India in England, 2007 August 12, 2007

Howell's howlers

ESPNcricinfo staff
A closely contested and wonderful Test series has been marred by Ian Howell's poor umpiring, writes Sambit Bal

Sambit Bal

It is a pity that matters outside bat and ball should continue to spoil what has so far been wonderful advertisement for Test cricket. The first Test was decided by the weather, and the second, which was won by a skilful and determined performance by the Indians, was overshadowed by jelly beans, player behaviour and inconsistent umpiring. And it will be a tragedy if umpiring becomes a decisive factor in this Test.

Umpires deserve plenty of sympathy. Theirs is a thankless vocation and they are noticed only for their mistakes. Their actions are judged and damned by experts, journalists, and millions of viewers who now have the benefit of hugely sophisticated cameras and technologies such as Snickometer and Hotspot. But still, it's not that difficult to tell when an umpire is not up to it.

Simon Taufel, who invited the wrath of Indian supporters for denying Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly well-earned hundreds at Trent Bridge, is a good umpire who had an ordinary match. But it is difficult to say the same about his colleague in that Test. Ian Howell had a dreadful match at Trent Bridge, and it has only got worse at The Oval. It can be considered poor taste to pun on someone's name, but given the number of howlers he has made in the last two Tests, Howell has brought it upon himself.

The ICC has a system in place to assess every decision an umpire make during a match, and it is often trotted out that umpires get over 90% of the decisions right. It will surely be interesting to read Howell's report card for this series. To anybody who has followed his finger, he has got more decisions wrong than right.

Few things can be worse for cricketers, batsmen and bowlers alike, than to play in the knowledge that their fate hangs in the hand of an adjudicator who is consistently inconsistent. There are not-outers, none more famous than the legendary Dickie Bird, there are those who are trigger happy - Dave Orchard springs to mind - there are those who are conservative about front-foot lbws and there are ones who are spinner-friendly. In many instances, umpires go by the pitch, and are likely to adjudge lbws on the basis of bounce. At Perth, for instance, batsmen can leave the ball on its length, safe in the knowledge that it will sail over the stumps.

But how safe can a batsman feel when faced with Howell? Apart from his obvious tendency to give wrong decisions, it has been impossible to detect a pattern with Howell. May be it lies in his approach to tailenders. This morning he was happy to give Monty Panesar on the forward stretch against Anil Kumble. Panesar had no reason to quibble; he was dead in front. But on what account did he spare Paul Collingwood on the third day? Collingwood's front foot was perhaps a few inches ahead, but as Ian Chappell remarked on television, if that wasn't out, they might as well remove lbw as a mode of dismissal. And when he did give Collingwood out, the ball looked, irrespective of what you saw on Hawk-Eye, to be sliding past the leg stump.

At Trent Bridge, he denied Panesar two lbws in his first two overs in India's first innings. They were vital decisions, for they allowed Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer to swell the first-wicket partnership to 147, but he was happy to send back RP Singh and Sreesanth in quick succession: Singh looked out, but Sreesanth deserved the benefit of doubt.

It's futile labouring the point, but the lbw that he handed out to Ganguly has perhaps been the shocker of the series. Admittedly, the ball has been swinging exaggeratedly, sometimes changing path after passing the batsman. But this was a deviation palpably off the bat. If he didn't hear the nick, he should have seen it. Was he late in looking up? If he was, it was a schoolboy error from an international umpire.

Which raises the next question. Should Howell have been standing in the series in the first place? Of course, the ICC cannot be blamed for not anticipating the errors, but Howell is not part of the elite panel, and since no other international cricket is on at the moment, those appointing umpires had a full list to choose from. Were none of them available?

It is sad that umpires rarely get the credit for a job well done. In that, they are like wicketkeepers. Matt Prior has become the object of ridicule after two bad matches; it's only fair that the heat is now turned on Howell.

Mathew Varghese is sub-editor (stats) at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 16, 2007, 15:00 GMT

