Umpiring woes

At the Oval we knew Sourav Ganguly had been wrongly given out by the time. He had martched to mid-on so there isno longer an excuse about replays taking an eternity.-AP

South African umpire Ian Howell made ghastly errors during the third and final Test between England and India at The Oval so that by the end he appeared to be under greater pressure than any player, writes Ted Corbett.

Children are protected by a Royal society, animals have guardians, rest homes, special kennels and an army of helpers if they are abused and battered wives have safe houses they can use if men maltreat them.

Surely it is time umpires were offered help when the heat grows too great.

It is the case of the hapless, unhappy South African Ian Howell that has made me come out in sympathy for him and his kin. He made ghastly errors during the third and final Test between England and India at The Oval so that by the end he appeared to be under greater pressure than any player.

Did anyone speak up on his behalf? I think you know the answer to that question. There was not a single voice shouting “Leave the poor lad alone. He’s doing his best.” Any number seemed to want to pile into him, to add to his distress while they decided he should simply be relieved of all his duties.

As for a Society for the Protection of Umpires in World Cricket — not a sign.

Well, if no one is ready to act in a charitable way towards these regular victims I suggest another remedy — greater use of technology.

Before you reach for a shotgun let me add a rider. I am not suggesting that umpires should immediately be given a pension, herded into a green pasture and left, like old racehorses, to spend the autumn of their lives in quiet contemplation of their greatest moments.

Instead I ask you to propel your minds — by way of the nearest time machine — to a moment 10 years in the future and to imagine how you might feel then.

New technology is still a modern issue. I know that because Sachin Tendulkar, who was the first victim of its perfect understanding of which side of a white line a batsman finds himself when the wicket is broken, is still with us. The old grace has been reduced to a painful lumber, his power plays do not always match the bowlers of generation next and his run gathering is slower but he still has an automatic place in India’s many teams.

And, of course, he is not going to the Twenty20 tournament in South Africa where he was out to Jonty Rhodes’s rapid throw, as judged by the first of the third umpires, in 1992-93.

That decision, indeed all the new tech judgements, was contentious. Some said a batsman’s errors should be decided by another human, others that sport should have nothing to do with electronic gadgets and even more that tradition is more important than getting decisions right.

The problem is television. At The Oval we knew Sourav Ganguly had been wrongly given out by the time he had marched — grinning fiendishly I have to remind you — to mid-on so there is no longer an excuse about replays taking an eternity.

My favourite television expert says that whatever the problems with new technology now there will be vast improvements in the next few years. High definition TV will provide a sharper picture, better cameras are coming on line all the time and, he guesses, commentators will improve so that they will read the pictures with greater facility.

Besides that the public perception of television replays will change as their influence on tennis, cricket, football, two codes of Rugby and, I guess, chess, draughts and darts become clearer.

Fifteen years ago no cricket traditionalist wanted new technology. Now it is widely accepted simply because spectators are used to the idea. It has been shown to increase the theatrical effect and enhance the tension.

I have always been a big fan of this 21st century innovation just as I was of neutral umpires. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done; independent umpires and a variety of camera angles make sure that the old suggestions of national bias and bent decisions are no longer heard.

So let’s have more of it.

There is an argument which is always trotted out by the old men rooted in their conservatism — that we will always need someone on the field to hold the sweaters and other discarded bits of clothing.

A similar argument — that special toilets would have to be built if women were allowed to join clubs — has been shown to be untenable and if the scientists who have put men, women and animals on course for the planets cannot find a way to deal with surplus clothing there is something sadly wrong with the world.

Long, long ago Hon. F. S. Jackson, the gentleman who captained Yorkshire, often batted with stroke-filled brilliance and bowled effectively, informed England that he would not be able to lead them in an August Test. He wanted to shoot grouse on the moors he owned around his home.

If he made the same decision today he would be derided as an effete fool, depicted in the tabloids as a grouse and probably taken to court for breach of a £1m contract. Can you imagine Michael Vaughan, Steve Harmison or Andrew Flintoff — actually I can imagine Flintoff doing almost anything — going shooting, fishing or grouse shooting rather than playing in a Test, particularly against Australia?

No, you will say, things have changed a century down the track, all cricket people are much more professional today and are much more aware of their duties. Besides grouse are so 20th century.

Old habits die hard. Yorkshire may be in a toe-to-toe battle with Sussex for the championship, there may be greater crowds and a bigger membership than at any time in recent years but professional? Forget it. The club recently had to vote — as did all the other counties — for a replacement for David Morgan, chairman of the ECB and soon to be chairman of ICC. The man responsible went on holiday to Barbados where he owns a house and failed to register his vote until the last minute.

The more things change the more they stay the same, they say in France and, so it appears, in Yorkshire.