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Ken Borland

TV networks’ bias under scrutiny as Marnus slips from the net 0

Posted on November 07, 2023 by Ken

The incident on the opening day of the third Test between the Proteas and Australia where South Africa were convinced they had caught Marnus Labuschagne in the slips, only for the batsman to slip from the net, thankfully has not had a major bearing on the game, but it did highlight an area of cricket – and many other sports – where the authorities need to consider the role of host broadcasters.

Labuschagne enjoyed a huge slice of luck when he was on 70 and he edged left-armer Marco Jansen low to first slip, where Simon Harmer seemed to have scooped up a fine catch.

Neither Labuschagne nor the umpires were 100% convinced though, with third umpire Richard Kettleborough being called into play, the soft signal being out. Having watched numerous replays, the Englishman felt the ball had touched the ground, but a conclusive replay, zoomed in from the front, was strangely absent.

Labuschagne survived, and five minutes later, the crucial replay suddenly emerged and showed that Harmer did get his fingers under the ball. Fortunately, the South African-born batsman could only add nine more runs before the heroic Anrich Nortje got him caught behind.

The incident raised suspicions about the role of host broadcasters in the officiating of the game, and it later emerged that the third umpire only had access to the world feed camera shots and the front-on slow-mo replay was exclusively a Seven Network shot. But how that footage then appeared on the SuperSport feed was not explained.

One must credit Cricket Australia for their rapid response to the incident, with CEO Nick Hockley saying they will conduct a review on whether the third umpire should have access to footage from both broadcast rights holders.

“The broadcasting of cricket is probably the most complicated of any of the major sports,” Hockley said. “We have a huge number of cameras. It was really, really fine margins. The match referees and umpires are making the best calls they can with the information they have available.”

Indeed, Kettleborough and the onfield umpires, Chris Gaffaney and Paul Reiffel, should not be blamed for this controversy. It was an exceptionally tough decision for Kettleborough to make based on the incomplete picture he was given.

The International Cricket Council has been pretty good at removing the frustration of clearly wrong decisions from the game, and I would say the DRS is a roaring success. They will surely now be contemplating the perceptions of bias among host broadcasters.

As South Africans, we need to acknowledge the anger Australians felt when SuperSport targeted their cameras on them in 2018/19, while who can forget Indian captain Virat Kohli’s furious outburst (strangely unpunished) into the stump mics a year ago at Newlands.

And this is not just a cricket problem. Rugby has been particularly under the spotlight, with South African fans, already feeling there is a vendetta against them, infuriated by the number of times there has been incomplete footage of a TV referral that seemed to be going the way of their team. Like what happened with France’s matchwinning try against the Springboks a couple of months ago.

It’s a bit like an arms race, with broadcasters doing nefarious things on a tit-for-tat basis because they feel ‘their’ team were on the receiving end when they went overseas. But moulding the outcome of key decisions is clearly unsporting and we don’t want the match officials to become merely ornamental in nature.

If the current trend continues, the legitimacy of the sport we watch could end up having a wound that a mere plaster won’t fix.

Would an association of sports broadcasters which has a clear code of conduct be the answer? Any broadcaster who has been found to engage in favouritism could be stripped of their membership and not allowed to bid for TV rights.

There are bound to be all sorts of contractual, legal and practical obstacles to overcome, but would neutral executive producers/directors be the answer?

Both the ICC and WorldRugby managed to phase in neutral officials a long time back, which seemed unlikely to be possible at one stage, so where there is a will (and there needs to be one!) there is a way.

Learning life lessons from golf 0

Posted on July 04, 2022 by Ken

One can learn so many life lessons from sport and I am convinced that more can be learned from golf than most other codes. My own golf is certainly a lesson in dealing with frustration and how to extricate oneself from seemingly unreachable positions.

But professional golf, especially the Majors, provides such human drama and, as in life, disaster or glorious success seem just as likely to occur on the next hole.

Last weekend in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, Mito Pereira was one hole away from one of the most astounding Major triumphs. He had seemingly beaten off numerous, way more experienced and storied challengers, on a chaotic final day to stand on the 18th tee clinging to a one-stroke lead. All he needed was a par to become one of the rare rookies, playing just his second Major championship, to win on one of golf’s grandest stages.

The 27-year-old from Santiago, Chile, decided to go the aggressive route, and hit Driver. Except he made an awful swing and deposited his ball in the creek down the right, leading to a double-bogey. Not only was Pereira no longer at the top of the leaderboard, he wasn’t even in the playoff that would decide the fate of the Wanamaker Trophy, Justin Thomas eventually emerging as the champion.

When Pereira decided to take the risky route on the last, you could almost hear Sir Nick Faldo tearing his hair out in the commentary box. The man who famously made 18 pars to win the first of his six Major championships in the 1987 Open at Muirfield, could not fathom why the leader had not just played it safe.

It was a most frustrating end to what would have been a fairytale win. I have no doubt Pereira just went with Driver because it had worked before.

While sympathy for his cruel fate was the over-riding emotion, it does anger me when highly-talented sportspeople justify poor decision-making by saying things like “that’s just the way I play, that’s my game.”

Just as the rest of us have to adapt to the various challenges and frustrations of life, so sports stars have to adapt to their circumstances. Play the situation!

If you’re roaring to victory by four shots, or your team is 370/3 or 30-7 up, by all means be aggressive. But the truly great sports heroes are able to tailor their game to whatever the situation, or their team, requires in order to win.

For now, Pereira will be walking the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, but he certainly showed he has game and I will be surprised if he does not win on the PGA Tour, once he gets over this heartbreak. Most importantly, how he handled the devastating blow has been widely acclaimed and he fronted up to the media after his round when all he would have wanted was to go and hide away somewhere. Dealing with failure is another life lesson, of course.

Long-form sports, where the tension is gradually ramped up before it reaches a tremendous crescendo on the final day, are right up my street. Golf’s Majors, and especially the Ryder Cup, are still such compelling viewing even in an age where the cancer of instant gratification seems to reign supreme.

Golf can be just as slow as Test cricket, but the feeling of that tension building as you reach the final round is a bit like a Hitchcock horror movie – a masterful building of suspense.

Sport needs to have good stories, as well as the best players in the world in the limelight. How good was it to have an unknown like Pereira challenging for what would have been an incredible win in the PGA Championship?

Even though he was pipped in the end by one of the world’s best in Thomas, it was still wonderfully dramatic.

Test cricket can perhaps learn its own life lessons from golf. It can provide just as much drama, but it needs to be properly packaged, marketed and looked after by the ICC.

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