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Sight Screen

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Umpiring the umpires

Juvenal -- who during his days as a player for the Roman Empire must have seen one too many LBW appeals turned down -- once asked Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodies (Which, English-ed, is 'who shall guard the guardians?').
It's a question the ICC might want to consider answering some time, when it has time to spare from playing the heavy on such earth-shaking events as rival players indulging in a bit of mickey-taking ahead of an international series.
By all accounts, umpiring in the ongoing series between Australia and South Africa has plumbed the depths; in this piece, Peter Roebuck connects the dots.
A senior panellist had made a fourth successive error. Obviously these were not isolated incidents. Rather they were the result of the pressure put on umpires, ordinary men with wives and children and lives to lead. Determined to recapture their aggression, Australia have been feisty all summer. No protection was given to the umpires until it was too late. By then the Proteas had decided to join the party. Did anyone expect them to take it lying down? The rest has been inevitable. Once appeals and words are not controlled, matters start to get out of hand.
Dar is a sound umpire whose confidence has slipped. He knows captains, who write the reports, invariably favour " not-outers". Billy Bowden has also had a poor match. Around the world, the leading umpires are refusing to give front-foot decisions, a reluctance that denied Shane Warne 10 wickets during the Ashes series.
The solution is simple. Stop listening to the conspiracy of umpires and batsmen and allow a colleague to review decisions from all the evidence. To avoid delays, let captains challenge three decisions every innings. In short, use technology. Replays are not perfect but they create a higher form of justice than the human element upon which the game has relied since WG Grace's beard started to grow.

There is one other thing the ICC could do -- instead of acting like a society for prevention for cruelty to umpires, it could conduct periodic -- and honest -- appraisals of the officials it appoints and underwrites, and chuck the bad ones out. It could, too, introduce a halfway house between the domestic umpire and the elite panel -- a system of picking good upcoming umpires from various countries, and forming a second tier that will be fielded in say less high stress games involving the smaller nations, as a means of letting them get their feet wet before promoting the better ones to the elite panel.
Or, of course, it can continue to pretend that bad umpiring decisions are aberrations, and allow such frequent mistakes to continue impacting on the course of international fixtures.

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