Saturday, July 26, 2008

Need for Review of the Review System

I am writing this almost immediately after the loss of Virender Sehwag to the review system that is being tested for the first time in the presently underway test series between Sri Lanka and India and from what little I have seen today, I am convinced that cricket must not embrace the sytem, at least not in its present form. Under the current system, from what I understand, the final decision lies with the on-field umpire on the basis of the information supplied by the third umpire. Although, the Sehwag dismissal probably arose out of a human error by the third umpire and not merely out of a technological mishap, I am still of the opinion that the review system as is being applied in the India-Sri Lanka test series has no place in cricket.

A decision on an appeal for leg before wicket for instance can be made best only by the umpire at the bowlers end. The on-field umpire is in by far the best position to determine whether the ball pitched outside the line of the leg stump, whether the ball hit the pads on line with the stumps, and finally whether the ball was going on to crash into the woodwork. Moreover, whilst the review system utilizes hawk eye, other technological aids such as the snickometer and hot spot are not being used as they have not been adequately tested. This is therefore, an admission that hawk eye is foolproof, which is ludicrous considering the number of occasions in the past where hawk eye has been blatantly wrong, just as it was with the Sehwag decision today. The ball had evidently pitched outside the line of leg stump and yet hawk eye was of the opinion that it substantially pitched inside the line and presumably Rudi Koertzen, the third umpire conveyed this information to Mark Benson, the on-field umpire, who in turn on the said basis ruled Sehwag out. Traditions, such as the entitlement of a batsman to the benefit of any doubt, was almost entirely ignored by the umpires because hawk eye told them that the ball pitched in line and that the ball hit the pads in line of the stumps.

The review system, according to the ICC is in place to eliminate obvious errors. Whilst this is indeed a noble objective, the form of the system as is in place presently seems to contribute very little to the goal. The Sehwag dismissal for instance was actually a case of obvious error being created by technology as opposed to being committed by the on-field umpire. I had mentioned in an earlier post that for instances of closely held catches, very often technological evidence is inconclusive and hence a referral must not be made in such circumstances. Similarly in the case of slight knicks, technology, in particular hawk eye is practically useless and if the ICC is not going to utilize the snickometer, there is no point in having the referral system as umpires often need to rely on the sound that is generated in determining a caught behind as invariably the slightest of deviations is not visible either to the eye of an on-field umpire or to the eyes of a third umpire watching through a television screen.

I am not doubting the objectives of the ICC nor the fact that technology can be useful in eradicating obvious errors, but the manner of operation of the referral system doesn’t quite appeal to me. In my opinion, as was pointed out by Geoffrey Boycott during the luncheon interval, for decisions such as an lbw, the on-field umpire must be allowed to have a proper communication with the third umpire and must be permitted to convey the exact nature of his doubts and the reasons why he had ruled either in favour of or against the batsman. Mark Benson in all probability ruled Sehwag not-out on the basis that the ball pitched outside the line of leg stump and since in any event the ball had come in contact first with the front foot which was outside the line of the leg stump. The third umpire Rudi Koertzen was evidently oblivious to Benson’s doubts and completely missed the fact that the ball brushed the front pad first before crashing into the back and thereby the referral system instead of eradicating an obvious error has caused the creation of an obvious error. Of course the system in its limited period of existence has already contributed towards the correction of certain errors by the umpires, but even still on the basis of the Sehwag case, I am of the opinion that the referral system in its current form requires a thorough review and that the ICC must refrain from using it in the same form in future tournaments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tour de Dope

As I was reading the news on Cadel Evans claiming the yellow jersey after the 10th stage of the Tour de France, I was wondering when the first allegation of drug abuse by Evans would surface, if it already hasn’t. The thought is no doubt quite pathetic, as Evans has probably performed admirably to win the honour of donning the yellow jersey, yet it is something that cannot but surface considering the present state of cycling as a sport. In my opinion, which I am sure most people would agree with, cycling has lost all its credibility; in particular after last year’s Tour de France which was ridden with doping scandals. Although Lance Armstrong, a seven time winner of the Tour de France has never been found guilty of consuming performance enhancing drugs, he has still had a host of doping allegations levied against him. There must surely be something wrong about a sport whose greatest champion has a multitude of cheating charges against him.

I am certain the Tour de France is a cracking contest and makes for enthralling viewing, not least for cycling enthusiasts. But a competition which is almost always subject to controversies that go to the very root of the performance of a participant, somehow fails to appeal to my interests. There are of course several arguments against my viewpoint, one of which is that cheating is prevalent in almost all sports. The question of how I can watch cricket, football or even tennis these days, with all the match fixing scandals is certainly valid. But somehow whilst cheating is perhaps prevalent in these sports, the overall impact that it has had on the sport doesn’t compare with what doping has done to cycling.

