Ray Julian, the third umpire for the Old Trafford Test, has revealed that the umpires in the middle were warned that they were missing no-balls before the controversial dismissals on the final afternoon.
Julian, probably the most respected umpire in English domestic cricket, was reacting to questions as to why he or the match referee had not intervened. His admission that match referee Brian Hastings had spoken to both David Shepherd and Eddie Nicholls on their walkie-talkies between overs makes the subsequent mistakes still more puzzling.
"It is the match referee's job to inform the field umpires if he sees anything untoward," said Julian.
"Brian (Hastings) told them to keep an eye on the no-balls. He was concerned they were missing a few. He got on the walkie-talkie to 'Shep' and Eddie between lunch and tea. Unfortunately, they kept on missing them."
Julian was keen not to criticise either of the umpires, though, and pointed out some of the difficulties that they were presented with on the final afternoon.
"They were probably thinking too much about what was going on at the batsman's end. Maybe the pressure got to them. Certainly, they are two experienced umpires and I'm sure they'll be disappointed to miss those no-balls.
"Shep was down after the game. Both he and Eddie are experienced officials, but they would admit they made a few mistakes. But we umpires must support each other. Wasim Akram, in particular, is hard to pick up for no-balls because he has such a quick follow-through."
Julian also joined the long list of those calling for the use of further technical assistance: "Umpires have about one second in which to look for no-balls, see whether a bowler is running on the pitch and then take in all the activity after the ball is released," he reasoned.
"On Monday, there were six wrong decisions that would have been corrected if referred to the third umpire. The ICC must give umpires as much help as possible."
But former Test umpire 'Dickie' Bird disagrees. He feels that the advent of technical aids has diminished the stature of the umpire in the middle and led to players having increasing doubts over the fallibility of the officials. Bird believes that players have to accept the occasional mistake as part of the game.
"I fear for the future of umpiring and for cricket," Bird said. "I have always been a firm believer in the man in the middle making the decisions and I would be very reluctant to bring in more electronic assistance.
"Mistakes are made in every walk of life, they all even out in the end and I just feel all this talk is sad for the wonderful game of cricket.
Certainly we are at a crossroads in terms of umpiring. With television replays able to undermine the umpire's decision, but unable to be applied to help the umpire in the middle the current status-quo seems untenable.
In the pressurised environment of professional sport it is unlikely that players will accept possibly career altering mistakes as a kooky charm of the game. It also seems unlikely that television companies will stop highlighting controversial incidents in order to protect the umpire. The only way forward, it seems, is to find a way to provide the umpires with all the available information without slowing the game down.
But Bird disagrees passionately: "There's even talk of using the third umpire now to rule on lbws and caught behind pat-pads," Bird added. "That is too much because no amount of television replays can judge angles or speeds.
"The way things are going the umpires will soon not have any decisions to make at all. All they will have to be able to do is count to six and that will bring an end to part of the game which goes right back into history. The umpire as we have always known him will have all his authority taken away. He will be finished."
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