Umpires in the dark over light

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The Independent Online
England A 453-4 dec and 173-8 dec; The Rest 350-6 dec and 9-0 Match drawn

One of the perennial criticisms of English cricket is that it is too soft. It is a view that would have been impossible not to uphold yesterday, when a potentially exciting finish to the Tetley Shield was abandoned as a draw. As the Rest set off on their mission to chase the 277 set them by England A, in a minimum of 52 overs, the match was undermined by the umpires' decision to suspend play for over two hours, due to a combination of bad light and a gravity-defying light drizzle that barely reached ground level.

Give him a moment and Dickie Bird will tell you that most of his umpiring career has been blighted by having to make unpopular decisions. On this occasion neither he nor his partner Roy Palmer had received their new light meters from the England Cricket Board. Judging the light was therefore totally subjective, but both felt it had to be offered to the batsmen.

Cricket's susceptibility to changes in the weather is what spectators and marketing men find most frustrating, and probably why, along with its long hours, it will never enjoy the popularity currently enjoyed by football. Proof that the rainfall was insignificant came once the match had been called off and the groundsman immediately rolled out an enormous yellow hose and started to water the square.

In cricket there are simply no guarantees, but when the umpires unnecessarily re-inforce that by being overly pedantic, it does the game's image as a sport for softies no good at all. If this was an end-of-season game between the top two counties, it is doubtful whether a minute's play would have been lost.

Far more gratifying for the few hardy souls who did turn up was the determined way in which Ben Hollioake went about upstaging his elder and more established brother, Adam. Sibling rivalries can be intense, but Hollioake the younger did not let the situation provoke him and his prompt removal of big brother showed a cool-headed talent at work.

For a 19-year-old, Hollioake junior is an exciting prospect. On the evidence of his contributions here - a rapid unbeaten 46 and a deserving 3 for 22 in the second innings - Hollioake senior, for all his impressive leadership and all-round ability on the England A tour in Australia, may struggle to head the inevitable comparisons the new season will undoubtedly bring.

The cricketing genes are strong and the pair's father played Shield cricket for Victoria. Both brothers were born in Melbourne, but, for the record, Adam has always maintained that Ben is the more naturally talented.

Unlike his elder brother, who went to school at St George's Weybridge, Ben was educated at Millfield School, a haven for the sportingly talented.

Although he had a fine tour of Pakistan with the England Under 19 team, this was only his fourth first-class match and there is exciting scope for further improvement. He is right-handed, but if he can make more use of a lazy left arm when he bowls he will gain in both pace and awkwardness.

He dismissed his brother, who gloved a lifter to the keeper, and Mark Ealham, who was caught in the gully driving at an outswinger, and had enough pace to force Anthony McGrath to play back on to his stumps when the batsman was going well.

It is an ability much sought after but rarely possessed by one so young and Surrey will be culpable of bringing the game into disrepute if they leave him in the second team this season.