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Soup of This Day #357: Good At Little League

January 24, 2014

Grant and Keynes
The painter Duncan Grant (L) faces his sometime lover, the economist John Maynard Keynes (R). Keynes once responded to negativity regarding changing his mind with a succinct:

‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’

It’s a good question – Photo: Unknown, 1913. Image cropped by Longworth72.

If you’re a politician it is often seen as a bad thing to be changing your mind. Apparently that sort of behaviour indicates instability and a certain weakness of the spirit. Instead of being characterised as a steady hand on the tiller of state, holding the honourable course, a political changeling is more likely to be viewed as an ideological traitor, an untrue believer even.

Imagine if we applied that standard to kids. They’d come home and tell us that they’d learned that a koala is not in fact a bear and we in turn would rule them out of ever being voted in to any role because just last week they’d sworn that a koala was a bear.

In politics that is called a flip-flop. In school it’s called learning.

I was 1 of those kids who thought a koala was a bear, mostly because it wasn’t a subject I dedicated much time to – There were no koalas in Beverley, Western Australia where I grew up. There are in fact no koalas anywhere in Western Australia, so I didn’t realise that the little buggers are actually marsupials until I was around 25 and I’d started dating a zoology student. She was horrified by my lack of knowledge but seemed to appreciate my flip-flop.

This to be fair though, was a fairly innocuous flip-flop with few possibilities for a resultant ideological conflict. I’ve had much more significant changes of mind.

Like around gay people for instance.

As I’ve written before, I used to use to spit out the term ‘gay’ as an insult on the sporting field. And I meant it back then – Gay people were, to my mind, weaker. I grew up though and learned that I had been wrong – Because who you love does not automatically make you something else.

Unless you love me so much that you marry me in spite of my ignorance regarding koalas.

Because then it makes you awesomely patient.

I’m not even sure my attitude towards gay people is a flip-flop. It’s more of a flip without the flop. I can say this because I’m not going back on this change – It is too rooted in a sense of fairness and decency – And people who are gay can’t change, it’s not a decision for them.

If I was looking for a something on which I had actually flipped and then flopped then what comes to mind is my feelings on the use of technology to adjudicate in sport.

It’s Australia Day and via the wonders of technology I’m simultaneously watching 2 games of cricket being played in this great southern land. The 1st of those, staged in Hobart, does not even have the capacity to show a replay to TV viewers, let alone to the umpires. The 2nd, played in Adelaide, features a dizzying array of technological aids to assist the umpires to make decisions.

Which is not to say that the former is just a backyard game – It is a full senior One Day International (ODI) match featuring Australia vs England and it is being played at a modern and quite appropriate facility. Confusingly, the latter game also happens to be a full senior ODI match, also features Australia vs England and is also being played at a modern and quite appropriate facility.

The difference between the 2 matches is that the 1 being played without the assistance of technology is a women’s game. This is most likely because the relatively small crowds don’t make the use of the technology financially viable, but regardless, it does mean that the decisions that are made in the game are immediate and final – There is no mechanism for so much as an informal review, let alone a formal 1 and so there seems to be little motivation to argue a call, even with yourself.

With no replay I can’t even muster a residue of internal debate at a bad call.

I like that feeling – The play becomes the focus and the umpires are there but not noticed. And I imagine that this translates at the ground level to a sort of enforced respect for those umpires – If there is nothing of substance to base an argument on, then there is no point being argumentative.

That’s the good part.

The bad part is that there may be decisions that are just plain wrong. If you play enough matches then this will balance out – You will get enough bad decisions in your favour as you will against. In a single match though, particularly 1 where the result is critical, then the sample size is too small to ensure parity and 1 team may gain an unfair advantage.

This is a critical match. It is the 4th game in the Women’s Ashes series and with England having won the Test and so far split the ODIs, Australia must win today to keep their hopes of a series triumph alive.

I haven’t seen any contentious decisions yet, but it’s hard to tell without the benefit of replays if the umpires have got them right. It would be a bitter pill for the Australians in particular to lose the game and consequently the Ashes off of a bad call.

