India deliver bouncer with umpires plan

Instead of bending the knee to English criticism – as if – the Indian cricket authorities indicated yesterday that they had no intention of changing their umpiring policies. If they had any such inclination it was probably ended as soon as England went into a huff and started writing censorious letters.

Instead of bending the knee to English criticism – as if – the Indian cricket authorities indicated yesterday that they had no intention of changing their umpiring policies. If they had any such inclination it was probably ended as soon as England went into a huff and started writing censorious letters.

First, secretary of the Board for Control of Cricket in India, Niranjan Shah, said that far from sacking SK Sharma, the umpire who made several poor decisions in the first match of the one-day series, they were considering pushing him for promotion.

Secondly, and perhaps more bizarrely, he admitted that the series is being used as a kind of practical examination for the 12 umpires standing in it. Those who accrue the highest marks will be put forward as candidates for the second band of international umpires being established by the International Cricket Council in April.

It was probably not what England wanted to hear. If it was misguided of them to write to the match referee, Denis Lindsay, expressing their disappointment at the standard of umpiring in the first game it was also true that the officiating in Calcutta last Saturday night was dreadful. So, too, incidentally, was the over-rate by both sides (it left England only 49 overs to chase 282) and Lindsay fined them five per cent of their match fees yesterday.

By making an official complaint, quite separate from the normal captain's report – about the umpires not the over rates, naturally – England merely cast themselves in their traditional, oft undeserved role, as whingers. If it was intended to provide a hint to the umpires for the rest of the series ("be fair with us guv'nor and we'll be fair with you") that might backfire as well. Umpires, whether of the required standard or not, do not like being pushed around.

Nonetheless, India have gone about their business in a rum fashion. The appointment of 12 different umpires for an international series is unprecedented and the idea of the matches being used for examination purposes is plain daft.

Neither of their two umpires on the international panel, Srinivas Venkataraghavan nor AV Jayaprakash, is standing in this series in which interest is astonishingly high. Not that England should too firmly astride their high horse. At home they have used umpires from the first-class list. They would claim it is necessary because there are so many matches but it still diminishes the status.

There have been worse decisions in international cricket than the leg-before verdict which Sharma delivered against Marcus Trescothick on Saturday night, but not many. The ball pitched some six inches outside leg. Yet England failed to recognise that they could and should have won despite that.

In 1998, England won a Test series against South Africa with a stunningly wretched sequence of decisions given in their favour in the decisive match at Headingley. It was plain for all to see that they were wrong. England's letter to the match referee saying it was all a bit much was conspicuous by its absence.

From April all one-dayers will have one of the new élite umpires from a neutral country and a home umpire from band B. And because they are human they will, you can be assured, make mistakes. And will England still write letters then? * Tickets for the second match at Cuttack (due to finish at 11.10am GMT today), where the capacity is only 27,000, could have been sold twice over. Record sales have been reported for the third, day-night match at Madras on Friday.

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