Why not follow Colin Egar's methods?

THE umpires are under increasing pressure due to excessive appealing by the players. Further they come under scrutiny due to unending TV replays. In fact, life is not easy for them. Yet how many of them practise their art under simulated match conditions.

I was reminded of this recently, when I ran into Colin Egar, one of Australia's greatest umpires and a top cricket official and Australian team manager.

Colin was the first and one of the rare umpires who actually attended net practises, not just as a casual observer. He would spend a couple of hours standing at the bowler's end. He did this even after he had retired and was invited to officiate in a veteran series. When I asked him why, he replied "getting a bit of practise and the feel of things again."

I thought how wise and simple and I have remembered it always. Yet I have hardly seen an umpire before or since Colin Egar who had that inclination.

Colin Egar's practice makes so much sense to me. The umpires would gain the feel and instinct in the middle, if they follow his methods.

Players would also appreciate their input and perhaps if they no-balled the bowlers for overstepping at the nets, we would not see as many no balls during the match.

One of the difficulties I have noticed with umpires, even at the highest level, is they have problem in understanding the mechanics of the game.

Too often, decisions are given, which technically sound and knowledgeable observer knows instinctively that the batsman being out in that way is near impossible.

Perhaps the classic example of this is a left-handed batsman being given out LBW to a right-handed off-spinner bowling from round the wicket. This bowler really has only two chances of achieving such a decision:

1) If the ball is pitched on the middle and leg stump when the batsmen has played back and the ball straightens.

2) If the batsman doesn't offer a shot and the ball is continuing on, doesn't straighten at all before it hits the pads.

Otherwise in this situation it is technically impossible to give the batsman out LBW.

Yet, too often umpires shoot the finger up without proper consideration or understanding of the simple mathematics of angles. If they had trained at the nets with the players, life would be much easier for them.

To my knowledge, umpires gain their experience and knowledge by examination and blackboard lectures on the theory of the rules. Practical experience is gained only in the middle.

How much easier it would be if Egar's methods were adopted. The umpires could then gain a greater appreciation of just what is entailed without the pressures of the player's demands.

As Egar says they could gain a feel of the decision and this is vitally important, for while it is fine to be an expert on the theory, in application it is completely different.

And after all why shouldn't umpires practise. I knew the players would appreciate them, being at the nets, and they can improve their skills as well. Umpiring in any sport has to be the most difficult and thankless job.

Most umpires handle it well and others, to say the least, seem slightly perplexed.

The umpires we had once in a match in the West Indies fell into the latter category. For two days in Grenada, we played on a wicket which could only be described as a minefield.

It exploded with almost every delivery and the score after the second day was two broken hands and numerous bruises and abrasions.

On the third morning, the match was delayed after water seeped through the covers. Damp spots were evident, but the run ups and footholds were dry and in my opinion, perhaps because we were not batting, the wicket was fit for play.

Finally, after two inspections by the umpires and no action I expressed the view that the wet spots shouldn't stop play resuming. "Oh no, Mr. Simpson" they replied "It is not the wet spots that worry us but the dry spots around them."

Still all umpires cannot have the skill or imagination of the man in white we encountered in India. After a confident appeal for a catch behind the wicket off John Gleeson's bowling, the umpire took a long time to make a decision. So long in fact that John Gleeson had to ask him again. Still the umpire waited, until he finally gave the batsman out and apologised for the delay because the strong head wind had delayed the snick of the ball reaching him, to make a decision in time.

While this Indian umpire was good, I don't think his skill or imagination matched that of the umpire we ran into once in the New South Wales Country town of Cessnock.

The NSW team had stopped in Cessnock on way to Queensland and late in the match our captain, Keith Miller, threw the ball to Bill Watson.

Now Bill Watson was a magnificent opening batsman who played for Australia but couldn't bowl a hoop down Bourke Street. But like most opening batsman of that time, fancied himself as a leg spinner. Delighted to be able to show his wares, Watson trundled up his slow donkey drops which masqueraded as leg spinners and to everyone's amazement, the batsman played, missed and was struck on the pads.

Delighted with his good luck "our Willie" (Blinks to his mates - nicknamed by Keith Miller because of his nervous blinking when facing the bowling) shrieked his appeal.

After much deliberation the umpire shook his head. Not out! Blinks said - "Not out, good Lord man the batsman played back, it was my top spinner (blinks never spun the ball) it pitched on the middle stump and hit the batsman below the knee and would have hit the middle stump half way up, so he must have been out."

The umpire took another long look and said "Granted Mr. Watson, granted, but the ball wasn't travelling fast enough to knock off the bails."

With those skills who needs television replays and experts' interpretation!