    omg, this is the stupidest thing i have ever read! people.. cricket 10 years ago didnt have hawk -eye so the umpries didnt knwo wether or not they got it 100% correct. and as for 'srirengs'; you cant have Indian Umpires umpiring an Indian game! can you imagen how much crap the umpire would get if he changed the corse of the game? Dickey-Bird was a good umpire, but why are people always talking about him.. 10 years ago there was 2 or 4 cameras at a cricket ground and 20years ago there was only 1 or 2- now there are 16 or even 32 for big games.. i think the umpires are under alot more pressure, so everyone, yes Mr Howell did have a bad game, and maybe some in the past, but stop talking about the past and get on with it. and who said anything about getting rid of the umpires, what a stupid remark! honestly, think about that. a games of cricket without umpires, its like football with out reffs. umpires dont just make decisions, they are responsible for the game around them. give them a break. there are only 9 elite umpires in the world, maybe there should be more, but then again maybe there arent people good enough. i cant beleive how people can say that Ian Howell had a bad game, when the 'best umpire' (Taufel) in the world makes a couple of terrible mistakes everyone bends over backwards n pretends it never happend. the elite umpires have hard stressed lifes and posting blogs about how bad they did is disgraceful. why dont people start posting blogs about how good umpires are. does anyone remember the world cup 2007 in west indies. umpiring was up and down but then all the elite umpires stayed on except one, then with the super-8s out of the way, the semi' and final came along, semi's where played and disisions where amazing. then the final, yes it was a poor game, but now the umpires involved in that are not going on and doing the 20/20 in south africa in september time. this shows there is a very tight margine for mistakes. but yet on adverage an umpire makes around 20 disions a game! so elite umpire aren't elite for no reason, they train and have an extremely hard job. even if Mr.Howell isn't on the elite panel, he still tries and is still a VERY good umpire, even if he has had a bad year so far, why do people always pick on the wrong stuff and not reliease the good umpiring that is made from them. with so many people who love cricket and so many cameras, the pressure is huge, and i personally respect these men, only 20 or so, who can make it into the light and make one decision right. in Asia cricket is loved so much that an umpire is in danger for his life if he makes a bad mistake. while in pakistan i saw some umpires leave the ground- they had a huge convoy off guards for protection- huge milatry trucks and men with AK-47s... so people, cricket isnt just about what happens on the pitch- wake up and look around- if you think you understand cricket, remember the game years ago and compare it now, with techonogly such as infra-red cameras you can pin-pin to the millimeter where the ball 'clips' the bat, and no, it doesnt mean that we should have two cameras on the pitch instead, it means that we should respect the people who try their best to do a good job and make a game enjoyable. so stop being complete idiots and respect these people who make the game possible to go ahead, they have a life. im sure they got family aswel so think about how much pressure they are in next time you hear ' HOWZZ THAT!???'... just wake up and smell the dirt people...

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2007, 15:42 GMT

    He's made too many glaring mistakes for an international umpire. The latest being Wasim Jaffer, 2nd innings, Oval. Ball was sailing over the stumps comfortably but Howell howled again because the batsman shouldered arms. It needs to be hitting for crying out loud. And he does howl doesn't he? He seems to pucker his lips when he is going to give the batsman out. There you go. Batsman look for the puckered lips from howler! Obviously the ICC can't be bothered if a school boy umpiring error ends a player's career.

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2007, 15:35 GMT

    What the ICC panel needs to do is that it should act on the number of times an error of such magnitude has happened. Each time a shocker of a decision is given his match fee should be deducted. The most important aspect is that the captain or coach should be allowed to challenge the decision. Accountability is the name of game.

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2007, 12:22 GMT

    Mr Howell has got so many decisions wrong that he should lose part of his match fee also like the players do - is he not accountable for his role?

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2007, 11:24 GMT

    Every official makes mistakes and learns from them. It is unfair to ask this question. The real question is, will he learn from them and not repeat them. On that question I would say that he did not learn from Trent Bridge and does not deserve to be umpiring at international level. What is even more concerning is that he gives players out when he is in doubt and needs to learn the basic rules of the game

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2007, 11:04 GMT

    Definitely Mr. Howell is not up to the mark. But surprisingly no umpires were upto the mark throughout the series. Also disappointing that such a good entertaining series (even contest between bat and ball so far) was affected by some bad decisions.

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2007, 10:51 GMT

    It is better to have software that does upmiring rather than relying on human umpiring. Things look different when you look with your naked eye from a distance of 22 yards than what you look with a zoomed replays. So blaming alone on umpires is not fair. If you look at French Open in tennis they use software for line call. Can't ICC afford a technology of such kind. It is poor on part of ICC rather than Human umpiring. Now it time that ICC should think to use the technology. If ICC is stubborn, these things will remain same. Remember one wrong decision can change the outcome of entire match.

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2007, 10:15 GMT

    I do not understand as to why umpires like Jayaprakash, and Hariharan from India, who are far far better or not given a chance when people like Howell are?

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2007, 10:14 GMT

    If Mr. Howell was a batsman or a bowler then on current form it is best that he should be "rested "..And if the ICC has a elite panel to choose from then why do they have to get second rate umpires in such high profile series !!! They are saving money or what ? Howell should be sent back to umpiring in county cricket..he is not fit to stand in Tests !!

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2007, 10:06 GMT

    I dont know how he is become an umpire. Is there is no rule to punish such an umpire in the ICC? He is commiting his mistakes continuously and he dont want to correct it. ICC Panel should think about to taking him for an International Cricket umpiring.

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