Covid ‘homecoming’ for elite umpires
NEW CHAPTER: Almost two decades after ICC made neutral umpires in Tests a must to end any home-team bias, local officials will return due to the Covid-19 crisis.Updated: Jul 01, 2020 11:55 IST
Though the pandemic has forced both the temporary decisions, there is some irony International Cricket Council (ICC)’s ban on saliva use on the ball has caused so much debate and the decision to post home umpires in Tests none. ICC’s switch to neutral umpires in Tests in 2002, after a decade of experiment, was due to constant complaints by visiting teams that local umpires blatantly favoured the home team. Unlike in the past, when appointments were done by the home boards, ICC will be in charge this time.
The ‘home coming’ and saliva ban will come into force when England host West Indies in the first Test starting on July 8. ICC said in a statement “the requirement to appoint neutral match officials will be temporarily removed… owing to the current logistical challenges with international travel.”’
The trial with home officials though is likely to face conflict of interest questions straight-up as ex-England batsman Chris Broad could be Match Referee (England’s only ICC panel referee) with son Stuart playing.
The ICC Cricket Operations department though will vet all code of conduct sanctions, and appeals will be heard by a neutral Elite Panel match referee. Only the fourth umpire (reserve) will be appointed by the home board. In ODIs, one field umpire and the fourth umpire were named by home boards before the pandemic and ICC only appointed the match referee for T20Is.
Despite the circumstances, home umpires will still feel the heat of scrutiny.
Former Pakistan batting great, Javed Miandad, knows all about controversies and home umpires. His wry smile, abrasive body language and brilliant batting was a challenge for visiting teams in Pakistan at his peak in the 1980s, and they were left feeling the men in white coat too were against them.
Such complaints though weren’t exclusive to playing in Pakistan. Other country umpires too have courted criticism and controversies.
In his book, Out Of My Comfort Zone, former Australia skipper Steve Waugh dedicates a chapter ‘Death by Silence’ to incidents in the 1988 Karachi Test, accusing Miandad of sledging bowlers and fielders while batting.
“The arrival of the prickly Javed in the middle had everyone on the edge. We knew he was the player Pakistanis all loved to bat with, and as usual he strutted around like he owned the place. Consecutive unsuccessful leg before shouts when he was 15, both from the bowling of Tim May and both of which we thought were quite obviously out, only set the tone but dramatically altered the course of the match.
“Javed was a brilliant watcher of the ball, leaving it as late as possible… But it was like he was having a game of French cricket in the backyard—except he wasn’t going to be given lbw. Most frustrating of all, he knew it and would tell you so whenever he got to the non-striker’s end. I recall him saying to me just out of earshot of the umpires, during one of my fruitless spells in the debilitating heat, ‘What are you doing? Don’t waste your time. This is my turf.’ He was referring to an earlier appeal for leg before.”
Miandad hit a double century and Pakistan won by an innings, leaving Australia doubly frustrated. Waugh claims he was given out wrongly in both innings (‘the umpire saw six stumps instead of three,’ he says of the first innings).
“Such was our sense of injustice that we held a team meeting at the conclusion of Day 3 of the Test to discuss our position and the options available. We openly canvassed the idea of abandoning the tour if the umpiring didn’t improve.” Only two players voted to stay back, but their board persuaded Australia to continue.
In 1984, New Zealand captain Jeremy Coney too had threatened to walk off in the Karachi Test after controversial umpire Shakoor Rana turned down an appeal against Miandad.
The seeds for neutral umpires though were sowed in Pakistan, after their win in the first Test of the 1986 series against West Indies again led to criticism of the umpires. To end the wrangling, skipper Imran Khan invited Indian umpires Piloo Reporter and VK Ramaswamy to stand in the next two Tests.
Miandad rejects Waugh’s claim on sledging and criticism of the umpires. “You can’t take away credit from any player,” he says. Pakistan and India bore the brunt of criticism though umpiring complaints came from everywhere, says Miandad. “Credit was denied for deserving performances.”
Criticism though further eroded the confidence of home umpires, especially under pressure. For the 1989 India series, Imran got two English umpires to stand. ICC took note, and started posting one third-country umpire in Tests on trial basis in 1992, expanding it two years later before making it permanent in 2002.
Miandad though still backs home umpires.
“With so much technology, there can be no hanky-panky; anyone giving a poor decision will be exposed. The official will think of his prestige… if he does two bad games, he will want to retire. If there’s any doubt, you can use the review. The standard of umpiring will also improve with more opportunities.”
In India, the selection process also hurt umpiring in those days, says former Test umpire AV Jayaprakash. “(Before 1980s) at the fag end of their careers, umpires would be gifted one of two matches by BCCI. If you haven’t been good enough for 20 years to do international matches, how can you become good at retirement time?” he asks.
Between 1995 and 2002, BCCI made around 45 officials ODI umpires, says a former Test umpire, who did not wish to be identified. “It will be good if ICC does the assessment. If left to the home boards, there will be favouritism. It used to happen… whoever came into the panel got his man. All have done one to two matches. That’s why ICC didn’t give chance to anyone except S Venkataraghavan, who was the only one in the Elite panel for years.”
Former Test umpire Suresh Shastri feels home umpires will improve with more opportunities. “The communication, body language will be better. They are more used to our conditions—that will be one of the biggest advantages.”
The timing of 36-year-old Nitin Menon’s inclusion in the Elite Panel of umpires can’t be better. India has three umpires in the second-rung International Panel—C.Shamshuddin, Anil Chaudhary and Virender Sharma.
Jayaprakash says Indian umpires must do their homework. “They will have to be thorough about the rules on saliva ban… There is no point in reading about the same old things. I used to go through laws on the uncommon mode of dismissals. In the 2001 Chennai Test, I gave Steve Waugh out handled the ball. The scorer is going to ask, we can’t fumble there.”
When giving out obstructing the field, for instance, the umpire must check with the fielding captain as the appeal can be withdrawn. “It happened to Shiv Sundar Das in a Test I was officiating…we asked the opposition captain.”