Like people, technology is also fallible: Simon Taufel

“It may have been more helpful for the game itself to drive what technology is used, rather than the broadcasters doing it.” © Getty
Known to get 96.5 per cent of his decisions right at the peak of his career, Australian Simon Taufel won the ICC’s Umpire of the Year award for five consecutive years. Taufel, who was in the city last week, spoke at length to TOI about the challenges being faced by umpires with more and more technology coming in.

Excerpts from an interview…

Do you advocate the use of technology?

Technology should be there to support improved decision making, not replace the decision-making responsibility and role of the umpire. There should be a balance of technology in the game, where we do not see an overreliance on technology and remove the human element because just like people, technology is also fallible at times.

Do you agree that cricket has already embraced too much technology?

It may have been more helpful for the game itself to drive what technology is used, rather than the broadcasters doing it. The technology that we see on television is paid for by the host broadcasters, who also have total control over it. Ideally, the ICC could have invested in developing technology to meet the game’s specific needs. We must also accept the fact that we not going to achieve 100 per cent accuracy.

Which are the areas where technology can help cut down on errors?

The two most challenging appeals to judge accurately are the caught-behind down the leg-side and the batpad offerings. Leg-before decisions are easier to judge because the umpire is the best-placed person in the whole stadium to assess whether the batsman is out or not. Sometimes technology fails to provide conclusive evidence when the batsman is a long way down the pitch.

Just about everything is now being referred to the third umpire…

It is a disturbing trend. Part of the umpire’s role is to use technology responsibly and only use it when they need to. Overuse or underuse is not right. We should be encouraging and supporting umpires to make decisions where they can back themselves.

Does the ball touching the grass between a fielder’s fingers constitute a ‘clean’ catch?

The laws talk about the ball being held by the fielder before it touches the ground. They remain unchanged. But any cricket series between two nations is governed by “playing conditions”. The umpires have to go by that. So if the fielder has his fingers under the ball and has it in control, the umpires will give the batsman out. This explains Virat Kohli’s dismissal in the Perth Test.

Why is it mandatory for on-field umpires to convey their decision through a soft signal – about which they are not sure anyway – to the third umpire?

The soft signal is necessary because in some cases the evidence produced by the camera angles is not conclusive or available. Unless the third umpire has conclusive evidence at his disposal, it is not right to overturn the decision of the on-field umpire. The primary responsibility for making an initial decision on a fair catch remains with the bowler’s end umpire – just like an LBW decision.

How can we prevent time wastage?

I would advocate the introduction of specialist third umpires. We know that when you keep doing a particular task or role, you become better, faster. Improving the quality and performance of a smaller group of less than 10 is far more achievable than a group of around 50. Specialist third umpires would speed the game up as they would be more time efficient in the review and decision-making process.

Batsmen’s fate are often decided by ‘umpire’s call’ on LBW appeals, so is it fair for on-field umpires to stick to their original decisions even when they were not sure about it in the first place?

That is an assumption. An LBW decision is based upon the opinion of the umpire that the ball would have gone on to hit the wicket. That is for them to decide based on the facts in front of them at the time. From my personal experience it always pays to back your first impression, to follow your gut feeling, even if you have only a split second to make your decision. When you start second-guessing yourself, errors occur.

Why have on-field umpires stopped monitoring no-balls?

Again, that is an assumption. I’m confident umpires are still monitoring the front foot of the bowlers and calling when they see them overstepping. The current playing conditions have created an environment where it is a higher percentage call to let a close foot landing go, and not call it a no-ball, and then if a wicket falls, to go upstairs and have it checked.

Isn’t the ball-tracking technology still an area of concern? The 2.5m rule (point of impact) seems absurd…

I’m not sure it is helpful when the there is a broadcasted image of a ball predictive path that has been deemed not accurate enough to make decisions. What is the point? It only creates uncertainty and debate.

What are the changes you would like to see in order to make umpiring in cricket more effective and efficient?

I’d like to see a continued and improved effort by the governing bodies to invest in the resourced training and coaching of match officials. The playing side of the game receives so much support and investment. It would be worthwhile to see the ‘third team’ in the match have a similar focus.