Umpires: time to be realistic

I must admit that if I had not watched the second Test between Pakistan and England on the telly, I wouldn't have been writing this. But after watching David Shepherd give one wrong decision after another with absolute certainty, one can't help but react.

I have nothing against people over 50. In fact, I'm no spring chicken myself. But competence is another matter altogether. It does not matter whether the person is five or 105, brown, black or blue, has played cricket at Test level or not, or whether they have come from the isle of Tonga. They should be able to see things as they happen and use their considerable experience to judge what goes on on the field of play. Else, they should go into some other field of human endeavour.

I don't think Shepherd made any conscious wrong decisions. But then the nurse who replaces a patient's oxygen cannister with one of carbon dioxide because of the wrong labelling is not insincere - she is undoubtedly sincere but the patient still dies. The fact remains that if a batsman is given out when he is not, then the batting side suffers.

It is a fact of life that one comes into the middle years, the powers of sight and hearing do take a bit of a beating. I know this firsthand - I wear multifocals myself. Some people refuse to do so out of vanity. And it is thus quite possible that Shepherd is not at his best. He is anything but unprofessional. But he is simply past his best. Everybody, including the man concerned, should make no bones about that.

What beats me is why the ICC still refuses to use camera footage to adjudicate on catches that are doubtful, catches over which the umpire has a doubt. And yet, the ICC still lets TV channels show repeated footage of these decisions, something which makes the umpire look like a fool. Why does this so-called international body bury its head in the sand when it comes to doing something practical to make the game fairer?

But then those who have an influence on these matters do not help things either. Take Ian Chappell, for example. The former Australian captain, best known for having introduced sledging into the game, never hesitates to let umpires have it if they make a blunder when he is part of the TV commentary team for Australia's Channel Nine. Yet, in print, the same man blithely says that electronic aids should not be used beyond what they are used for right now. If this is not speaking with a forked tongue, then I don't know what is.

It is not that electronic aids would make every decision a hundred per cent correct. There are times when errors of parallax come in to play. There are other times when one cannot get a shot from the right angle to make a decision. The umpire can well be given the freedom to call for the camera if he has a doubt. There are many clear cut cases when he does not need the camera. There are other close ones when he makes the right call based on his experience.

But something should be done about it and pretty soon too. Had Pakistan lost the second Test, they would have really felt hard done by. England probably feel they were cheated. Shepherd's mistakes came at crucial times. Since Pakistan won, I doubt that they will say much about the bloopers. The issue will lie dormant until something happens in a Test or one-dayer again. Sometimes, I wonder if the people at the ICC can read and write or whether there are semi-literates running the show. But no matter their level of literacy there is one word they understand very well - procrastination. If it didn't exist, they would have invented it.

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