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Tom Curran’s umpire act is worse than it appears - and the game cannot tolerate it

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29th December, 2023
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Junior sports across Australia, from rugby league to cricket suffer from a dearth of umpires.

Umpires, referees, whatever they are called, exist to adjudicate on any rule breaches that might occur, advertently or otherwise. Often match officials command respect and loathing simultaneously. Regardless of whether the decision is correct, all match officials deserve respect if for no other reason than to model the correct way to interact with officials for the junior players.

Match officials do make mistakes. They are human and must accept responsibility for their mistakes, especially if that mistake decides the game. Demonstrating an appreciation of the gravity of their decisions only enhances their standing and respect amongst players in the game.

However, players’ responses to their decisions demonstrate to all watching, especially juniors, how these officials should be treated.

Take the example of Tom Curran who has been banned for four matches for intimidation of an umpire. Viewing the footage, Curran is fortunate he has only lost four matches not more. His foul-mouthed response to the umpire, who was doing his job correctly, is not acceptable in any form of cricket.

Curran’s act exposes a fundamental, growing problem within cricket and sport more widely that officials’ decisions are not the only truth. The batter’s or the bowler’s truth, what they saw, also holds validity.

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This problem exists throughout the lower and higher grades regardless of whether the Decision Review System (DRS) exists. The proliferation of this problem comes from a distinct lack of belief in the person standing at the other end or a desire to try to game the system, trying to make the DRS work for them.

International players, those at the elite level who should be role models for those in the lower grades, show dissent at the umpires’ decisions the most. Steve Smith effectively laughed at the umpire’s decision to give him out LBW before reviewing it on Day 1 of the Boxing Day Test.

Smith’s instinct proved correct as ball-tracking showed that the six-stitcher would be missing the stumps entirely and the Decision Review System (DRS) exists to eradicate howlers like Smith’s. However, Smith scoffing at the umpire’s decision thinking the ball would miss the stumps showed a lack of respect towards the umpire. Any young cricketer viewing that would think that laughing at an umpire’s decision must be appropriate if Smith did it.

This type of behaviour reverberates into the lower grades where several players and teams routinely appeal vociferously. Then, upon the call being given not out, they incredulously question why the umpire had the temerity to dismiss their appeal. When a lot of the umpires in the lowest grades of club cricket are unpaid, untrained teammates from the batting side who are simply trying to do their best to make the right calls, that type of behaviour is completely inappropriate.

Respectfully asking questions of umpires at all levels of the games forces umpires to reflect upon their decisions and justify their decision, but often, the bowling side does not accept or will not accept the umpire’s reasoning.

Changing this mindset requires further education of all players and discipline for those who significantly overstep the line, like Tom Curran.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 08: Tom Curran of the Sixers bowls during the BBL match between Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Renegades at Sydney Cricket Ground on December 08, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Tom Curran. (Photo by Jason McCawley – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

International players, like Smith, must accept decisions respectfully and if there are questions about the umpire’s decision, then use the means at their disposal to question it respectfully like the DRS. That is the only way to stamp out aberrant behaviour such as Curran’s from the game and to be a role model for junior and lower-grade cricketers.

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Curran’s act is worse than it appears because it normalises disrespect for umpires and sets a bad example for junior cricketers. If this mindset does not change, there will continue to be a shortage of umpires in all formats because who would want to willingly subject themselves to judgement by their fellow human beings for something as meaningless as a decision in a sports game?

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