Cricket: Koertzen shows contrition but criticises replays

Click to follow
The Independent Online
RUDI KOERTZEN, the South African umpire blamed for a series of poor decisions in the second Test, broke his silence yesterday in order to put forward the view of the men in white coats. Roundly criticised in the media for four or five bad decisions, Koertzen felt that he was being unfairly singled out and sentenced by television, the new judge and jury of sport.

"We always go out there to do our best," he said from his home town of Port Elizabeth. "Sometimes we get it wrong. I personally think that TV replays are a good thing for the game, but one of the biggest problems is that the replay is not always conclusive."

In the case of Jacques Kallis - allegedly caught by Chris Adams at short gully off Phil Tufnell but referred to a television replay and given not out - he is right. However, his admission on a radio interview with the BBC that he made just two mistakes is a conservative estimate even by Norman Tebbit standards.

Considering England did not lose, the furore has been overplayed. In fact the mistake that probably cost England most dear was none of the howlers seen on the last day. Instead it was the failure to give Mark Boucher out in the first innings when he gloved a lifter from Andy Caddick. That wicket would have reduced South Africa to 294 for 8; instead they had advanced to 387 when Boucher finally succumbed.

To be fair to Koertzen, the modern umpire's lot is a thankless one and he at least had the grace to admit he was wrong.

"I always try to make a decision," said Koertzen. "If it's wrong, you have to have the guts to admit to your mistakes and I've done that. I'm not the first umpire in the world to make mistakes." Koertzen is due to umpire the fifth and final Test and feels he is ready for the task. "Of course I want to umpire that Test and I can assure the guys who weren't happy with me in the last Test that I want to set the record straight.

"If there's been a problem I apologise and, as long as they keep me there, I will go into the last Test and I'll prove I'm a very good umpire."

England can object to him standing again, though it would be rather petty and small-minded of them to do so, especially after his apology. Sides have done it, though, the most recent being Sri Lanka, who last winter objected to Darrell Hair after he had no-balled Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing in an earlier series.

Hair was wisely kept away from their matches, but the controversy flared once again when another umpire, Ross Emerson, called Muralitharan for an illegal delivery against England. The incident caused chaos, with the Sri Lankan captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, threatening to take his team off the field.

An objection is not out of the question here and, according to England's coach Duncan Fletcher, he and captain Nasser Hussain sat down to discuss the matter on the team bus as it made its way to East London.

"It's easy to rush into things," said Fletcher before the team travelled. "Last year, when I was still coach of Western Province, we felt he was a good umpire in the SuperSport series and were happy with him. You see bad umpiring in other Tests, it's nothing new. But I'll sit down with Nasser and, once we make a decision on it, we'll take it from there."

Umpires are easy targets for criticism and Koertzen has probably had more opprobrium heaped upon him in the past 48 hours than either Javed Akhtar and Shakoor Rana - two notorious umpires from Pakistan - had in their entire careers.

Yet sporting contests require justice, so getting decisions right is of extreme importance, especially when, as the former South Africa Test player Fanie de Villiers puts it: "Players' careers are on the line."

Koertzen's mistake was not so much in getting it wrong, but rather in not applying the benefit of the doubt, a yardstick traditionally given to batsmen. Judged by television, doubt was something the dismissals of Mark Butcher, Michael Vaughan and Chris Adams all had plenty of.

It is a common trait in professional sport to deflect blame and offload the reasons for failure on to others. England may just have fought a good draw, but the bad umpiring decisions have sown the seeds of paranoia, especially among the victims. Teams are particularly vulnerable, especially those on tour when the close contact enables any gripes to spread like a contagion. It is only human nature, but preventing an epidemic is vital if the positives of the past few days are to be built upon.

For that reason, England have been given two days off before their one- day game in Alice, a small town in the Klein Karoo, two hours inland from East London. Golf and fishing are on the agenda and, unless Lance Klusener turns up to win the long-driving competition, it may be just the tonic to soothe some of those fevered brows.