The First Test between West Indies and England at Sabina Park witnessed many humilations, including England succumbing to their third lowest Test innings total of all time. Yet, the match should also be remembered for some of the worst Test umpiring ever seen, as the elite panel showed once again why it is the most inappropriately named unit in cricket.
With an array of technology at his disposal and newly agreed rules and procedures on referrals, Daryl Harper decided to go his own way. When asked to adjudicate on an lbw decision against Ramnaresh Sarwan he ignored the need for irrefutable evidence. Instead he told on-field umpire Tony Hill that there was doubt about the decision, putting Hill in an impossible situation - the kind of situation the new referral system was designed to avoid. This confusion led to the lbw being wrongly overturned. Just to prove it was no fluke, later in the innings Harper watched several television replays of Daren Powell clearly missing the ball, only to confirm the on-field decision that he was caught behind.
One could be generous and say that he was muddled up with the new rules and regulations, that he was caught up in the moment, using his honed instincts instead of following the correct procedure. However, the man is a professional umpire. He is paid to undertsand the laws of cricket and all the rules relating to umpiring both on and off the field. It seems that the Daryl Harper that sits in the third umpire's seat is no better than the one that officiates on the field.
Which brings us to Tony Hill, one of the two on-field umpires. Now it is true that he was brought in at the last minute because the umpire who was supposed to stand could not get his visa sorted out in time, which shows that the elite panel are as organised as they are competent, yet Hill was deemed fit to stand in a Test match. What followed was an embarassment of poor decisions, many of which were overturned by the referral system, which seemed at times to be there purely to show poor Mr Hill up.
If this had been an isolated match, riddled with poor decisions because of the new referral system, then it might be fair to let the matter pass and move on to the usual high standard of umpiring. But this is simply not the case. Over the last twenty five years watching Test cricket I have witnessed consistently poor levels of umpiring. Many of these went unnoticed before the days of multiple television replays and serious media scrutiny. But now the evidence just continues to accumulate.
Whether it be high profile decisions like those in the Australia v India series last year or England v Pakistan at the Oval in 2006, or just the run of the mill poor decisions that get made in every match, does not really matter. what does is that Test umpiring is poor and the elite panel has done nothing to alleviate the problem. The referral system, despite being poorly applied at Sabina Park, is the way forward. The use of more and better technology must be introduced to reduce the high number of errors. It may take a long time, but a system will eventually emerge that allows Test matches to be played with minimal wrong decisions and where the result is purely a matter of which team plays better.