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THE INTERNATIONAL CRICKET COUNCIL has finally decided to bring cricket into line with all other sports. From next April, there will be no home umpires at Test matches.

At present, Tests such as those in the forthcoming Ashes series will feature one umpire from England and one from another country. But from next April, no Test will have a home umpire.

The two umpires for Tests will be drawn from an elite panel of about eight officials. They will be contracted to the ICC and have a two-year contract, with performances reviewed on the basis of captain’s reports. The ICC will not publish a ranking system of umpires as they feel this will not help them perform better.

The ICC expect them to be able to umpire in about 80 per cent of all Tests. If there are not enough elite umpires to go round, then the ICC will call on umpires from the international panel. This is a subsidiary pool of about 25 umpires who will be contracted to their respective cricket boards and trained to become part of the elite panel in due course.

But whether they are from the elite or the international panel, no home umpire will be able to officiate in a Test. However, this rule will be relaxed for one-day internationals, in which one home umpire will be able to stand.

Making the announcement at Lord’s yesterday after the ICC’s annual conference, Malcolm Gray, the ICC president, said: ” Players have been professionalised, administrators have been professionalised, and there is a chief executive in every board, whereas umpires and referees are still in the semi-professional, semi-amateur stage.”

Gray went on to add: “It is not a particular criticism of recent performances of umpires and referees.” However, in cricket circles the feeling is the professionalising of officials is long overdue and apart from umpires, it is a particularly necessary move with match referees. Too many of them, it is felt, have been appointed on the old boys’ network.

Yesterday’s ICC decision ensures cricket has come a long way since the Eighties, when umpiring controversies, often involving Pakistan, led to calls for independent umpires.

However, the calls were strongly resisted and dismissed as somehow not cricket. Yesterday, it was presented as the most important issue for the game. England, which is widely held to have the best umpires and the only country with a proper professional basis of umpiring, will still play a prominent part in the elite panel and may contribute as many as half the umpires.

The ICC, who also disclosed their accounts for the first time, confirmed they would move all their non-cricketing activities out of England to somewhere else in Europe — possibly Monaco, Switzerland or Ireland — because the UK taxes sports activities.

But if the decision on umpires and referees showed cricket moving in line with other sports, the ICC retained their quixotic nature by granting affiliate status to Afghanistan, a pariah country ruled by the Taliban and which is suspended by the IOC and FIFA. The move follows a recommendation by Pakistan.

A 33-year-old man arrested by police in London last December by detectives investigating allegations of match-fixing made by Chris Lewis, the former England player, has been told he faces no further action.

© Mihir Bose

      

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