Pak, Lanka may seek only neutral umpires

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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It is gathered from BCCI sources that the cricket boards of the three Asian countries, Pakistan and Sri Lanka being the others, may ask the International Cricket Council to enlarge the neutrality of umpires for international fixtures, so that both the ground umpires are from another country or countries.

After their own experience in the three-Test series, Pakistan captain Wasim Akram had suggested that instead of just one umpire from a neutral country, who supervises along with a home umpire, both of them should be neutral so as to avoid suspicions being raised about the impartiality of the home umpires.

The days of home umpires standing in international matches have long gone, but what the International Cricket Council has introduced is only a half-measure. In view of the bias displayed by Australian umpires. Darrel Hair in particular, in the last few years during the home series in Australia, all three Asian countries. India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have had reasons to believe that such umpiring can ruin the performances of the touring teams due to the fear of being discriminated against.

In 1995, Darrel Hair called Sri Lanken off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan on no less than seven occasions for "throwing" during the Test and one-day matches.

Murali was then reported to the ICC's special committee on fair bowling. The committee cleared Murali's bowling action and Sri Lanka came back with a vengeance to win the 1996 World Cup, beating Australia in the final at Lahore.

Even though Murali's bowling action was cleared as being fair, Australian umpire Darrel Hair, in his book, released inappropriately on the eve of the 1999 World Cup in England, branded the Sri Lankan bowler as a "blatant chucker."

All that the Australian Cricket Board did do, by way of taking action against Darrel Hair, was to suspend him for just two months. The controversial Australian umpire, who had also made some racist remarks against the Sri Lankans in his book, is now back in business.

ICC has a panel of neutral umpires who are posted for various international fixtures. How can Hair be considered neutral as he strongly believes that Muralitharan and now Shoaib Akhtar are chuckers?

How can an umpire, whose biased is already established be included in the list of neutral umpires?

The Indian team management had reservations about Darrel Hair being appointed umpire at Melbourne. But since most appointments are made by the ICC, Indian coach Kapil Dev did not want to protest, not even suggest a change.

Leave aside the touring teams, mostly from the subcontinent, even the Australian media is now taking note of the lack of impartiality on the part of Australian umpires.

Mike Coward, writing in The Australian, said, as a final word, "Some of the teams, especially from the sub-continent, and even the West Indies, will in future, refuse to tour Australia, if our umpires continue to act is such a high-handed and biased manner."

Coward also asked the question as to why were the Australian umpires, who had suggested to the ICC that Muralitharan and Shoaib Akhtar had bowling action that did not appear fair, did not bring the tear-away Australian fast bowler Brett Lee in their list?

Win or lose, a team should enjoy the tour. But if there was one man who spoilt the tour for the Indians, as he had done earlier to the Pakistanis and Sri Lankans, it was Australian umpire Darrel Hair. In a four-day match of the tourists at Sydney, Hair had reprimanded the then captain Saurav Ganguly for watching the replay on the giant screen on the ground over again. He also chased Ajit Agarkar to his position at point to hand him a reprimand.

One of the arguments forwarded against having an all neutral appointment of umpires is that this system will not give the up-and-coming home umpires an opportunity to stand in international matches. Today, the only Indian umpire who is on the ICC list of neutral umpires is S.Venkataraghavan. One will surely feel sorry for the likes of A.V.Jayaprakash, who has already made his mark standing in home matches.

But then, if complete neutrality is not practicable, then at least the unbiased quality of the home umpires has to be assured. As was the practice in the past, the touring team should be allowed to approve the names of those appointed as the home umpires. One of the two alternatives is better than the present half-measure.

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