Neutral umpires to return in Test cricket as countries relax travel restrictions

Neutral umpires will return to stand in Test cricket, as countries have started to relax the travel restrictions that were imposed with the onset of Covid-19 pandemic from 2020. On Sunday, the ICC ratified the recommendation of its Cricket Committee to “utilise” more neutral umpires in international cricket, but also decided to have home umpires officiate in both ODIs and T20Is.

Accordingly, for the 2022-23 period, the ICC has decided that three of the five match officials in Test cricket will be neutral: the on-field umpire, match referee and the third umpire. The remaining two match officials – second on-field umpire and the fourth umpire – will be non-neutral. Before the pandemic, both the on-field umpires, match referee as well as the third umpire were neutral officials. But since June 2020, faced with the logistical challenges posed by the pandemic, the ICC had decided to have non-neutral match officials in bilateral series.

Last year, the ICC Cricket Committee had recommended that structure to be retained which was approved by the global body’s chief executives committee as well as the board. On Sunday, the ICC, in a media release, stated that the home umpires’ performance was “strong” and encouraging.

“The CEC was updated on the use of home umpires from July 2020 to February 2022 due to Covid-19,” the ICC said. “The committee acknowledged that the performance of home umpires was strong and had not affected games. The use of home umpires had also led to 12 members of the international panel of umpires making their Test match debut.

In line with a previous recommendation from the ICC Men’s Cricket Committee, the CEC agreed that more neutral match officials should be utilised as travel restrictions are lifted while building on the success of the use of home umpires.

The success of the non-neutral umpires over the last two years has given the ICC the confidence to have no neutral presence in limited-overs cricket. Going forward, all the five match officials, including the match referee, will be non-neutral in bilateral ODIs and T20Is. Before the pandemic regulations, in ODIs, one of the on-field umpires along with the third umpire and the match referee were neutral. There were two home officials: one one-field umpire and the fourth umpire. In T20 cricket, prior to the pandemic, only the match referee was a neutral official, who now will be from the home board.

The Cricket Committee reappointed Mahela Jayawardene as a past player’s representative and also appointed Jay Shah, the BCCI secretary, as the committee’s Full Member representative, taking over from David White.

The ICC was also advised by the Afghanistan Working Group at the meeting and as expected, were recommended the appointment of ACB chairman Mirwais Ashraf as Afghanistan’s appointed representative to the Board.

“The Working Group advised the Board that the ICC was continuing to support the Afghanistan Men’s team to play international cricket while monitoring the governance of the sport in the country including the development of the women’s game,” the ICC said in a release.

“The ACB confirmed their continued commitment to developing women’s cricket and will submit a full action plan and budget to do so to the Working Group which will continue to monitor the situation and receive regular updates on its progress.”

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo

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