Meanwhile, back on the Australian mainland and at Adelaide, where there is not a lot hinging on the outcome of that game – The Australia men won all 5 of their Ashes Tests handsomely. They then clinched the subsequent ODI series by taking out the 1st 3 of those encounters and despite a loss in the 4th game, England are not in line to get out of Australia with much dignity intact.

So perhaps it’s ironic then that in this game every major decision will be scrutinised, seemingly in 4 dimensions – I’d not be surprised if potential run outs are checked for perturbations of the space-time continuum. Certainly it feels like there is something happening to time as we know it whenever a wicket falls – Gone are the days of a bowler being assured that the umpire indicating that a batsman is out is an automatic cause for celebration. Now, each team has a number of referrals that can be made via the Decision Review System (DRS), and the umpires can also request assistance off of their own bats.

That assistance can be as simple as a check to ensure that a delivery was not a no-ball, i.e. That the bowler did not overstep the crease upon delivery. Or the umpire might require a check of the thermal image, which may show a ‘Hot Spot’ from an edge behind. In addition to that last, the umpire might also check the ‘snickometer’, essentially analysis of acoustic evidence of a an edge (or ‘snick’).

All of which is fairly straight-forward and intuitive – What’s not is the use of Hawk-Eye, the same trajectory prediction system as is used for tennis. This is used in cricket to determine if a Leg Before Wicket (LBW) decision is valid. Hawk-Eye, must determine if the ball pitched in line, and crucially, it must predict what would have happened if the batter’s leg had not been in the way.

This is complex physics – Despite copious amounts of research, scientists are not completely confident in explaining why a ball does what it does when moving through the air – It is not a perfect sphere – There is a raised seam and bowlers will shine 1 side of the ball so as to induce movement. It is even the case that the ball may swing more, i.e. move laterally, if the day is overcast. Why? Nobody’s really sure.

In spite of all of this natural doubt we are forced to take the solemn evidence of Hawk-Eye on face-value. It’s a strange concession for someone brought up in the harsh world of backyard cricket to contemplate – There, the rules are inviolate and stripped of all forms of technology. Over the fence was 6 and out, while hitting the dog was just out, plain and simple. The wicket-keeper was a rubbish bin and if you nicked it (And you knew you’d nicked it if you did) within a reasonable range of that trash receptacle then you’d walk, caught behind. Similarly for LBW decisions, you’d just know if you were out and so you’d walk – To do otherwise was to invite scorn from your opponents and the very real risk that they’d not want to play you again.

So we’ve put our trust in technology and in theory we now get more accurate decisions. I can’t help feeling that we’ve lost a little something in return though – The 2 games have now finished and I can report that the Australian women have rallied remarkably. While I thought they’d blown it, Ellyse Perry orchestrated a brilliant chase, and ably supported by Alex Blackwell and Erin Osborne, the Southern Stars hunted down England’s imposing 268 with 3 balls to spare.

England’s men were in a similar position, albeit chasing a much less impressive 217. Unfortunately for those English men though they did the opposite to those Australian women and collapsed with the victory line in sight, falling 6 runs short and bowled out with the 3rd-last ball. Intriguingly there was a touch of controversy around a key wicket in the dying stages – Numerous replays were required to show that a fumbled stumping attempt had in fact rebounded the ball onto the stumps at the precise moment that the English batsman had raised his foot by a scant few millimetres.

I’ll leave this off with 1 last thought on the use of technology in sport – In March the 2014 Major League Baseball (MLB) season will commence and for the 1st time it will involve a review system, roughly approximate to that used in cricket. The debut of this new era will not be in the US – Instead, the MLB gods have decreed that the season opener will be played in Sydney, Australia at the SCG.

Which is a cricket ground. Get ready to flip and flop baseball fans.

Good At Little League

3 Comments
  1. Happy Australia Day. What would that compare to here in the US? Sounds like our Fourth of July. National pride day? In school a flip flop is learning. So true. Hope your Day was a wonderful one.

  2. 4th of July sounds about right in modern tones but very different in terms of how each holiday got started. Essentially Australia Day, January 26, marks the arrival of the 1st lot of convicts from Britain. 226 years later we have fireworks and watch cricket.

  3. Well then…g’day convicts!

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