Traditionalists dislike the term 'neutral umpires'. The majority feels that word 'umpire' by itself stands for neutral. The term 'umpire' has its origins in the Latin word 'Nompure', which means 'above the rest'.
Since the inception of Test cricket in 1877, the custom was for the home team to appoint umpires. Umpires who belonged to the same land as one of the teams playing the game, stood in Tests for several decades with one prominent exception. In 1912, a Triangular Test series was organized in England, which involved the hosts, Australia and South Africa. Each team played three Tests each against the other two sides in this competition.
Sourav Ganguly makes
a point to umpires David Shepherd (Eng) and Dave Orchard (SA) during
The 'panel' of umpires comprised only Englishmen, and thus, the first pair of neutral umpires did duty in the three games between Australia and South Africa.
That remained the sole instance of two neutral umpires in Test cricket for many, many years. The panel of umpires for the first three World Cups, all played in England, also comprised only English umpires. So there were instances of 'neutral' umpires in matches not featuring the hosts.
Neutral umpires were seen in one-day internationals played in other countries. Matches played in the cricketing oasis in Sharjah always featured 'third-country' officials since the first official tournament (Asia Cup) played there in 1984.
Neutral umpires became part and parcel of the World Cup from the 1987 edition onwards. Each participating nation / board was asked to send one umpire, with co-hosts India and Pakistan nominating two umpires (and some standbys) each. The same pattern was followed in the six-nation Nehru Cup tournament in 1989-90. Then came the 1992 World Cup, and so on.
I had the privilege of being one half of the first pair of 'neutral' umpires to stand in a Test since 1912, on Friday, 7th November 1986.
Imran Khan, the captain of Pakistan, was fed up with allegations of biased and incompetent umpiring by practically every visiting team. He strongly felt that they made his team's performances les credible. A few weeks before they (Pakistan) were to start a fresh series of three Test matches against the West Indies, he came up with the idea of having two umpires from a third country. The Pakistan Cricket Board agreed and requested its Indian counterpart; the BCCI, to depute two umpires for the series.
The BCCI appointed Mr. V. K Ramaswamy from Hyderabad and myself. It was undoubtedly a great honour. We could not believe it at first, but when we were officially informed by the BCCI, we had to rush to fulfil the formalities. But the official clearance from the Indian Government was slightly delayed and hence we were unable to stand in the first Test. We reached Lahore well in time for the second Test and stood in the last two games of the series.
Imran again called for neutral umpires for the series against India in 1989-90. Two English umpires, John Hampshire and John Holder, officiated in the four Tests. Each of the five Tests played by India in Zimbabwe and South Africa in 1992-93 witnessed one umpire and one from a third country. The likes of Dickie Bird (only Test v/s Zimbabwe), Steve Bucknor (first two Tests v/s South Africa) and David Shepherd (last two Tests) flew to Africa for the matches.
The ICC officially adopted this local umpire-neutral umpire pairing in 1994.
Ever since then, all Tests had one umpire from the host-nation and one from a third country. This continued till 2002, which is when the ICC went in for two neutral umpires. They also started appointing one 'outsider' and one host-nation umpire for all one-day internationals. This happened four years after an 'Elite Panel' of eight umpires was formed, the panelists becoming full-time professionals. They were on a two-year contract after which their performance would be reviewed. The amount of international cricket and the consequent strain placed on the eight resulted in the number of panelists being raised to twelve.
S. Venkatraghavan was the last Indian on this panel. But since his exit, no Indian umpire has been a part of it. We need to do something about this!