The big row

What happened to good old reliable Steve Bucknor (extreme right) shows that there is really very little sympathy and no mercy for any of his ilk.-AP What happened to good old reliable Steve Bucknor (extreme right) shows that there is really very little sympathy and no mercy for any of his ilk.

Umpires are the game’s whipping boys and have been since their duties were carried out by M’Lud’s butler. It makes no difference that they are now paid; they are over-worked and down trodden, the fate of slaves down all the years, writes Ted Corbett.

It’s perfectly simple and the whole world knows the solution.

No need for special ICC summits, meetings of their specialist committees to set up working parties or for them to work out how to compensate umpires who have to be stood down because they made one mistake too many.

Give the umpires the technology they want. Note the second part of that sentence. If the poor, over-worked, over-age, over here, there and everywhere umpires nominate the equipment they feel will help them do their job properly they will be able to perform better in this television era.

They will have nowhere to hide if they get things wrong in future.

The saddest part of the whole tragedy that grew out of the second Test in Sydney is that we have known all this for a decade.

You can make fools of some of the people some of the time, but you cannot continue to make fools of good men and true — which everyone of the elite umpires can claim to be — forever.

The only reason that David Shepherd, Darrell Hair, Steve Bucknor and the rest have not attacked ICC headquarters with stumps and bats after the way they have been treated is because Dubai is too remote.

Who else would put up with continual abuse for making instant decisions in the blink of an eye while much younger men, with better eyesight and a shedload of electronic equipment, made patronising remarks about their job being very difficult and adding that by and large they got most decisions right and, by the way, they had a very difficult job.

One snapshot for the umpire, a dozen replays for the commentators and then the discovery by a recently retired player with 20-20 vision and a screen the size of a dining table that the ball was sliding down the legside, that the noise was the bat hitting the ground or that the catch had hit third slip’s fingers and the ground at the same moment.

“You have to sympathise with the umpires,” they say. What happened to good old reliable Steve Bucknor shows that there is really very little sympathy and no mercy for any of his ilk.

Umpires are the game’s whipping boys and have been since their duties were carried out by M’Lud’s butler. It makes no difference that they are now paid; they are over-worked and down trodden, the fate of slaves down all the years.

I hear that Rudi Koertzen is the umpire with the fullest diary in 2007. It does not sound a lot compared with the workload of some Test players but there are important differences. Koertzen and Bucknor are both heading rapidly towards the statutory retirement age and will earn around $150,000 in a good year.

A summit, under the chairmanship of Richie Benaud or someone else with a big reputation for fairness and clear thinking, of all the captains and senior players from every Test-playing country, can provide a simple answer to the sledging dilemma.-AP

The modern player — a millionaire by the time he is 30 — would laugh so hard at the idea of earning so little that he would do himself such a serious injury that he would miss the next series.

Besides, what does a Test consist of for a 28-year-old opening batsman or a 55-year-old umpire?

The batsman makes a century in four and a half hours and then heads back to the dressing room. The umpire is still out there in 36 degrees for a day that nominally consists of six hours but which in reality stretches to seven or more, concentrating even when he is at square leg and going back to his hotel to hear his work described as “difficult” by the man on the TV gantry.

It has been said that an umpire who has a bad match should be sacked. And if Mr. Umpire with 75 Tests and 200 ODIs behind him is sacked, who takes his place?

Someone with less experience almost certainly.

The umpire with most sense is Peter Willey who saw right from the start that a place on the elite panel was going to be the nearest thing to slavery however good the wages.

He elected to stay in England, calmly adjudicate in some leisurely county games and leave the glory to everyone else.

There are simple answers to the sledging dilemma too.

A summit, under the chairmanship of Richie Benaud or someone else with a big reputation for fairness and clear thinking, of all the captains and senior players from every Test-playing country.

I suspect that Benaud would express himself in straightforward terms. Remember how he addressed the subject of match-fixing.

“I used to lie awake at night wondering how to win Tests,” he said in the inaugural Spirit of Cricket lecture at Lord’s. “Now I hear that these bastards” — I make no excuse for using the word he said because it seems appropriate — “used to lie awake thinking of ways to lose Tests.” So his words to the forum of great modern Test stars would probably be summed up as: “Look, if you go on like this you will ruin cricket. Just cut it out, all right.” I reckon they might listen.

There is another way but I don’t hold out much hope.

If one of the up-and-coming great players walked to the wicket and was greeted by some of the usual stuff about his mum and dad not knowing each other very well or the colour of his skin being darker than average or his wife being out and about while he was playing cricket he could simply go to the umpire and say: “I am retiring my innings. I am also retiring from Test cricket. I no longer wish to play in this atmosphere.

“I shall tell the next man in why I have left the crease and I hope he will follow my example. You lot” — and at this point he can indicate the fielding, sledging fellows around him — “can play on your own in future.”

The mindless fielders will celebrate the easy capture of another wicket until the wiser ones point out that if this state of affairs continues there will be no cricket left to play.

That would quickly be followed by zero wages, zilch publicity and no crowds standing to applaud every time they walk down the street.

It might bring the foul-mouthed, the mindless and the very young to their senses.

It is not going to happen. Once upon a time it might have done. If the Nawab of Pataudi could turn his nose up at Douglas Jardine’s Bodyline tactics and if Gubby Allen could refuse to bowl a large ration of bouncers, they might also have taken the noble way to put a stop to sledging in all its forms.

Ask a professional cricketer, whatever his other qualifications, to walk out of a Test, to leave the crease without facing a ball and probably sacrifice his career, and you will receive a puzzled stare and not much else.

Amateurs like the princely Pataudi and the stockbroker Allen earned nothing from cricket and, more’s the pity, their type has gone.

There was much to criticise in the attitude of the amateur, his belief that he was a better man than any professional and the snobbery that, particularly in England, surrounded his status. But there are times when the game misses such men and now, in its moment of crisis, is one of those occasions.