Taken away by the men in white coats

Cricket Diary
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The Independent Online
It Is sad but true that fingers are always being pointed at umpires. While their decisions rightly remain beyond question their wisdom is now regularly impugned.

Take the first Test of the series between England and Pakistan. With the benefit of some 37 television replays and almost as many camera angles nobody seriously reckoned that either of the men in white coats, Steve Bucknor and Peter Willey, had outstanding games.

Indeed, take any Test this summer. Some verdicts, if they have not defied belief, have collapsed under relentless scrutiny. One England batsman might not have been out in either innings at Lord's last month, another might have been given out caught behind before reaching either of his Test hundreds this summer.

Time then to speak to Tony Brown, the administration secretary of the TCCB and general guru when it comes to first-class umpires and their classifications. "We get more applications for the job than ever before," he said, "and we accept them from anywhere and anybody."

Do not prepare to join the queue, however, for Brown swiftly added: "We prefer it if applicants have passed the exam set by the Association of Cricket Umpires and these days that is almost a requirement. There is no doubt that it's more difficult to be accepted if you haven't played first-class cricket."

The umpiring panel and the reserve list, which have 26 and six members respectively, are chosen each September by a panel of senior players and ex-players.

This assesses the average marks given to each umpire by captains throughout the season. Marks, once given out of 10, are now awarded out of five. According to Brown the important thing is not the order but the span. Thus, what the panel wants to see is, say, a top average mark of 4.2 and a bottom average mark of 3.2. This proves that standards are being maintained. Much below that and jobs might be in jeopardy, but that rarely happens.

"It doesn't tend to occur because we like to think the selection procedure is rigid," said Brown. "The bloke who finishes top one year won't necessarily be top the next year. But some are regularly in the top 10 or so."

Dickie Bird, for instance, was invariably up there despite suggestions that his powers had waned. Far from it, said Brown. Dickie was a regular recipient of high marks - "far more than some people might imagine".

The names for the International Panel are chosen from the upper echelons but are not the top four. That, said Brown, would require change every year, which would be patently silly.

This understandable disregard for the precise order is not consistent. For instance, the order tends to determine who gets the prestige matches like cup semi-finals. "Well, you want the best," said Brown.

So, some on 3.2 might be deemed perfectly good enough to be adjudicating at Old Trafford on some forlorn Monday, but not in front of a full house next Tuesday. The International Panel umpires all cup finals.

"It is a matter," said Brown, "of technical knowledge allied to temperament. Players want to stay in touch in the game but I'm not sure it's particularly for romantic reasons. The money's good."

The minimum salary is pounds 18,500 plus allowances. "Not bad for about 90 days' work," said Brown. But worth every penny for discerning whether the England captain has walked across his stumps again.

FROM umpires to those other indispensable ancillary workers, scorers. There is some disquiet among the ranks of those who record the deeds of county second XIs.

Hitherto unsung task though it may have been, it has suddenly found itself in demand. Letters bearing the name of the TCCB's newly-appointed head honcho, Tim Lamb, reveal that after a long day on a lonely ground seconds scorers are being expected to relay full details of the day's play to the Press Association.

No fee is involved, which rather echoes the duties imposed on first XI scorers three seasons ago. Apparently, the advantage is that by raising the profile in this way it will make second teams attractive to sponsors. "We're not happy but what can we do except mess up the extras," said one who wanted to be known only as A Scorer.

England's reliance on seam bowling in the present Test may have bemused Les Stillman, Derbyshire's progressive Australian coach. He is convinced that the future lies in wrist spin - "very hard to play and a skill that can be taught," he said. Stillman has launched a nationwide search for a wrist spinner of the future who would never be left out whatever the surface.

It is widely hinted that Ian Botham will be part of England's coaching establishment not least because of what he means to the present team. It is intriguing to note therefore that in the Cricketers Admired section of the current Cricketers' Who's Who only one of the side on duty at Headingley mentions Botham. Five name Graham Gooch.

One-man stand

Adam Hollioake, the affable, vigorous vice-captain of Surrey, mused the other day on his duties. "I like being captain of the side," he said, "and I get a lot from it. But I know I just have to step in when Alec is away on Test duty. This is a very easy team to captain, believe me." If Surrey go on to win the Championship they will be the sixth side this decade to do so having had their captain absent through injury or Test calls for much of the season.