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The 12th man

THE Australian season is now well established as one that brings umpiring into focus. The question must be asked -- why? These officials are present at every match in every country, yet they seem to invite 10 times the controversy and comment in Australia. Why?

Over the last few seasons, there have been a large number of questionable decisions by umpires. There is evidence that some of the men who stand in these games or else officiate from the pavilion are not exactly suited or qualified to do so. And there is a feeling that Australia increasingly has a 12th man on the field when it plays at home.

Four Tests out of six have been completed this summer and already we have at least five decisions that have had a big impact on the games. All of them, bar one, from Australian umpires. The lone outsider to have erred has been Steve Dunne of New Zealand, but then those cricket observers who have followed the games in Sharjah know what to expect from him.

Some of the happenings are extraordinary but nobody seems to see the need for any comment. I mean we had Parker giving Langer out in the second Test against Pakistan when he was quite clearly not out; Parker then apologised to Langer during the Test and proceeded to rule him not out when he was clearly dismissed in the second innings. Gilchrist got a life when he was out lbw to Saqlain, not offering a stroke to a ball that was quite clearly going to hit the stumps. These two players won the second Test for Australia.

But when Tendulkar blocked a bouncer from McGrath, he was given out though the ball was clearly not going to hit the stumps had it continued on its way. And if an Australian umpire aplogises to Australian players for giving them out when they are not out, why not extend that to visiting teams as well? Tendulkar's first innings "dismissal" merited an apology from Harper.

A friend of mine justifies the two decisions that went against Tendulkar in the first Test. The logic (?) was: well, what about Langer? Dunne gave him out and he wasn't out, not by a long shot. That, in the mind of this bloke, evens the scales. Of course, one has to question his sanity when he compares Langer with Tendulkar. We are also talking about one case when Tendulkar was moving along sweetly at 61.

I think it is time for Australia to take a good, hard look at the standard of its umpires. There are clearly a lot of improvements needed before Australia can claim to be a country which has good umpires. People call for sympathy and understanding for umpires -- how about looking at it as a job which has to be done competently? The money is good and the publicity helps too. Darrell Hair made a decent pile by writing a book which capitalised on the misery of one Sri Lankan cricketer; were he not an umpire, who would have bought it? Why can't we demand a mite more accountability?

Let's have less of this "umpire as victim" business and more accountability in this profession. What is wrong with using slow motion replays to verify if the ball has touched bat or merely come off the body or pads in the case of close-in catches? Why is the technology not used when it is available? Why do we always have apologists aplenty saying "you have to give the poor man a margin; after all, it happens very fast out there." From someone who's been there, here's a word of advice: if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.