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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Whose game is it?

My - it has been a long time since I posted anything in this particular blog.

The two-test series between Australia and South Africa has just been completed with the series drawn.

The Second Test will be remembered for the remarkable debut of 18 year-old Australian bowler, Pat Cummins. Taking six wickets in the South African second innings before playing a crucial role with the bat late in the Australian second innings and getting to score the winning runs for Australia, this debut was definitely memorable. As one of the radio commentators remarked at the time, Cummins will probably find Test cricket not so exciting from here on in.

This series has however raised a number of questions.

Firstly, why only a two-test series? These two teams are well matched and consistently produce good and exciting cricket. This brief series was no different with Australia seeming to have the First Test safely in their hands only to have their batting collapse. Similarly after taking some crucial wickets, South Africa seemed to have the Second Test well under control only to see the Australian lower orders bring them home. So why only a piddling two-test series?

Next there is the question of the scheduling of this brief series. The Tests were scheduled in a part of Africa at a time of year - approaching the wet season - when the light disappears very early. For example in the Second Test, the first four days all ended early due to bad light. A friend of mine who lived in Africa for some years, described this scheduling as lunacy given this issue with light and remarked that they were very lucky not to have lost more time due to rain than they did. So why schedule a piddling two-test series at the wrong time of year?

Umpiring is not an easy task and I do not like to bag the umpires as a rule but there is one individual who consistently incurs my wrath - Billy Bowden. This New Zealand umpire's silly signals and antics were briefly amusing when he appeared on the scene but that amusement has long passed. If anyone is going to have a shocker of a Test, it will be Bowden. I am not aware of any particularly bad calls he made this time around, but there is an issue of his attitude towards light on the last day of the Test.

With only two Australian wickets in hand and only five runs to win but with light beginning to fade, Bowden then proceeded to waste time first calling for a light meter - how come the umpires don't carry them any longer? - then consulting it. There was potentially only minutes left in the game but Bowden risked that possibility of a result by fiddling around with the light meter. Would either side have liked to have gone off due to bad light? Not bloody likely! The South Africans were potentially two good balls away from a series win. The Australians just one or two strokes away from victory and drawing the series.

It is often remarked that you can tell a good umpire if you barely notice him being there. That is because they are quietly and efficiently doing their job, letting the game be the focus. Yet whenever Bowden is present, you can be damned sure that he will be getting plenty of mentions, whether he is doing his job properly or not. As ABC commentator, Jim Maxwell, exclaimed at the time in considerable frustration, 'when will they learn that the game is not about them!'

I cannot help but contrast this with a one-day match between England and Australia in the 1977 Ashes series. OK, that was so long ago in sporting terms as to positively be ancient history. But in the last of that one-day series, it was finished in pouring rain. Why? Because a result was on the cards and both teams wanted a result. Billy Bowden seemed prepared to risk this chance of a result in the Second Test by simply wasting time.

Given the number of times I have seen Bowden make woeful calls, miscount the number of deliveries bowled and even thoroughly confuse the scorers with his at-times indecipherable signals, why is he continually in the first-rank of international umpires?

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