So, it is clear that we posters have no problem complaining about poor umpiring decisions, but if umpiring standards are an issue that needs to be improved, what would we do to fix it?
Personally, I don't think the issue is as new as some others do. No question, sometimes umpires will make a few bad calls, and even less regularly a couple of umpires will make a string of bad calls and have a truly bad match. In my view, the difference between umpiring today and umpiring of eras past is more about the level of scrutiny than actual performance.
Even if I am correct, the increase in professionalism of the game demands that umpiring standards improve, rather than (at best) stagnate.
I am not a huge believer in using technology to make decisions, but I wouldn't have a massive issue with it, provided the implementation was well-considered and wasn't a detriment to the "humanity" of the game. The "hotspot" camera is probably the best new broadcasting technology of the past decade, and is definitely one method of quickly deciding contentious bat-pad and LBW decisions, and seems to be as close to perfectly reliable as is likely to be found. I would have no issue with this being used by the third umpire on referral from the field umpires. Also, I don't see why the ICC couldn't finance the use of high speed cameras at point and square leg for every international, to eliminate questionable run outs caused by the relevant moment being in between frames. It would also be used to call no balls with the right accompanying software, and would remove the problems with an umpire having to refocus from the popping crease to the batsman in a fraction of a second.
I think that things like Snicko and Hawkeye would simply throw up more questions than it would answer, and are both a long way from being as decisive as Hotspot. Unless everyone was prepared to accept every decision they make, flaws and all, I don't see how they could be used as anything more than broadcast tools.
More than that, I think that the most pressing issue is the quality of the umpires themselves. As is the case with most human skills, the way to achieve this boils down to two issues- training and assessment.
Both of these factors require the ICC to make an investment in the game. Just as is the case with improving the standards of players, the ICC need to develop a system where potential umpires are identified as they come into the first class systems around the world, and then work out a method that will improve the umpires' consistency.
The first way would be for the ICC to finance the exchange of umpires between national cricket boards. If a few of the better umpires in each country are sent to work in different countries for a year, they would not only learn to alter their decision making under different levels of latent noise and pitch conditions, but they would also learn to understand the cultural differences between different nations, and be able to more readily control the byplay that has caused a few incidents in recent times. Conversely, it would give the players from around the world the chance to be exposed to foreign umpires without the suspicions and mistrust of national bias, and give the players a chance to learn how play is controlled in other parts of the world. This could only be a good thing for the game, and the cross-exposure of the different cricketing cultures would somewhat homogenise the different cultures into a more unified, international game. Utopian? Perhaps...
The pool of umpires must be expanded. I would remove the two tier international system, and simply have an international panel, and an ICC first class panel. The international panel would consist of the top fifteen or twenty umpires in the world, and the first class panel would be another twenty or thirty umpires around the world who are on a small retainer from the ICC (much like the players' board contract system), along with the supplementary income that they would make from the board that employs them. The umpires on the first class panel would be required to work overseas at least part of the time, to ensure a well-rounded base of experience.
(Importantly, I would not assign any weight to having even numbers of contracted umpires from each country. Umpires should live and die on their performances, regardless of whether the make up of the panel is equitable or not. Excellence doesn't begin an end at a national border.)
Umpires would be appointed to each panel for 12 month terms, with the terms offset so that half of the umpires are up for renewal every six months. The umpires' decision making performances would be quantitatively ranked each year, and any umpires that fall short of the required grade (whatever that may be, but I would suggest that it be somewhere between 90-95%) would be downgraded to the first class panel for the next twelve months. They would be replaced by the best performing umpires from the first class panel, who would likewise be ranked every year. You could also introduce pay grades within the two panels, so the best performing umpires are rewarded for their excellence.
That way, you would only have the best, most in form umpires standing in the biggest games. With a panel that is so frequently assessed (and that has real consequences for poor performances), the need to national neutrality would be negligible, so there wouldn't need to be limitations on umpires never getting to work at home occasionally.
So, you have introduced technology in a measured way, improved the way that umpiring talent is honed and educated, and implemented a system that rewards excellence and sidelines incompetence. The only drawback is cost- it would cost a fair bit to expand ICC renumeration to a panel of first class umpires, as well as financing the travel, assessment program and the like. It isn't as though international cricket is hard up for a shekel or two, though.
Surely with all of the criticism of umpires in this forum, there must be some views on how this issue can be rectified outside of "Bucknor is a cheat". Your thoughts?