Umps in the dumps

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

HENRY Nicholls would have celebrated somewhere deep inside at Centurion on Tuesday when, having been given out caught at short leg on what became the last day of the second test between South Africa and New Zealand, he was reprieved when his review was upheld – he had not hit the ball.

But no-one had cause for celebration.

That error, committed by Paul Reiffel, was the seventh involving a dismissal made by the umpires on the field in less than four days’ play.

Add the two decisions that would have been overturned had they been reviewed and Reiffel and his colleague, Ian Gould, would have got it wrong nine times in less than 11 sessions of play.

Most of those mistakes were news to Rudi Koertzen, who between 1992 and 2010 stood in 108 tests and was on the box in 20 more.

“I hardly watch cricket anymore because of the umpiring system,” Koertzen said.

“They’re too shit scared to make decisions these days; they rely too much on fucking technology.

“And you can quote me.”

Nothing gets Koertzen’s goat like “umpire’s call”, when an official is given the benefit of the doubt.

“If the umpire says the batsman is not out on a lbw appeal and the replay says the ball would have clipped the stumps why should you have a margin for error?

“There is no bloody margin for error: if the ball would have hit the wicket the batsman is out.”

Koertzen said the last straw for him was when umpires started routinely checking whether deliveries that had earned wickets were no-balls: “That was end of me watching cricket.”

He became a man in a white coat more than 30 years ago: long before the Decision Review System (DRS) existed, nevermind evolved into an apparently infallible monster.

And, having become a fulltime umpire in 1997, been a member of the original elite panel in 2002, and served as the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) regional performance manager for Africa, Koertzen is not a grumpy outsider.

But he comes from an era when much more umpiring was done behind the stumps than in front of a screen.

The balance would seem to be tilting, and that worries him.

“Today umpires are too slack to stand on their own two feet and make their own decisions,” Koertzen said.

“For almost everything they do they go upstairs. It’s a disgrace. I can’t handle it.”

Koertzen isn’t moaning for the sake of moaning. He feels the modern trend is costing umpires their sharpness on the field.

“Imagine what happens when an umpire who has been standing in tests with DRS has to stand in a first-class game with no television coverage and no third umpire.

“How will he make a decision? He will be too scared. There will be nobody to help him.”

We don’t have to imagine. Before their tour to South Africa, New Zealand played two tests against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.

There was no DRS and between them Reiffel, Gould and debutant Michael Gough made 10 significant errors.

“Of course DRS will have an impact on umpires’ skills,” Koertzen said.

That only adds to the unfairness of a system that is in operation in some matches and not others, effectively creating two sets of playing conditions.

The disparity reached farcical levels at Centurion on Tuesday, when Gould informed the players that DRS was not working from the Hennops River End.

Not only are some matches more equal than others, sometimes different ends of the pitch in the same match are less than equal in this vital sense.

Which should make us grateful that all international matches could be served by DRS sooner rather than later.

India have long been intractable opponents of the system, and what India want India get.

But an ICC spokesperson said “significant progress” had been made towards getting the Indians on-side.

Is that cause for celebration? For wronged players, yes. For umpires? No. 

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