Indian cricket has witnessed several unprecedented highs during the last eight years including the World Cup title each in T-20 (2007) and One Day Cricket (2011) as also a brief stay as the number one ranked test team in the world. But when it comes to being the boss on the field, no Indian has had the distinction of being an elite panel umpire since 2004 when former captain-turned-umpire S Venkatraghavan retired.
At a time when India has emerged as a key player in the world of cricket, no vacancy for its umpires at the top stage for eight long years has emerged as a matter of serious concern.
By picking an Australian in Bruce Oxenford to replace Simon Taufel on the umpire's elite panel from November, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has once again given a go by to an Indian name, which raises question over performance of umpires here.
On the ICC website, the list of emirates international panel from where an umpire is being elevated for the elite panel, places Indian umpires at the fifth and sixth spot i.e Sudhir Asnani and Vineet Kulkarnirespectively. However, Oxenford who recently got promoted to the ICC elite panel features at the top followed by Paul Reiffel (Australia), Enamul Hoque Moni (Bangladesh), Nadir Shah (Bangladesh) and Richard Illingworth (England).
Speaking on the matter, Indian Test cricket umpire, Krishna Hariharan merely said, “This is a system issue”. But he chose not to elaborate on the reason for the absence of any Indian umpire for such a long time in the international arena.
However, former Indian fast bowler, Chetan Sharma pitched for more chances to be given to Indian umpires. He argued, “This is absolutely wrong to say that India does not have good umpires. What our umpires really lack is exposure and BCCI should look into this matter.”
ICC has got a 3-tier panel of umpires - ICC elite panel, International panel and associate and affiliate Panel. While the International panel of ICC umpires comprises two officials nominated from each of the ten Test playing cricket boards whereas the associate and affiliate panel consists of umpires from non- Test playing nations. Each Test playing country has to nominate two ground and one 3rd umpires to the ICC International panel. Once the umpire has been elevated to the elite panel, their performances are closely monitored by the ICC and according to their performance they are either retained or dropped.
A Zee Research Group (ZRG) study reveals the criteria for selection of an umpire for the elite panel is the percentage of correct decisions given as well as reports from respective captains and match referees. Moreover, one cannot blame western lobbies in the ICC for ignoring Indians for selection as currently eight Indians are also represented on various ICC committees. Interestingly, S Venkataraghavan from India is part of ICC Umpires Selection Panel.
India’s long drought for representation in the ICC elite panel of umpires indicates that nurturing of umpires has taken a backseat here. Perhaps this is the only reason for BCCI to start a National Academy for Umpires (NAU) in Nagpur two years back.
But, to be selected as an umpire in India isn’t an easy task. To become an umpire, one has to qualify theory exams conducted by state sports bodies. After passing in those exams, one can be eligible for the exams conducted by the BCCI, with the endorsement of state cricket associations.