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Has The International Cricket Body Erred In Assigning Neutral Umpires During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

CRICKET CAPER

Another place is up for grabs in the Emirates Elite Panel of International Cricket Council (ICC) Umpires list after Aussie Bruce Oxenford's retirement notice.

India, considered as having the richest cricket board and star players qualified to make it into any world side, has only one in the elite list, Nitin Menon, who at 37 years, is the youngest of the lot.

Oxenford, at 60, the oldest among the 12 umpires on the elite panel will officially retire in April 2021. He'll leave Australia with two on the panel, Paul Reiffel and Rodney Tucker. 

It's a little surprising as to why there are only 12 umpires in the elite list and why do England and Australia have three each, while the remaining six positions are shared by an umpire each from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand. 

Four other countries, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan with Test playing status do not have any umpire in the elite group.

 

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With all-round disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, including travel, the ICC decided that there would be logistical challenges involved with international travel of these elite umpires.

However, Bangladesh not having any umpire in the elite panel has now compelled the ICC to dispatch Englishman Richard Illingworth to Dhaka to officiate in the Test series against the West Indies.
This has brought the spotlight back on West Indies Test skipper Jason Holder's curious public query in December 2020, asking: "If we can travel and do a quarantine, I don't see why an opposing [overseas] umpire can't travel and do the quarantine?" 

Holder raised this query after the West Indies team, not him personally, were unhappy with few umpiring decisions that went against them during their tour of New Zealand. 

The series saw all officials, including the match referee from New Zealand. 

Christopher (Chris) Gaffaney, who's the lone New Zealander in the ICC elite panel was assisted by local colleagues Wayne Knights and Chris Brown, both among the International Panel of Umpires without the elite status or tag. 

Shaun Haig and Ashley Mehrotra were the reserve umpires, and former New Zealand captain Jeff Crowe, the match referee.

The recently concluded India-Australia Test series, called the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, too had a similar arrangement with all Australian umpires and the match referee, former Australian opening bat David Boon.

Although a depleted India played bravely and won the series down under 2-1, there were a few occasions when Team India players and few former Aussie greats now commentating, among them Shane Warne, felt exasperated with umpiring decisions.

"It is unfortunate that the umpires are not allowed to travel. But it is something that I don't have any power of changing," ESPN Cricinfo quoted Bumrah saying.

Holder was more forthright in his remark. "I still don't understand a situation where we're just having home umpires. If players are making the sacrifice and going on the road and continuing cricket then I feel as though the umpires should do the same," Holder said.

"Even if it's a case where you get a home and an opposing umpire to do a Test match then I think that's fair."

By advocating a home and an opposing umpire, did Holder mean, one New Zealander and one West Indian? The only West Indian in the elite umpires panel is Trinidadian Joel Wilson.

These few developments have raised further questions including why is the ICC not proactive in having a broader list of officials in its elite panel?

The list of ICC Match Referees too comprise eight members. Notable omission, country wise, are Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, all Test playing nations without any Match Referee in the ICC panel.

The most plausible reason for Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan not to have any Match Referee in the group could be assigned to the fewer number of Tests these countries have played since their approval to play Tests.

It'll be interesting to see the progress the ICC makes in this aspect, after the World Test Championship is over in June and most of us, worldwide, have been vaccinated.

The ICC does have ambitious goals of promoting cricket as a sport to a much larger audience globally. However, for it to achieve that target, it'll have to first help improve the status of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Here's a complete list of ICC officials: 

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