Adelaide: Umpiring controversies are mounting day by day and umpires are under big pressue nowadays. It is in this scenario that ICC is planning to embrace greater use of technology in the belief that it will quell further on-field controversies of the type that bedevilled India and Australia in the Sydney test.
ICC president David Morgan revealed that he will support an urgent experiment with referral system at Test level. The system, first proposed by the former England coach Duncan Fletcher, allows both the batting and fielding side a limited number of appeals per innings against contentious decisions, an experiment which was rejected when trialled at one-day level in English county cricket.
Morgan is also determined that the Spirit of Cricket, championed by the late Sir Colin Cowdrey and formalised as a preamble to the Laws in 2000, should be upheld and not dismissed as an intangible and anachronistic concept. "The Spirit of Cricket should not be redrafted, it should be reaffirmed," he said. "The Cowdrey legacy is still very much alive. After the Sydney Test the ICC brought in the senior match referee, Ranjan Madugalle, to restate that the game must be played in the proper spirit. I think we have seen the positive effects of that in Perth."
Arguments had raged before the Perth Test, not only about a three-Test ban for alleged racist remarks for the Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh but also whether Australia's abrasive style of play had gone beyond the boundaries of acceptability. The issue was explosive enough for Morgan, who takes up his two-year post in June, to have an emergency briefing with the ICC chief executive, Malcolm Speed.
Australia made a notable effort to clean up their act at the WACA but their record-equalling sequence of 16 successive Test victories ended when India won by 72 runs to keep the series alive at 2-1 down with one to play. The Spirit of Cricket is essentially about respecting the game, umpires and opponents and leaves the captain chiefly, but not solely, responsible for his team's actions. It says players must compete not only within the letter of the law but within its spirit, desisting from cheating, abusive language and sharp practice.
Its weakness is that, championed by MCC and Cowdrey, it is perceived by some as an irrelevant contribution by an English elite that no longer controls the game. The ICC has shown no appetite to explain and implant the philosophy across the world game in a manner that all international nations can identify with. Many now lament a decline in sportsmanship at all levels of the game.
"I don't think fielders are ever going to be silent and nor would I expect them to be," Morgan said. "We all want to see a vibrant and competitive game. People are always going to have things to say in a competitive situation but they need not compromise the spirit of sportsmanship."
Morgan says that an extension of new technology will communicate fairness at international level and therefore remove much ill feeling. He believes the improved behaviour that follows will automatically trickle down to lower levels. It is a view not universally accepted, with opponents contending that an increased emphasis on technological aids will further undermine the status of the on-field umpires.
"It is a nonsense that those watching on TV are in a better position than the umpires," Morgan said. "There is no doubt that in some areas you need it. We have to do something to make umpiring safer. Let's find a way of embracing technology in a way that doesn't slow the game down and doesn't diminish the authority and the standing of the on-field umpire."
Australia voted against an extension of new technology last year in a 5-5 vote by the chairmen of the ICC's full member countries. Their position may now shift after the many umpiring errors during the inflamed contest in Sydney. Any resolution to adopt the referral system would need a two-thirds majority and the matter will be raised at a March meeting of the ICC executive board.
MCC's world cricket committee discussed the quandary over technology in October. It has no official status but its recommendation to the ICC that the system of player appeals should be further trialled has been seriously received.
The first ICC trial was a failure, shunned by players and umpires in a series of one-day matches on the English county circuit. "In hindsight it was a mistake to trial it at a lower level," Morgan said. "It's my belief that we need to trial it in Test cricket, where the pressures are greatest."
MCC has offered financial support over the trial period to ensure that the best technology is available. A further MCC recommendation is also likely to be adopted. The world cricket committee concluded that Hawk-Eye should be used to assist with lbw decisions but only after independent testing and only up to the point of impact with the pad.