THE GAA is at the technological crossroads. Do we continue to rely on the referee and officials and accept the frequent and inevitable errors as part of growing up. Or do we embrace it? The debate is an interesting one.
The recent Ashes series provided a fascinating insight into the benefit of umpiring technology. When the various aids were introduced, the majority of cricket folk almost choked on their cucumber sandwiches.
Cricket is, after all, the bastion of Olde Englande. A world where ladies from Yorkshire send their rhubarb tarts to the BBC’s cricket commentary team. Where veteran broadcasters tell us ‘live’ on air that Marjorie’s Devon Cake is scrumptious, while wiping the crumbs from their lips: “The old girl really has surpassed herself with this fruit loaf!”
When I was at Trinity, I was the lone GAA member of the all-powerful Sports Committee. Cricket and rowing were the super-powers. I adopted a simple tactic. Whenever Jeremy proposed that the boat club needed the next generation fibreglass coxed boat costing £50,000, I would immediately second it, exclaiming loudly that it sounded like very good value. This way, when it came to the £200 needed for six O’Neill’s balls, it was nodded through without a word.
On one occasion, an architect came to give a presentation on how the Cricket Pavilion could be re-modelled to permit a better view of the opening batsman walking to the crease. The debate was reverential, as the committee oohed and aahed and said things like ‘bloody marvellous’ and ‘here here.’ I felt like a Tory backbencher as I joined in with a few huzzahs, glancing at the chaps either side of me and nodding furiously in approval. It worked.
World of ‘Pims’
A week later, we had IR£300 punts for our trip to play Queen’s at The Dub. IR£200 for the bus. IR£100 for 30 two-litre bottles of Olde Englishe cider. For me it was a glimpse into a different world, of Pims, double-barrelled surnames, two-seater sports cars and an adherence to simple, traditional values. Yet when the opportunity to create a fairer game presented itself, the cricket authorities chanced it.
A few years on and the doubters are silent. This is because the video referee, ‘Hawkeye’ and referral system virtually guarantee fairness, which is, after all, the epitome of sport. English batsman Alastair Cook emerged from the recent Test Series in Australia with an astounding average of 127 runs. Had these technologies not been in place, several errors would have remained uncorrected and his average would have been reduced to just over 70, which in turn might have had a significant effect on the outcome of the Series.
More than that, it would have created simmering grievance, like say the sort of deep upset felt by Louth people which will probably never go away. Of the many countless examples thrown up in Australia, I pick one. Cook, facing the Aussie spin bowler Beer, touched the ball to his right. The fielder dived forwards, caught it two-handed and celebrated wildly with his team-mates. Cook refused to budge, telling the umpire that the ball had bounced before it was caught. The English asked for a referral to the third umpire. He watched the video. Sure enough, the ball had bounced. Turns out Beer had simply chanced his arm, putting in an Oscar-winning performance so convincing that the crowd had immediately booed when the Englishman refused to walk.
Cook went on to strike 178 game winning runs.
Another thing that I experienced as the Series advanced was the pleasure and excitement felt when the decision was being checked by the third umpire. It is a drama in itself. In cricket, each team can ask the umpires to refer two contentious decisions to the third umpire. Therefore, it is vital these are used wisely. In the fourth test, the Australians thought that English batsman, Kevin Pieterson, might have touched the ball with his bat and should, therefore, be given out. As their captain Ricky Ponting debated with his players whether to refer it, Pieterson was overheard to say to his batting colleague “I definitely nicked it.” Immediately, Ponting went to the umpire and the ‘Not Out’ decision was referred. The big screen immediately showed that the batsman had’nt touched the ball with his bat at all. In fact, it was a mile away!
What actually happened was that it rustled past his shirt. Ponting had been had. Pieterson had conned him into making the referral. The Australian skipper was enraged, complaining so bitterly to the umpire that he was later docked half his match fee. Later, the incident was dissected minutely in all the papers. The TV showed endless re-runs of it. What drama! What fun!
Another interesting statistic from the five match series clinches the point. Normally, prior to the introduction of the technology, umpiring accuracy was in and around 70 per cent. For the recent Series, umpiring accuracy (with the aids) was over 98%!
Enough to make a Louth man weep . . . .