Even if Azharuddin is indeed guilty of match fixing, the beauty of his batting will never wear away in the minds of the viewers. But if a cyclist is found guilty of doping, however brilliant his performance was, the greatness of his very skills are put in doubt by the fact that he cheated. I am not too sure if my propositions are logically perfect, considering that I am more than a little confused about my whole standpoint. For instance, it might be argued that if cricket matches are in fact fixed, Azhar was able to bat so beautifully only because the bowlers bowled poorly on purpose. But I do believe that if cheating does exist in immense proportions in tennis, football and cricket, the data to corroborate the same is certainly inadequate. Whereas in a sport such as cycling, allegations of cheating are often in the forefront and this in my opinion is causing the erosion of the whole sport.

Doping and cycling somehow seem to go hand in hand and this leads to discrediting of the excellent performances of many clean cyclists in the eyes of cynics such as me. There is an urgent need for reforms within the sport if it wants to continue generating the kind of keen interest which it deserves. I am not entirely sure about the solutions to the crisis, as the problem as is evident to us is only the tip of the iceberg. There is apparently enough data to suggest that only a small percentage of cheats are being caught by the authorities. There is also however another interesting line of argument which suggests that ‘if you test, you find’ and that since cycling is the sport where the maximum amount of dope testing is carried forward, it contains the most number of offenders. Even if this is true, it doesn’t take away from the fact that a large number of cyclists are found guilty of doping every year, which does no good to the reputation of the sport. Authorities need to act fast to save the sport from declining further into the abyss of disgrace.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Time for a New #7

Sir Alex Ferguson has often deviated from the age old adage, ‘never change a winning team’ in his constant quest to rebuild the structure of the team in a manner that will contribute in the long run without as far as possible impeding the chances of immediate success of the team. But, the situation surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo is far more complex to handle than most issues that Ferguson has been plagued with in the past. Newspaper reports suggest on a daily basis that Sir Alex will go to any extent to keep Ronaldo at Manchester United in spite of the player being seemingly unwilling to stay at the club and Real Madrid’s insistent and immoral pursuit. Personally, as a Manchester United fan, I am of the firm belief that Ronaldo needs to be sold. It’s after all not everyday that a single player is going to fetch close to 150 Million Dollars. Of course many would argue that by retaining Ronaldo at the club for a few more years, United can make more than double of what that they stand to gain as transfer fee. Financially there are several permutations and combinations that come into play and it may well not suit Man United to let go of their cherished asset, but from a pure footballing standpoint, I don’t think there is any doubting the necessity to let go of Ronaldo.

Ronaldo certainly seems to lack commitment to the club and if not this season, he will most definitely want a move next summer or the one after that and retaining him will only lead to a great deal of discomfort amongst the other players. I have wanted to stay as far away as possible from this subject, considering that Ronaldo is a Man United player at the moment who has contributed immensely to the team’s successes in the recent past and since as long as he is a United player, I would want to back him to the hilt. But then again there is the cliché of no player being bigger than his club and Ronaldo’s behaviour for a while now seems to suggest that he believes he is bigger than Manchester United. When selling Beckham to Real Madrid, Ferguson referred explicitly to this old adage and no doubt it took time for United to rebuild, but that is exactly what they did. I just think what Ronaldo is doing at the moment is downright insulting and scornful. He is playing around with the hearts of all true Man United fans by constantly making statements about his dream of playing for Los Merengues. It would serve everyone at the club including its fans well, if he came out with a cut and dry statement of his intentions of playing for Real Madrid this coming season.

Retaining a disgruntled player, irrespective of who he may be, is not going to do the team any good whatsoever. Of course if Ronaldo offers a proper commitment to Man United, I would love for him to stay and one day be considered as a God of Stretford End. But the way things stand at the moment, it seems increasingly likely that his heart lies away from Old Trafford and the only solution to the problem is to sell him at the highest possible value and make use of the funds acquired to purchase a quality centre forward, a winger and cover at centre back and left back. It would be wonderful to see United add a bit of ‘Klass’ by signing Huntelaar from Ajax. From whatever little I have seen of him, he looks a composed finisher and seems to possess the required strength to lead the line effectively. Playing Rooney, Tevez and Nani in the form of a triangle behind Huntelaar would in my opinion have a sensational impact and can more than make up for the loss of Ronaldo. We are yet to witness the best of Rooney and playing him behind a good old-fashioned centre forward like Huntelaar will in my opinion, do him a world of good. The sale proceeds of Ronaldo could lead to a very interesting summer at United as Ferguson will strive to bring in a combination of talented players to Old Trafford. By making the right moves in the transfer market, United can ensure that they continue to win silverware after silverware.