Zimbabwe umpire in the spotlight August 1, 1999

Tiffin could be left in a spin

Scyld Berry on why the ICC's umpire policy may again come under fire at Old Trafford

Last year's climax to the Test series against South Africa was marred by the umpiring mistakes of Pakistan's Javed Akhtar at Headingley - so numerous as to be comical - and by those of Mervyn Kitchen and Steve Dunne at Trent Bridge to a lesser extent. If England had not won 2-1, the we-was-robbed moaning might still be going on.

As the present series is hotting up at 1-1, a warm welcome is guaranteed at Old Trafford for the International Cricket Council National Grid umpire, Russell Tiffin. A spinner's pitch, with the ball rebounding into the hands of yelling silly-points and short-legs off pad or glove - or was it the bat? but no, the umpires cannot consult the snickometer - would be demanding for the most hardened umpire in more chivalrous days, let alone for an inexperienced Zimbabwean in a dog-fight.

Far from bending a deferential knee to the Mother Country as New Zealand sides traditionally have, and racked no more by the inferiority complex which used to go with the silver fern, Chris Cairns and Dion Nash are using their full ration of expletives. And stoking the fires behind the scenes, or rather off-camera, are the two players who have swapped countries: Roger Twose, who converted to being a Kiwi, and Andy Caddick, who emigrated to England because he was peeved at his treatment in Christchurch, where Cairns was considered to be the kiddy.

Twose's workshop at mid-on ('24-hour ball-polishing, all means considered') produced ideal balls for New Zealand to swing in England's first innings at Lord's and to reverse-swing in the second. Caddick's tendency to have off-days is sure to be kept in check so long as his former compatriots are around to rile him: in four Tests against them he has taken 20 wickets at 18.

Such a bottom-of-the-table scrap may prove a severe test for David Shepherd, standing in his only Test of the series after a taxing World Cup when he was constantly in demand as the Friendly Fireman. For Tiffin it will come as some contrast to the game between Hampshire seconds and Essex seconds which he stood in at Bournemouth last week by way of preparation.

Tiffin, aged 40, has officiated in nine Tests to date, a record which has the makings of an international career of some substance, but one which disguises his lack of experience overall. Zimbabwe's domestic season consists of a handful of first-class matches on which he can cut his teeth.

Tiffin may enjoy a splendid, faultless match at Old Trafford. But if he should have an Akhtar-ish game, the ICC will again be asked why should every country nominate two umpires to the international panel (England four) even if it does not have two of international standard, on the grounds of diplomatic expediency not of merit?