Physics, Morality and the Umpire Decision Referral System

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image: Maybe football needs to embrace technology too?

by Derranilphil of

I want to have a look at the referral system by applying the second Law of Thermodynamics to it and consider a few questions about why we have such a system and what do we want the referral system to achieve?

The referral system used in test cricket here in this country has been judged by most observers a “qualified success,” but I think it may contravene the second Law of Thermodynamics? Most of you have seen what happens when a batsman has been given out, but calls for a referral. The fielding team has been celebrating; high fives everywhere. Then comes the request for a referral.

What is the second Law of Thermodynamics? Very roughly entropy (or disorder) always increases. A pack of new playing cards just taken out of their packet are in a very ordered state. Throw them in the air and they will become disordered. When I was at University, we watched a video of a clock pendulum swinging backwards and forwards. It was impossible to tell if the film was going backwards or forwards. A physicist will tell you that the laws of physics work just as well with time going backwards as they do with time going forward. An egg was dropped just in front of the clock. It smashed into pieces i.e. the egg became more disordered. Suddenly the “arrow of time” became apparent. I have watched some spectacular videos of the space shuttle docking on the space station.  Once again, without some observable increase in entropy, you cannot tell if the shuttle is docking or leaving the space station. The “arrow of time” is not apparent. As time moves forward entropy increases as the Second Law of Thermodynamics requires.

With the referral system the batsman is sometimes let off and the fieldsmen slink back to their original, ordered, positions. Time has moved forward but (admittedly in a very rough way) entropy has decreased and to some people THIS IS JUST NOT RIGHT.

I thought about this while sitting at the Adelaide Oval with our Bernard Whimpress and Neville Turner* (a retired Law Professor). Now I am all for technology. Being a dentist I had a scientific education where getting the correct answer was paramount. There usually was a simple correct answer. Shades of meaning or values did not exist. Your crown either fitted or (too often in my case) it did not fit. This parallels most umpiring decisions on a cricket field. I think that referral system gets the decisions correct and technology, generally, helps to expose, and curb poor player behavior. Neville Turner hates the referral system and thinks it is completely unnecessary if players took their responsibilities seriously.

He believes that players should walk when they are out and not appeal when they know it’s not out. I find it interesting that a Law Professor appeals to the Spirit of Cricket, our sense of fair play, our better side, rather than agitate for new laws, regulations or technology. He has a point of course but I know that Neville is a romantic rather than a physicist. To Neville, being able to take the bad decisions with grace, is the essential part of what we call “the Spirit of Cricket”. To people like Neville the game as a whole is more important than a single umpiring decision, correct or otherwise.

This is something I have great difficulty with. As an umpire I fret about the mistakes I make. I would love to have technological backup. As a dentist I worry about the treatment I provide for my patients but the dental profession has been responsible for a complete revolution in the dental health of Australians in the last 40 years. It is the wider picture that is the important thing. It is the whole, not the single, that is important and this is what people who do not approve of the referral system are arguing for.

Neville wants to inspire cricketers to keep the tradition of civility on the cricket field strong while I want to have 20 cameras trained on them so they know they better behave.

* Neville Turner’s new book  Addicted To Cricket – is a sparkling collection of essays covering cricket and music, the game’s great personalities, the laws of cricket and his favourite cricket literature.

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