Henry Blofeld: Error-prone Robinson distorts game

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The Independent Online

The Second Test was unhappily and discreditably distorted by two shocking umpiring decisions after England, who won the toss, had made a wonderful start. After an opening stand of 124 between Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher, appalling decisions against Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan not only reduced England to 172 for 3 but irrevocably upset the momentum of the innings.

Hussain was given out leg before to a googly from Anil Kumble and when the ball hit his back pad, all three stumps were clearly visible. It would hardly have hit a fifth stump. Shortly afterwards, Vaughan played forward to Kumble and the ball bounced unmistakably from knee-roll of his pad to silly point with the bat nowhere near it and once again the umpire's finger shot up in the air.

In both incidents Ian Robinson, of Zimbabwe, was the umpire. He has freshly arrived from Perth where he presided in the third Test between Australia and New Zealand. He is said to have made two equally bad decisions on the last day, refusing to give either Steve Waugh or Jason Gillespie caught behind and he apparently admitted later that he had been wrong on both occasions. New Zealand were then unable to win a match and the series they had deserved.

There are many worse journeys in the cricket world than moving from Perth to Ahmedabad and so travel fatigue is not an excuse. The fact is that for some years now Robinson has by general acceptance been one of the less reliable of umpires on the international panel in spite of his own self-confidence. He should not be allowed to stand again in a Test match.

He is head of the Umpires Association in Zimbabwe, who are required to put forward the names of their two best umpires for the international panel.

But thank goodness his days are numbered. The International Cricket Council is putting the finishing touches to a plan to form a globe-trotting panel of the eight best umpires in the world, who will be full-time professionals and stand in all Test matches, backed up by competent reserves.

What made the situation even more absurd now was that the first Test of this series was umpired as near faultlessly as possible by Steve Bucknor and Srini Venkataraghavan. We have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous and beyond. The original concept of neutral umpires was fine and has gone a long way to rid the game of accusations of biased umpiring, which is excellent.

In these two Tests in which Robinson has stood ­ in Perth and here ­ all he has shown is that neutral incompetence is preferable to home-town incompetence. But cricket deserves better than that. Even when the planned new system is in place, the eight top umpires must be carefully watched and marked as must those who would take the place of any who were thought to be no longer up to it. Incompetence must be kept to a minimum.

Far too much has been left to chance, both with the umpires where nothing has been done to sack those who are palpably unfit for the job, and with match referees, who must now be far more consistent with the penalties they hand out.

I have no doubt that the ICC, under the admirable guidance of Malcolm Speed, who came through his first major test the other day with commendable judgement and strength of purpose, will cope capably with both these problems. But Robinson's two disgraceful decisions here at the Sardar Patel Stadium has helped underline how pressing both these issues are.

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