Umpires must be put out to pasture at 50

Replays must also be used to help the umpires. Cricketers trained to accept the decision of an umpire without demur reject the idea of referring matters to a remote figure, arguing that it destroys one of the beauties and disciplines of the game, the sportsmanship shown by Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and many others when they are wrongly dispatched.

PETER ROEBUCK

FAULTY umpiring in recent series in India and Australia will force cricket's rulers to rethink their strategy regarding appointments and replays. Everyone knows that umpiring is a difficult task in any conditions let alone amidst the harsh light of Australia and the din of India.

Nevertheless too many mistakes were made, errors that spoilt the battle between teams and insulted the sense of justice that is an integral part of the sporting experience.

Test captains have suggested that umpires are working too hard. In every activity a fine line exists between too much and too little.

If the adjudicators are kept too long on the sidelines they lose confidence. None of them likes to arrive cold at a Test match. Anxious to recover concentration and rhythm, some stand in the nets before a match begins. Umpires are not machines to be turned on at the press of a button.

Too many consecutive days in the firing line can also be harmful. Umpires standing in match after match must eventually start to feel shell shocked, especially when most of those matches are played on television so that every decision is examined by a hundred experts and millions sitting in armchairs blessed with endless replays with added colour and sound. Naturally these eyes can see and those ears can hear much more than the poor fellow naked on the field.

Change is needed. The ICC has talked about appointing more umpires and that might help, but it is not the only remedy required. Ruthlessness is needed in the hiring and firing of the top men. At present a senior umpire can keep standing till he passes 60. Bless his cotton socks, David Shepherd remained a member of the elite panel even longer. Judges and politicians may remain in office past 60 because they rely on their brains and experience and not their senses. Umpires must be put out to pasture at 50.

Poor performing umpires must also eventually be sacked. Not that one bad series, let alone one poor match, ought to condemn them. Bad spells are inevitable. However a long period of unimpressive work of the sort produced by Daryl Harper ought to prompt a temporary return to the domestic game. Too much is at stake to tolerate incompetence.

Consideration must also be given to using one local umpire in Test matches as well as 50-over internationals. At present some of the best English umpires refuse to join the elite panel because they do not want to spend so much time on the road. The solution is simple. Let them and their counterparts around the world officiate in local Tests. Obviously this might create concerns about hometown decisions but the umpires are under intense scrutiny these days and dubious types will soon be exposed.

Replays must also be used to help the umpires. Cricketers trained to accept the decision of an umpire without demur reject the idea of referring matters to a remote figure, arguing that it destroys one of the beauties and disciplines of the game, the sportsmanship shown by Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and many others when they are wrongly dispatched. Fears are also held about slowing down an already sluggish game.

Once more the solution is simple. Allow both sides two referrals an innings and otherwise tell them that the umpire's decision is final. Every appeal would be answered by the appointed judges with just a few special cases sent on to the supreme court. Cricket must not dither. The hour for action has arrived.