Tuesday, 8 January 2008

No sympathy for professional umpires

Test umpires are well paid professionals who should be able to do their job competently. When they fail to do so they should be subject to some form of disciplinary procedure, as most people failing to do their job properly would expect to face.

Somehow this obvious point is overlooked in the world of Test cricket, where the umpires are more akin to bastions of the game than people with a job to do. They are heavily protected by the ICC in an arena where players, whose careers are on the line, are required not to show them dissent, no matter how appalling their decision may be.

Supposedly every Test umpire is assessed on their performance in each match, yet they are rarely disciplined or fired, despite the atrocious decisions that crop up in most Tests. The ICC seems unable to provide enough top quality officials and to give them the adequate technology and procedures to carry out their job.

When umpires are removed from office it is for the wrong reasons. The sad thing about Darrell Hair and Steve Bucknor is not that they were removed from umpiring, but that it took pressure from cricket boards to force the ICC's hand, when International cricket's governing body should have acted itself.

The bottom line for most cricket players and followers is that a match is won by the team that plays the best, not the one that gets the best of the umpiring decisions. In this regard surely the best officials should be sought, trained and given the best tools to do their job as well as possible. If technology can reduce errors then it should be introduced widely. On field umpires should have the flexibility to call on the assistance of third umpires for any decisions that are in doubt. If the doubt persists after viewing replays, etc, then the batsman should receive the benefit of it.

A player's career is in the hands of the umpire, with decisions leading to the stats and performance indicators that decide if a player continues for their team or not. When this is a career at the highest level chances to come back are often at a premium. The old adage that luck evens itself out over a career is made nonsense if all the bad luck comes in a player's first few matches and they never have a career.

Bad decisions made by umpires at crucial times can swing a match and sometimes a series. This state of affairs simply cannot be left to carry on. Improvements in the quality and training of umpires at the highest level must be made and those officials must be given the support of the best technology.

Once these measures are in place those umpires failing to maintain a good level of competence should be dropped and only return when they have proven their ability once again. That is how it is for players and, in the world of professional sport, that is how it should be for officials.


Chrispy said...

Harsh but fair. Ultimately if you miss an edge like that, give a complete miss and also fail to notice a plumb LBW, then you are going to get criticised and Steve has been at it before a few times recently. However, the way the ICC have responded has been appaulling. They needed to drop him right away rather than support him. Now they appear to have bowed to Indian pressure and that along with the Hair treatment sets a very dangerous precedent for the future of the game. At the end of the day I think we need to involve technology more. Whats wrong with the third umpire telling the on field umpire he really cocked that one up and turning the batsman around? It makes for a fairer game surely, though ultimately dimishes the responsibility of on field umpires.

Dean said...

The fact that the ICC has conceded that he was dropped because of India's complaints is worrying. He deserved in on form alone, but the ICC has shown a trend towards caring a lot more about the BCCI than its own umpires.

I suppose it's very different to Australian Football's governing body, who never concede fault when it comes to their umpires, and always backs them.

Perhaps both are doing the wrong thing?

Bobo said...

The very nature of cricket implies a respect for the umpire over and above his or her decisions. This is at the very core of the spirit of the game.

That is not to say that mistakes should be ignored. The statistics for decision making by umpires at the elite level are extraordinarily good, over 92% correct. If only the players made less mistakes. Correct, and some brilliant decisions by umpires, are never highlighted by any media.

There are some problems with the elite panel - it does appear to be somewhat of a closed shop, it seems difficult to be removed once on it, and there are several top domestic umpires who do not wish to travel so much and are therefore not on it. However the one fundamental improvement the ICC could make is to increase the number of umpires on the elite panel - this would immediately cut down the travel and stress on the umpires and allow for more recovery time and continuing professional development.

Don't forget that a five day match is much tougher on the umpires than the players - they are in the field constantly, making decisions every ball and never get a meaningful break.

Overall cut the umpires some slack, they deserve it. (And yes I am an umpire, but only at local level in the hometown.)