Bad day for men in white coats

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The Independent Online

The umpiring in this series has not been good. Those who are not members of the new international panel of eight élite umpires chosen to look after all Test cricket may well have been standing in their last Test matches. This means that Australia's Darrell Hair and New Zealand's Steve Dunne and Doug Cowie may have been seen for the last time.

Ironically, one of the worst in this three-match series was Asoka de Silva of Sri Lanka, who stood in the first Test in Christchurch and is one of the élite eight. He had one of those games when those infernal television replays seemed to show that he got just about every tight decision wrong.

Steve Dunne is New Zealand's most experienced umpire, but has not been selected as one of the élite. He was given the last Test at Wellington, but it was hardly surprising if his mind was elsewhere, given that his wife is dangerously ill and, in the best of all worlds, he should not have been asked to stand.

In this third Test, Cowie gave one of the most absurd decisions one has ever seen when he decided that Andrew Flintoff had been caught behind when he was not within six inches of the ball. He also gave Chris Harris the benefit of the doubt in both innings when replays showed beyond doubt that he had been caught off his glove.

Billy Bowden, a young New Zealander with a growing reputation, had a good first Test in Christchurch while Hair got most things right in Wellington and Srinivas Venkataraghavan, another élite man, has done an efficient job so far here.

Umpiring will never be an exact science for it will never be able to compensate for human error. The ablest will make their mistakes but perhaps neutral incompetence is easier to accept than parochial incompetence, which can be made to carry an invariably unjustifiable tag of cheating.

The umpires Venkat and Cowie, on this fourth day at Eden Park, did make one bold statement for the future. They offered the light to the New Zealand batsmen at the awkward twilight stage of the innings when the floodlights had not yet taken over and the batsmen refused to go off. They then allowed play to continue until a quarter to seven when night had descended and the floodlights held sway.

In this time, New Zealand went for their strokes and destroyed the England attack. The entertainment value was enormous, and this must be the future of Test cricket. Venkat and Cowie deserve all the congratulations that should come their way.