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Opinion

The case for neutral umpires is clearer than ever

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Roar Rookie
27th December, 2020
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1390 Reads

Test match cricket in the bio-secure bubble has brought into sharp focus the need to maintain neutral umpires at all cost.

The Tim Paine “run out” has only confirmed that view and, by an ironic twist, my period of review also started with a run out that wasn’t.

Keith Stackpole was run by a yard but not given by an Australian umpire during 1970/71.

West Indies overturned six dismissals in the first Test against England in 2020 using DRS system when the umpires were English. By the second Test that figure and had gone into double figures and I gave up on keeping a tally.

While England were clearly the better side the ramifications and underlying trends are disturbing.

Complaints about umpiring is one thing but hometown “preference” and out and out cheating is another.

No one is saying that the three English umpires were cheating. It’s only Asian umpires who cheat.

Pakistani umpire Idris Beg was kidnapped and assaulted by the England touring team but England still kept winning in Pakistan.

The allegations of cheating started only in the 1980s when Pakistan became a real power in the game and started winning under Imran Khan. The seeds of the Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana confrontation were sown well before 1986.

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That wasn’t even about a bad decision until Chris Broad refused to walk for a decision he subsequently acknowledged as correct. He is now the judge presiding over bad behaviour by players.

Little wonder that Imran Khan was so vocal for neutral umpires and got the Pakistan Board to pay for neutral umpires in the series against WI in 1986 and IND in 1990. Not because Pakistani umpires were so bad but because he didn’t want his great team’s success tainted by allegations of biased umpiring.

But when both India and Pakistan complained about David Constant and the horror decision against Pakistan in 1982 which, effectively, cost them the Headingly Test it was dismissed as “whinging”. They didn’t complain about Dickie Bird or David Shephard for a good reason.

Australian umpires are no strangers to controversy either. In the Stackpole incident in 1970/71 no less than 19 LBW were given against England batsman but not a single against Australia.

And yes, John Snow was warned for bowling too many bouncers! Just when did the Australian batsmen need protections against bouncers? This was not bodyline.

I don’t recall too many warnings to Willis and Botham when they were knocking out teeth against hapless Asian tail enders. Michael Holding’s account of his experience with umpires in Australia in 1975/76 and in New Zealand in 1980 is revealing.

During this year’s Tests against WI it was clear that Richard Kettleborough was trigger happy when it came to marginal decisions against WI.

He was too ready to give WI batsman out on “umpires call” type decisions so that on DRS it would stay out. When it came to England batting, he would only give a decision if it was clearly out.

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His use of the “discretion” or preference benefitted England throughout. His actions could be explained as a fluke if it was one or two decisions but having watched every ball and every decision there was a clear pattern.

It might not have been even intentional but some subconscious action. We don’t know anything about umpires and their backgrounds and beliefs.

Darryl Hair, the self-appointed guardian of the game not so long ago, was convicted of theft in Australia. There are many dark sides to humanity that remain undiscovered.

The use of discretion or umpires’ calls allows that to be explained and excused too easily. Tim Paine was clearly run out yesterday. There is no part of his bat over the line, so this decision was far worse than an umpire’s calls decisions which has the inbuilt discretion element.

Now that there are established technology systems available there should be no room for doubt in decision making. Umpires call type of decisions should be removed from the system as introducing an unacceptable level of discretion and potential for bias.

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A batsman should be only given out if all three elements of an LBW appeal are satisfied, ball pitching in line, no contact with the bat and stumps hit full-on or “three reds” on the DRS system.

This will maintain the benefit of the doubt with the batsman rather than the umpire.