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It is so obvious that it bears repeating: umpires are only human and, being human, can always make mistakes. This is not to say that umpiring should be hit or miss; simply that, when they do err, umpires deserve better than histrionics from the players and opprobrium from the media. Similarly, the players deserve the best umpires. They have not always had them. Back in 1987, Wisden's Notes advocated an independent panel of leading umpires, appointed by and responsible to the ICC, which in turn would have to show a more positive attitude in supporting them. Fifteen years later we are about to get it. In the interim, we have had that constant companion of cricket administration, compromise, along with the usual diet of fudge.
Having one ICC umpire in a Test match was a start, but it neither tackled the problem of erratic standards nor eradicated the cause of so much player dissent - the suspicion that, deep down, the home umpire was biased. Referees were a recognition of the problem without solving it. They focused on player behaviour in order to sustain the shibboleth that the umpire is always right. Television has thrown that into confusion, and an elite panel will not solve the problem unless cricketers - and this applies at every level - accept that the umpire is integral to the game, not as an authority figure but an arbiter.
So it was worrying when the chairman of the first-class umpires' association, Allan Jones, complained that their representations to the ECB over increasing incidents of dissent were falling on deaf ears. New regulations were introduced last season to stop intimidatory appealing, but umpires feel these were toothless. When they reported players to the board, there was no indication what penalty, if any, had been imposed. "Youngsters see these things taking place on the field and, when nothing is done, they think it's appropriate behaviour," Jones said. It would help if the board dealt out the penalties, but they leave this to the county that employs the offender. It's the procedure, apparently - and very convenient it is, too.
Meanwhile the debate rumbles on over television's role as an umpiring aid. Is there any reason why the talking should not be replaced by trials? For cricket and television to have a meaningful relationship, cricket has to keep up with television. Already there are virtually two games: one watched by those at the ground, the other dissected by millions getting all the gizmos. The technological wizardry does not provide all the answers, but used intelligently it could help umpires avoid errors. Maybe there can never be certitude that a ball would have gone on to hit the stumps, but the umpire could receive advice on where the ball pitched and where the pad was when it was struck. Similarly with catches: it does not matter if there is doubt. The Laws cater for that; if in doubt, not out. Television's opponents argue that it will slow the game, but there is already a hiatus after every delivery during which the umpire could phone a friend, let alone receive a word in his ear from a colleague in the techno-trailer, with immediate access to different camera angles and replays. No-balls could be scrutinised this way, and a larger penalty - four runs or even six - would concentrate bowlers' minds wonderfully.