Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's just not croquet

Gee I miss Peter Roebuck. 

Not personally of course.  For those of you scratching your heads, he was an Australian cricket analyst of English extraction who flung himself to his death out the window of his hotel room in South Africa a month or two ago after he was questioned by the police regarding an allegation of sexual assault.  A sad story - and who knows what really happened?  Not me, that's for sure, but he was a great cricket writer and for that I miss him.  He tended to write sprawling articles reflecting on the events of the day and how they may enlighten us to the struggle inside the players' heads, and thus inside our own.

After the annual Christmas gulag I've finally allowed myself to relax enough to sit back on the couch and listen to the Oz summer of cricket on ABC's Grandstand.  The Hatchling seems a bit bemused by it all but she applauds along with the crowd whenever there's a dismissal.  She keeps me busy enough that I miss a fair bit of the action, so I have to check the scoresheet online once she's gone to bed. 

And in the morning, I get up and look at the Sydney Morning Herald website to see what Peter Roebuck made of the day's play.  But he's dead.

I would have liked his opinion on the latest shenanigans involving the Decision Review System, which has been blocked by the Indian voting bloc and would have avoided a couple of howlers by the umpires already in this Test, versus, ironically, (or is this just Alanis irony) India.  There has been some interesting discussion on the radio about it but I feel like everyone so far is missing the big picture, and perhaps Mr Roebuck would have been able to sit back and ponder the big issues to my satisfaction.

I feel that everyone is obsessed on the idea of "getting it right".  We have the technology to find out what really happened so we should use it to ensure that the game reflects as accurately as possible the "true" battle between the two teams without the shadow of the umpires eclipsing the brilliance of the performances. For example, they are shocked at the idea that in one country the DRS might have 150-fps cameras whilst in another only 30-fps cameras.  This inequity cannot stand, they cry.

And if this was medicine, I'd agree with them.  It's important to get medicine right.  Or stopping an airplance falling out of the sky.  That's important too.  Or even designing a voting system for the Americans so the less adept of them can actually vote for the person they intend to.  Those things matter.  But cricket is - gasp! - a game.

I'm pretty sure that cricket players would scoff if the ballroom dancing fraternity insisted on using high-speed infrared cameras to figure out who had the "best" tango.  They would point out, I am sure, that in cricket there are rules that clearly define the circumstances of whether someone is in or out, and we should strive to use all the investigations at our command to ensure the game follows its natural course.  They would say that ballroom dancing is subjective and that the judge's decision are interpretive, whereas cricket is all about hard facts and numbers and is thus amenable to technological intervention.  To which I would reply that to a man with a hammer every problem resembles a nail.

My opinion on the matter is that this is a game, a.k.a. a sport, and human error is what it's all about, for the umpires no less than the players.  Variations in umpiring from country to country, from game to game, or from day to day have as much relevance as the weather, which is to say that they are hugely important and help to make the game as interesting as it is.  High-speed cameras and remote bowler-assassinating drones are all well and good for spicing up the viewing experience for the audience.  But please, please, leave them out of the game itself before it gets sterilized and vaccuum-packed, like every other part of Western culture.

Vale Peter Roebuck.

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