During the football World Cup in June, the “fourth official” was often mentioned by TV commentators, in addition to the referee and the linesmen (who are these days called “assistant referees”, which must be nice for their sense of self-esteem). Being a fourth official didn’t seem to be too demanding: you tried to attract the attention of the match referee from time to time, whenever managers wanted to make substitutions, but you didn’t have a great deal else to do.
Now this multiplication of officials seems to have spread to cricket. The first England v India Test Match has just ended, the usual run of silly presentations are being made, and there turn out to be four umpires taking part in the match. There have always been two on the pitch, visible to all; and in recent years we’ve got used to the “third umpire”, who judges the slow-motion replay from time to time from behind the scenes. That seems to be quite an undemanding job, as long as you know how to use the technology, but I imagine it’s more demanding than this (to me, at least) entirely mysterious “fourth umpire” (in this match a certain Ian Gould), and I’m baffled as to what his job is. He’s not the “match referee” (Mike Procter at the moment), who is yet another official, whose job is to levy fines on batsmen who mutter profanities on their way back to the pavilion when they get out (which might offend lip-reading TV viewers). So the “fourth umpire” is somebody else altogether, with a different function. A stand-in in case one of the first three umpires is incapacitated? (But how often does that happen?) Or what?