21 July 2009

Armchair umpires and perfidious Albion

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Australia lost 20 wickets and the second Test at Lords in North London earlier this week. They had previously narrowly failed to get the 20 wickets they needed for victory in the first Test at Cardiff, when England ran out the clock on them.

The Ashes are a wonderful full bottle contest between two nations battling for sporting supremacy in a long fought over tradition of rivalry. For most Australian males this is the pinnacle of the game. And we care. Deeply. It hurts to lose.

It's a pity however that the people who run the game of cricket don't have a similar feeling for the importance of this contest. Australia had to be bowled out twice for England to win this game. And they were. 20 Australian wickets fell and England won by a little over 100 runs.

But....at least 4 of the Australian batsmen who the officials ruled out in this match, have been shown by television replays to have been wrongfully given out. That's the rub of the green and it happens in most matches, one way or another, but there is an edge to it this time.

During the first innings of this match an English batsmen was given the benefit of the doubt on a catch when referred to a TV replay, and the Australian captain was abused by the English press for questioning a referral system that doubted the word of a fielder that a catch had carried to him. That's what sporting captains have to expect I'm afraid. But the spectacular hypocrisy of the English press when, in the second innings, an Australian opener had a dubious catch to the English captain ruled out, with no referral to the TV umpire, cannot pass with the same sang froid. If it's OK for Australian Nathan Hauritz's word about whether a catch carried to be ignored and referred to the TV umpire in the first innings, then, it's OK for Englishman Strauss to have his word challenged on the same issue in the second. For Rudi Koetzen and Billy Doctrove, the two on field umpires, not to refer that second innings decision on Hughes and Strauss to the TV umpire is amazing, after what was said about the Hauritz incident in the first innings. Let's be clear about this. The patronising English media gave Ponting a right bollocking for daring to suggest that an Australian fielder's word should be honoured about whether a catch had carried. But this same ridicule doesn't apply to an English fielder (even if he is an imported South African).

We've now seen the TV replay It's clear that, whatever the English captain might have believed at the time, he did not catch Philip Hughes' snick. The ball clearly hit the grass first. Hughes was not out. And this is what makes the other wrong decisions of the umpires in this game so much more galling. Katich was given out off a Flintoff no-ball. Hussey missed the ball completely but was given out caught at slip to Swann. And Ponting's alleged catching dismissal in the first innings was a travesty. It was referred to the TV umpire, who clearly saw that Ponting had not hit the ball as it had only deflected off his pads. But, even though the laws of cricket expressly require a TV umpire to inform the on field umpires if a batsman has not hit the ball, the TV umpire failed to tell the on-field umpires of this salient fact.

The TV umpire's stated reason for this manifest failing was that he thought he was not entitled to tell the on-field umpires anything other than whether the ball had carried to the fielder. This error has occurred at the very highest levels of international cricket by a paid professional whose sole job it is to rule on such referrals. And he still managed to get this one rule 180 degrees wrong!

Darryl Hair was sacked as an umpire for enforcing the laws of cricket over chucking and ball tampering. The umpiring buffoon in this match who doesn't even know one of the tiny handful rules he is required to rule on, will continue to get paid.

And as any Australian male will tell you, the irony is that come October 2009, after the current Ashes series, international cricket will adopt the successful experiment of Tennis in allowing a team a couple of uncontested successful TV replay challenges to umpire's verdicts. That clearly would have been useful in 4 of Australia's 20 dismissals in this game.

There are still 3 matches to be played in this series. Watch out England. Australia feel justificably aggreived by England's boorish triumphalism over this minor victory. The umpires cannot continue to give appalling verdicts to only one team. England will be crushed now. Only the English climate can save them, and we keep being told by the BBC that that is changing.

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