Simon and the Spirit of Cricket

STIntroduction

Simon Taufel delivered the thirteenth MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture this week.

There is a YouTube recording (divided into six segments) and a transcript of the talk. These have been compiled on the Lord’s website here.

I have watched Simon’s career with great interest from his first ODI (in 1999), when he was twenty-eight years old and younger than a number of players on the field that day (Australia v Sri Lanka at Sydney), to his appointment as the ICC’s Umpire Performance and Training Manager.

I think the Lecture is compelling listening.

The Lecture

Here are some extracts from the lecture.

On Humility

One of the key qualities an umpire must possess is humility – the ability to know and accept the role that we play within the game and ensure that we create the right environment for the players to perform and express their talents. Yes, we have an important role but it’s not the most important. It is, after all, a player’s game and always should be.

On Respect

… it is vital that some things remain constant…they being the values of respect, the basis of fair play and a balanced contest between bat and ball.

On Technology

In today’s cricket, the use of technology has shown how difficult the job of an umpire is. In most TV broadcasts, there are around 32 cameras to capture the action of a ball being bowled at around 145km/hr, the batsmen speeding between wickets and fielders catching the ball close to the turf or trying to slide and prevent boundaries up to 80 meters away.

The invasive nature of this broadcasting has a double edge to it – it does put more pressure on players and umpires. Not too much now happens on a cricket field that is not captured by a camera, a microphone or piece of technology. This has the ability to bring out the best in the game and also the worst.

On Umpires

Umpires are a unique breed of individual, we think differently – the job demands it as we have to deal with the facts and not the emotions. I’m not staying that we are strange, some might say so based on standing in the hot sun for over six hours a day, absorbing the pressure, being booed when we come off for bad light and having to concentrate over long periods of time. We do think differently. Whenever we look at a situation like weather, ground conditions, player behaviour, an appeal for example, we have to consider what the Law says and apply it in a fair / unbiased, accurate and consistent way. Remember, umpires don’t care which team wins the game!

On Umpiring Performance

  • 2010/11 – 2745 appeals answered with a CD% average of 93.79% (umpires ranged from 97.29% to 91.6%)
  • 2011/12 – 2597 appeals answered with a CD% average of 95.05% (umpires ranged from 97.49% to 91.14%)
  • 2012/13 – 2956 appeals were answered with a CD% average of 94% (umpires ranged from 96.39% to 90.63%)

Discussion

I thought Simon’s talk was outstanding.

I tend to write a lot about play and integrity in this blog. I like the idea that there is a spirit within a game and in play.

I am nervous about the use of decision referral systems in sport. We have moved from the discussion of the technology as a strategic approach to officiating to concerns about accuracy. My feeling for over two decades has been that the use of replays within an event changes our relationship to that event. Cricket and tennis are re-presented to us with the gaps between action filled with immediate recall of the previous event.

Simon-Taufel-hopes-ICC-World-Cup-2011-final-would-be-remembered-for-quality-of-cricket-61041I noted this passage in Simon’s talk:

umpiring is not just about decision making. The danger is that we only assess or make judgments about an umpire or umpiring standards according to their correct decision percentage. Umpiring is much more than that – I would prefer to focus on preparation, match management, field craft (technique), communication, teamwork – an overall ability of an umpire to solve problems before they happen and create an environment of fairness for the players where they can play freely and show their skills. Correct decision making is important but for me it is a given, it should be there as a matter of fact. Only by exception should it be considered as an area to analyze and critique. For me, if you excel in preparation, match management, focus, teamwork and mental strength, the decision making will take care of itself.

I am concerned that all this remarkable preparation and application is threatened by digital remembering and unforgiving. The availability of referral systems that show inconclusive between frames and fields images or the conjecture about the slightest trace of a possible hot spot disturbs me.

I am very naive in believing passionately that the spirit of any game is the responsibility of all its participants. When we play games we should accept the voluntary assumption of risk that is inherent when we start the game with a toss of the coin. This risk involves things going wrong as well as right.

In his lecture, Simon observed:

No matter what system of technology review / referral we implement in our game, it will not be perfect or 100%. The all-human solution is not 100%, neither is the DRS and neither will be an “all appeals” review system. There are trade offs and compromises with every system adopted. It all depends how the majority believe our game should be played underpinned with the values we want to promote and preserve (the Spirit of Cricket).

I do think that values are the key to the whole discussion. This week, the publication of a report on the practice of sports science in Australia has raised the question of a “win at any cost” mentality. Stuart O’Grady’s announcement that he had used performance-enhancing drugs in the 1998 Tour de France has animated this discussion even more.

Cricket umpiring has a bright future under Simon’s guidance. His lecture is a great opportunity to reflect on the play spirit inside each of us.

Photo Credits

Frame Grab Spirit of Cricket Lecture

Simon Taufel

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