Richard Ingrams' Week: Cricket umpires - who needs them?

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The Independent Online

I doubt if we will ever get to the bottom of the crisis over ball-tampering at the Oval Test match, and the latest news about an offer by the umpire to resign for a substantial sum hardly makes matters clearer. The most likely outcome will be a report from the English Cricket Board which names no individuals, refers to "systemic failure", calls for new guidelines and urges us to draw a line on the affair and move on.

I do not expect to learn how it was that umpire Darrell Hair, who had a history of inflaming Pakistani passions, was given the job in the first place. And if umpires are selected for their impartiality, how come Hair was chosen when he is a British resident? As for Hair himself, I suspect that like many umpires today, he is beginning to feel increasingly irrelevant, not to say marginalised. Thanks to the wonders of technology, the TV camera is in a much better position than any umpire to decide on run-outs. There is even now a device called Hawkeye which can adjudicate on LBW appeals.

The umpires' decision may be final but nowadays we can provide 100 per cent proof if it is wrong. So how long will it be before umpires are declared redundant? In the circumstances how satisfying it must be for an umpire in Darrell Hair's position to reassert his authority by deciding that one side is cheating, thus causing a walk-out, the premature end of a Test match and a major crisis.

Umpires may be on the way out but Darrell Hair has in the meantime ensured that his name will live for ever in the annals of the great game.

Try disappointing a pessimist

In a Channel 4 programme shown earlier this week, the one-time saviour of the New York subway system, Bob Kiley, expressed his exasperation about our attitude to overcrowded trains that nine times out of 10 are late. "What amazes me is how you British put up with this," he said.

It is surprising that in spite of spending five years in this country working for Red Ken, Kiley has failed to understand the British psyche. Perhaps like Dr Liam Fox he still believes that we in this country think and feel and hope the same way as Americans.

Not so: the predominant English feeling throughout the centuries has been that the country is going to the dogs. Things are falling apart; the Government is incompetent; the Prime Minister is a deluded fool and possibly even mad.

We do not expect things to work. The machine will be out of order; the beer will be warm; the toast burned. The cricket will be rained off.

Surprising as it may sound, this is a generally healthy attitude, certainly healthier than that of the Americans. It is when you think your country is great, that you can convert the rest of the world to your way of thinking, even if necessary by force of arms, that the trouble starts.

Only in a fascist country, like pre-war Italy under Mussolini, will the trains run on time. Here we expect the train to be late and it comes as a delightful and unexpected surprise when it arrives on time.

Cliff Richard has told the world this week about how he felt so sorry for Mr Blair when he saw him on the telly at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that he offered him the run of his luxury home in Barbados.

"He looked so dwindled and haggard," said the saintly pop singer. "The idea was to do a good deed for someone doing a terrible job."

More interesting is his account of what originally brought him into contact with the Blairs. He tells how Cherie Blair's office had contacted him in the hope of getting some free tickets for one of his concerts.

The Blairs of course could easily have paid for the tickets out of their own pockets. But Cherie Blair, in particular, makes a habit of trying to get as much as she can on the cheap - or better still, for free.

The BBC's former director general Greg Dyke, also on the board of Manchester United, tells in his memoirs how one day at Christmas time Cherie called him up and asked if he could get her a discount on a Manchester United shirt for her son Euan.

Then there were the stories of her helping herself to clothes when on a trip to Australia or trying to get some free sports kit while visiting the Olympic Games in Athens.

Some of us may see all this as despicable scrounging. Cherie more likely thinks she is entitled to presents and perks because she is such an important and successful person. Exactly the same was true of the late Sir Edward Heath, another very self-important and unattractive individual.