Cricket: Writing the rule book on umpires

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IT MUST be a dog's life being a professional cricket umpire. There you stand, day after day, your piles giving you the most appalling gyp, and what do you get in return? Men with enormous moustaches yelling at you, boos from the crowd when you pick up your commemorative medal at the end, and, worst of all, general opprobrium from the whole country when you make a rotten decision.

Now I must confess that, after the heroics of the last Test, I am in an unusually sunny mood, utterly convinced that Graham Gooch is a captain of immense authority and a batsman of rare genius rather than the shambling cretin we all thought he was 10 days ago. But even amidst this rare and vivid joy, it cannot be denied that in the last Test there were a handful of really rotten umpiring decisions.

Ah, but we could do with officials of the integrity and soundness of Roy Palmer and Barrie Meyer in the Captain Scott Invitation XI. This season, like every season, has seen some decisions so outrageous that, on one or two occasions, physical violence has only just been averted. Palmer and Meyer would be the first to admit that they make mistakes. Most people would. But the bad umpire never admits to anything. Bad umpires are like bad drivers: on absolutely no evidence at all, they think that they're the only people who know what they're doing. Like bad drivers, they're almost inevitably wrong.

One on our own team, for example, is the Moral Umpire. This character, when called upon to make a decision, weighs up not whether or not the batsman is out, but whether the batsman deserves to be out. Pitched outside leg stump? Doesn't matter. Playing a bit boringly? Afraid so, and up goes the finger.

Then occasionally you come across a Stickler. This is the old geezer who knows all the rules, even the really abstruse ones, and insists on showing off his knowledge at every opportunity, giving 'one short' or no-balling a wicketkeeper who collects the ball a nanometre in front of the stumps. Often severely aged, and proud that he passed an umpiring exam in 1924, the Stickler has it all - except for judgement. He knows every rule, but he can't tell whether it's out or not. Remarkably, his decisions always favour the home side, who thus use him regularly. Really serious Sticklers also possess light meters, which they don't know how to use.

Even worse, though, is the Coach, who goes out to umpire so that he can tell his batsmen what they're doing wrong, and how to play each bowler. The one we encountered a few weeks ago even wanted to umpire at both ends.

Fortunately, when we came to bat, a lugubrious Mancunian amongst our number got to the other end first. The Coach was apoplectic, but the Mancunian remained unmoved. 'I can count to six, you know,' he explained. When the Mancunian came in to bat later, the ball hit his pad, extra cover appealed, and the Coach raised his finger with a huge grin on his face. He was the sort of bloke who signals leg byes when you've hit it off the middle of the bat, just for the fun of it.

No, after that I'd give anything for a simple honest mistake. Unless, of course, it happened to be me batting at the time.