Day Zero: The Karl Liebenberg Incident

Richard Illingworth is – going by recent media articles – right up there with Sauron, Hans Gruber, Darth Vader, and the Wicked Witch of the West. Evil personified. If you’re a Kiwi.

If you’re Adam Voges he’s the equivalent of a rainbow-pooping unicorn that pisses out doughnuts and bacon.

Who would want to umpire right now? You’ve got less than a second to look down, judge whether a bowler landed behind the line and then slid over, or landed over, and make a call accordingly.

Then you must look up and adjudicate on whether or not more than half the ball pitched in line with the stumps, and then judge the speed and bounce of a pitch in conjunction with the height of a batsman and where he has taken guard. Then you have to make a decision on whether or not he is out.

Or, look up and judge whether it was bat first then pad, or pad then bat, or bat then ground then fielder’s hands, or pad then bat then shoe then bowler’s hands.
It’s tiring just reading that.

Now do that 540 times over the course of eight hours.

Then you have to deal with a zillion TV cameras and super slow-motion footage, heat-tracking technology and amplified microphones picking up things you couldn’t possibly notice in real-time.

Again I ask, who in the flip would want to umpire?

I blame Karl Liebenberg. He started it.

It was 1992. Kingsmead, Durban. South Africa were hosting India.

A 19-year-old Sachin Tendulkar had made his way to 11. He dabbed a ball into the offside and set off. His partner – wisely – turned him back, and the Little Master did his level best to make his ground.

Jonty Rhodes did what he did best, running around from point, gathering on the run and in the same motion throwing the ball to Andrew Hudson.

Hudson gathered the ball down low, broke the stumps, and the Proteas appealed.

At square leg, Cyril Mitchley couldn’t be sure. So upstairs he went. Liebenberg slowed down the footage. Studied it. Found in no uncertain terms that Sachin was short of his ground.

And so it was, that he flashed the green light to send Tendulkar on his way.

Back in ‘ye good olde days’ green meant out, and red meant in. Crazy times.

I doubt Karl knew what he had started.

After all, in 1992, it was no doubt a great excitement that 50-50 calls could be determined to be either out or not out more accurately.

However, the pull of increased technology against the pull of tradition is now a big issue. Endless replays, rules that were created without technology being available now seemingly ‘wrong’ or ‘obsolete’, pressure for the right call to be made 100 per cent of the time.

And the umpires? Caught in the middle. Damned if they make a decision, damned if they don’t. Perhaps we should do the humane thing and remove them completely. Let the broadcasters do the work.

Might make things simpler?

About Sam Laffy

Thirty-something year-old Essendon supporter. Winning the flag in 2000 when I was 12 was supposed to kick off a dynasty I could boast about for years. Still waiting for that 17th flag.....

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