 100% right then I think you will see a dramatic improvement across the board.”
Zimbabwe’s ultimate goal is a return to the halcyon days of the late 1990s when a team based around Streak, the Flower brothers and Murray Goodwin recorded a Test series victory in Pakistan and came fifth in the 1999 World Cup.
The wheels began to come off in 2003 when Andy Flower and fast bowler Henry Olonga wore black armbands at a World Cup match in their homeland to protest against the “death of democracy” in their country under president Robert Mugabe. Fearing for their safety, the duo retired from international cricket and emigrated to England.
The situation worsened the following year when Streak was replaced as captain by young black wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu. The move sparked a walkout by 14 other players in protest against political influence in selection policies. A series of woeful performances from a sub-standard team followed, culminating in the withdrawal from Test cricket in January 2006.
Although Zimbabwe have continued to play one-day internationals, several teams have refused to tour the nation on moral and security grounds, while their performances have generally been well below the standard of the Test-playing countries.

Last year, however, there were marked signs of improvement, with English coach Alan Butcher leading them to victories over India, Sri Lanka and West Indies and a series win over Ireland.
Olonga, whose autobiography Blood, Sweat and Treason lifted the lid on the politics of Zimbabwe cricket, is delighted to see Streak and Grant Flower back in the national team set-up. But he believes the appointment of former captain Campbell as chairman of selectors in 2009 is of even greater significance.
Although Peter Chingoka - the controversial figure who sacked Streak and the other “rebels” - remains chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket, Campbell has narrowed the gap between the board and the players, says Olonga.
“He has brought cricketing experience to an administration that lacked people who had played Test cricket at the highest level,” he states.
“Now the players in Zimbabwe can respect the board a little more because they have former players involved in the game.”
Zimbabwe’s chances of making an impact at the World Cup rest on a handful of players living up to their recent promise.

Brendan Taylor, who scored 145 not out against South Africa in October, has emerged as an opening batsman of genuine quality, Elton Chigumbura is a powerful middle-order hitter, while spin trio Ray Price, Prospero Utseya and Graeme Cremer could be a force on the slow, subcontinent wickets in the World Cup.
“There’s a lot of talent here,” says Grant Flower, whose brother Andy is England’s team director. “The one thing the guys do have to develop and work on is playing under pressure. That will only come from experience. A lot of the guys do fall down when it comes to executing their skills under pressure at international level.
“But a lot of them have quite a bit of experience of international cricket now so I think they can do well at the World Cup.

“There’s more money in the game that’s being used in a better fashion so I think there’s a lot of promise for the future. Hopefully when we start our Test programme against Bangladesh the guys will put on a strong performance and show people we can play Test cricket again.”
Zimbabwe could not have asked for a stiffer test than their opener against Australia, winners of the last three World Cups.

But Gillespie is not ruling out Zimbabwe pulling off a shock to rank alongside the one in 1983, when a side captained by former England coach Duncan Fletcher stunned the Aussies on the opening day of the tournament.
“It’s going to be an incredibly tough game, but they have beaten Australia a couple of times in last few years, so never say never,” he says. “Out of the minnow nations they are probably the strongest team and I think they could cause a couple of surprises in this World Cup.”
In the long-term, Olonga believes the involvement of so many Test veterans in Zimbabwean cricket will improve performances, but thinks it will be some time before his former side can once again make waves in the five-day format of the game.

“The standard is very high and I think Zimbabwe will find it tough, but they will improve with time,” he comments.
“Once we can start bowling sides out, then we can start winning Test matches. But it took us a long time to be competitive as a Test nation.
“Even with players of the quality of Murray Goodwin, Andy Flower and Heath Streak, we still used to get creamed a lot of the time.
“There is nowhere to hide in Test cricket but this team is definitely better than the team that took over from Heath Streak and his rebels in 2004. They have certainly improved, but by how much I don’t know.” - [BBC]

 

Do England have character to lift themselves?

By Jonathan Agnew
I will be surprised if England plays as poorly as they did in their six-wicket win over the Netherlands again.
I do not think it is possible for them to field as badly as that for two matches in succession.
Captain Andrew Strauss and his men know where they went wrong, they were off the boil to a worrying extent with basic errors such as two fielders leaving a catch to fall to the ground - and then three men outside the circle, why on earth no one picked up on that I have no idea.
The argument about scheduling is irrelevant because they are here now and there will never be another year with an Ashes series followed by a World Cup. But they flew all the way out to Bangladesh, which was a 12-hour journey, and are now off again to Bangalore, which may not seem far but requires two flights - it is relentless.
The question is do they have the character to lift themselves?
Everyone knew the Netherlands can play and have one or two players who can compete at the highest level but people were not expecting England to be so poor.
It will be interesting to see whether Strauss’s side can pick themselves up, whether this is a team that is simply exhausted or whether they can make one last big effort. The skipper does not seem like a beaten man, I spoke to him before the match and he talked very positively.
I would like to see Michael Yardy in the team, he and Graeme Swann bowled very well in tandem when England won the 2010 World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, when they looked like a very good one-day unit.
Paul Collingwood does a decent job as a sixth bowler but for him to be one of the main five, it leaves nowhere to go and it only takes one of them to have a bad day as James Anderson did here and you have major problems.
I do not think Collingwood will be dropped so that would mean leaving out Ravi Bopara, which is harsh because he actually played very nicely in this match and that six when he took on long-off was of the highest order, but five main bowlers are needed.
One thing I do not think we will see is tinkering to suit the opposition, they will want to get a settled team and get some momentum going.
Strauss was as culpable as anyone when he looped a catch straight to the fielder when the job was nowhere near completed. Jonathan Trott, who was stumped off a wide down the leg side, and Kevin Pietersen, who got himself in and got out, were both sloppy.
England now faces the toughest of challenges on Sunday against India, who are rightly one of the favourites to win the tournament, and I hope we see more energy.
It is going to be very hostile, very intimidating. There will be a handful of Brits supporting them in Bangalore but England are going to have Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and a very good India team coming hard at them in front of very noisy supporters.
If Strauss and his men put in another performance in the field as they did here they are going to be ridiculed. It will be a huge test of character.
England is going to need a much more disciplined and focused performance if they are going to beat India in such formidable conditions.
A lot of the players will have very recent memories of being roasted by the Indians, they were absolutely destroyed 5-0 on the last tour and would have lost the series 7-0 had it not been for the Mumbai attacks in late 2008.
The way the tournament is structured it is not the end of the world if they lose to India, but what they have got to do is ensure they don’t lose to teams like Ireland. - [BBC]