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March 7, 2005 | by  | in News |
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Opinion: Sport:The month of March, John Mitchell and sparing a thought for umpires.

March: The best month of the year for any keen Kiwi sports fan. If cricket and rugby are sports that really get you through the hardest day at work or study, as they do for many then March provides a variety of heaven on Earth. Just when you couldn’t get more attracted and excited with the visit from those evil but extremely talented cricketers from Aussie, then the rugby powers that be throw us a glorious thing called the Super 12 (for one last year) during our summer.

The Warriors are back for more this month in the perennially competitive and tough National Rugby League season. Throw into the mix all the fanfare and anticipation surrounding the beginning of a new Formula One circus and you’ve got it made. Don’t you love it! All those days when you should be studying or looking for work you can’t because you MUST watch the first day of the Test match and the weekends are a no-brainer. Of course, many students don’t have Sky which is a problem for the rugger but that’s what friends are for and there’s always Eastside and its cheap jugs for FNF (or Friday Night Football for those silent types!). Besides, nobody at this institution sits an exam in March…

There was a major stink on both sides of the Tasman over the appointment of the coach for the new Perth Super 14 rugby franchise due to enter the new series next year. Why? Rugby WA wants the best person for the job like any commercial organisation. They opened the market to anyone willing to apply. Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell was one of those. His resume and skills stand him heads and shoulders above all other candidates. He gets the job and the Perth franchise parade their prized acquisition. End of story. Yet for some reason Kiwis and Aussies alike grizzle about it. In my opinion, it’s all petty points scoring and quite sad. Rugby is a global and open business for coaches too and the demand in places like England for high quality coaches from New Zealand is massive. The money these clubs can offer outstrips what out Rugby Union can provide and there are also more opportunities available outside this country. There is no difference between Mitchell accepting a contract with Perth or going back to England and coaching a club team there. Our critics are just pouting because they can’t manage to praise the man for his opportunism after losing the last World Cup and fighting back. Also, we can’t tolerate the prospect of one of ‘ours’ coaching a bunch of Aussie players. It seems we have short memories because didn’t New Zealand Cricket take the then unthinkable step of appointing an Aussie coach of our national men’s team? The controversy surrounding that decision died down when we starting turning our performances round and starting winning test matches again. Of course, I will not be cheering for the new Perth team but we should wish Mitchell all the best for this huge new challenge. New Zealand rugby fans will be hoping he needs it…

It’s tougher then ever for international cricket umpires. The dual initiatives by the International Cricket Council to have neutral umpires for all Test matches and a select panel to control these matches has meant only eight umpires from around the world during any one year can fulfil their dream and officiate at Test level. A similar larger panel exists for one day internationals. In other words, the available pool is large and the opportunities are few these days. Advancing technology has also dealt these people a killer blow. The more ambitious media has greater tools to expose any mistakes the ‘umps’ make during big matches. Of course, umpires have always made mistakes but they were rarely previously found out. Finally the ICC has accepted the place of technology in decisions and permits the umpires to seek a 2nd opinion from someone watching TV in the stands. The TV official is allowed to rule on decisions ranging from run outs to judging the merits of a catch. This all devalues the on field umpires authority and ability to make correct decisions. It is time international cricket started asking the tough questions. Do we need umpires anymore? Can they do their job burdened by technology’s influence? My belief is that cricket will one day soon have to either get rid of on field umpires for good and replace them with computer programs and marshals to monitor behaviour or go back to pre-TV replay days. We managed to get by before 1993 without to many damaging hiccups so why not. I’m not sure which I prefer because technology is here to stay and I do want to see correct decisions been made but the current situation is an unsatisfactory compromise that damages the game and umpires standing within it. For once I feel sorry for the men in the middle…

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