Cricket / First Test: Umpires gain favourable verdict

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SADLY, in some parts of the cricket world there seems to be a feeling that umpires from the sub-continent are invariably unreliable, so it is a pleasure to be able to say that Piloo Reporter and Srini Venkataraghavan, who are standing here, are as good as any I have seen.

This is Reporter's 13th Test and Venkataraghavan's first and, in difficult circumstances, they have been firm, fair and friendly throughout. There have been no histrionics and no officiousness, just a high degree of professional competence.

The pitch has taken spin and the England batsmen have been fighting a prolonged form of warfare against India's three slow bowlers. The batsmen have been surrounded, the ball has been constantly hitting the pads and ballooning to close fielders and there has been much appealing.

Neither umpire has allowed the pressure to affect him and they have been scrupulous in their understanding and interpretation of the laws, especially about lbw decisions. Many times the Indians have all appealed when the ball would certainly have hit the stumps.

But these two umpires have never responded affirmatively if there has been the smallest shadow of doubt that the ball had hit the batsman's pads outside the line of the off stump or had pitched outside the leg stump. This may seem elementary, but the pressures on umpires here is strong and there have been times when the umpiring has been less than precise.

The catches off bat and pad are always a problem, but here again they have not allowed themselves to be intimidated and have earned the respect of the players on both sides. Reporter is an old hand while Venkataraghavan is a newcomer as an umpire although, as a former Test off-spinner, he is highly and significantly experienced.

It is this experience which has served him so well in this match and it does show the advantage of having former players as umpires. Venkataraghavan may be the first former Test cricketer to become an umpire in India. I hope, though, that he is suitably rewarded and supported by those in authority for this would encourage others to follow.