Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Umpires and the middle-management paradox

Another cricket post - there doesn't seem to be anything else that's too interesting happening, at least not in my life...

There's been a lot of talk of late about using more technology to assist umpires in making decisions about dismissals. Amit Varma, for example, talks about using Hawkeye to help umpires decide on LBWs:

The predictive technology behind Hawk-Eye is similar to that used in
missile-guidance systems and instrument guidance for brain surgeons – it’s
designed for extreme accuracy... Experts of the game implicitly acknowledge this
by turning to Hawk-Eye whenever lbw decisions need to be evaluated... What we
see on television is a just a graphical representation of Hawk-Eye, and
Hawk-Eye’s decision would actually be delivered within a second or two to the
umpire, via a handheld device: out or not out, pitching outside leg or on line,
and so on. At the click of a button, umpires would save themselves much

While this sounds good - it would take only about as much time as Steve Bucknor normally does anyway - it would open up a peculiar problem: would the umpire be allowed to over-rule Hawk-Eye? I don't think too many umpires would have the guts to go against the technology, because that would be an open invitation for criticism, so either by law or by convention, Hawk-Eye's decision would be final.

But that brings us to a bit of a paradox, which would be as follows:

The technology would be too expensive and would require too much technical support (maintenance, calibration, what-have-you) to be implemented at many levels below international cricket - I'd say even first-class cricket would not have it for at least the next 5 years - which means that the umpires' word would be final. Now, umpires for international cricket would have risen from grade cricket (hopefully) on the basis of their being able to make the right decision as often as possible. However, as they move up the hierarchy, those very skills that got them on that path would actually become less important (thanks to technology) - similar to what happens when people start moving up the ladder into middle management in your average corporate entity. Instead, again like middle-managers, their main role might just be to get out of the way as far as possible, and use their 'soft skills' to calm things down when they go awry.

It could get worse though - if skills aren't rewarded adequately closer to the top, those with the skills might not be interested in taking up the job, and you could end up with whoever is best at sucking up to the Powers That Be, never mind if they get bureaucratic and throw their weight around with the players. In other words, going by the evidence from the corporate world, the Pointy-Haired Umpire could be on his way.

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