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
'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
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