IT has been a quintessentially English village scene for more than 150 years.

Fifteen people in white occupying positions around a field where they appear to do very little for a very long time.

The majority move with gentle synchronicity towards the middle as two main protagonists prepare to engage in a time-honoured duel.

It is a battle between bat and ball where the contest can be as fierce as it seems sedate.

Two of the figures do not move at all while the action takes place.

But these are two of the most important people.

The umpires in cricket are, like officials in many sports, much maligned both during matches and in general.

That is one of the reasons they are in short supply, so much so that the game itself could be heading for a crisis.

In a nutshell, there is a massive shortage of umpires in local cricket, and without umpires there is no local cricket.

Now, it's nothing new to say cricket is heading for an umpiring crisis, it's been doing so every year for the last 20 years or so.

But what is undeniable is the situation has got worse in the last couple of years and shows no sign of improving.

It is a problem not confined to Bolton or even Lancashire, but one which affects local cricket throughout England and around the world.

People just don't want to umpire any more. Whether it is because cricket is not as popular as it once was due to a long-time lack of coverage on 'normal telly', or because they have other interests these days there are just not the umpires coming through.

Even former players – the production line of umpires in days gone by – are not taking up the job.

The Bolton League just about still manages to get two proper umpires out for first-team games, thanks in the main to the hard work of the league's umpires' fixtures secretary.

But it is getting harder simply because there are not enough umpires coming through to take the place of those retiring.

The day when a serious problem arrives is drawing ever nearer because the current umpires are mostly of retirement age with many in their 80s.

The situation is even worse in other local leagues around these parts with some clubs having to provide their own umpire to stand alongside a qualified one in some first-team games.

I watched one such game last season where four different people from one of the clubs acted as an umpire in the same innings – none of whom seemed to actually do anything relevant in terms of officiating the match.

It may not be long before club umpires become a regular sight everywhere if the current pattern continues.

The bottom line is the game needs more umpires.

Local cricket has been intrinsic to the sporting, social and cultural fabric of our country for 150 years or so.

It has great clubs with hardworking volunteers, enthusiastic followers and players of all standards. It would be a shame to see it disappear from many areas just because it does not have people to officiate them.

One of the reasons for the reduction in umpire numbers is because of the abuse they get from players.

Clubs should impose tough punishment on a consistent basis to help eradicate this from the game. It is often suggested they don't do so because they don't want to lose their players to other clubs.

Another reason umpiring is not appealing is because of the modest pay involved.

Around £40 is the average – that's for a full day's work. It equates to the same, give or take a fiver, local football referees get paid for around a third of the time involved. And they can ref two games a day sometimes.

While it has to be said there is also an ever-decreasing number of local football referees, surely increasing the payment to umpires would increase its appeal.

It's true some clubs would struggle to afford paying out another £80 a game for two umpires. Maybe some of these should should also assess the wisdom of them paying similar amounts to average amateur players.

After all, what's more important, paying a 'shamateur' or an umpire?

Elsewhere on this page there is information on how people can take up umpiring in time for the coming season. Courses are in Bolton – at Astley Bridge Cricket Club starting next week – and are cheap.

So if fancy being a part of what has been an integral thread in Bolton's community sporting fabric for more than a century, help keep local cricket thriving – and have the best seat in the house at matches – why not give the number in the accompanying story a ring or visit the Bolton Cricket Umpires' and Scorers' Association website.