ICC paves way for elite umpires panel

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The Independent Online

It was business as usual at the International Cricket Council yesterday. After an unprecedented willingness to tackle corruption, cricketing matters ­ such as the assembly of a full-time panel of élite umpires and match referees ­ was agreed in principle. But then, despite the recent rumpuses, the move deferred until next year.

Lord Condon's fingerprints were notable in two respects, however. His proposal that more prize money should be made available to players sees the overall pot for the next World Cup in 2003 raised from $1m to $5m (£3.65m). The ICC also for the first time made public its finances.

Money is the prime issue in sport these days and more will be needed for the élite panel of some eight full-time umpires. Apart from a manager for the officials, the ICC plans to supplement them with a panel of around 25 umpires, taken more or less evenly from the Test playing nations. Both panels will be in place by April next year, after which all Test matches (40 to 45 are usually scheduled in a calendar year) will be adjudicated by neutral umpires. Around 80 per cent of Tests will have both on-field umpires from the élite panel. The old split of one home and one neutral umpire will only apply for one-day internationals.

The selection will be made after collating marks and comments from the past reports of Test captains and match referees. The process will be overseen by Sunil Gavaskar, the chairman of the ICC's cricket committee (playing), and the ICC's new chief executive, Malcolm Speed.

Where a sea change has occurred is in the ICC's move to ensure that umpiring and match refereeing will no longer be cushy jobs for former players. Of late, there has been a growing opinion that match referees have been too lenient, with the former New Zealand Test player Brian Hastings criticised for his inaction over some of the less savoury aspects of the Pakistan tourists' on-field behaviour.

The umpiring debate has come about through television's glaring exposure of mistakes, errors that if unseen in the past are now revealed from every angle in excruciatingly embarrassing slow motion. But rather than use more technology the ICC is hoping to minimise those umpiring errors exposed by television by choosing the pick of the crop.

With an increased emphasis on fitness, and with regular medicals to check eyesight and hearing, age is more of an issue than it was. David Richards, the outgoing chief executive, said that he envisaged a retirement age for umpires in the fifties rather than the current 65.

He also emphasised that umpiring should be a career attractive enough for young people. David Shepherd, the umpire standing when England lost five wickets to no-balls, is 64. If he is too old by next April the leading candidates to be on the list will be England's Peter Willey, Australia's Darrell Hair and Daryl Harper, and Sri Lanka's Asoka de Silva.

Remuneration, always a thorny issue for umpires from countries like India and Sri Lanka who are paid less than their English and Australian counterparts, will be made partly through a retainer fee and partly through a match fee.

* A man questioned in connection with alleged payments to Hansie Cronje has been released without charge by police investigating match-fixing allegations. Scotland Yard said "no further action" would be taken against Sanjeev Chawla because there was "insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction". Cronje admitted receiving money from Chawla during the final Test against England at Centurion Park, Pretoria, South Africa, in January 2000.

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