Calcutta: In what can only be interpreted as an unprecedented crackdown, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has decided not to renew the contracts of three Elite Panel umpires.
The gentlemen in question — Sri Lankan Asoka de Silva, South Africa’s Dave Orchard and Zimbabwean Russell Tiffin — have been on the Elite Panel since its inception (April 1, 2002), but won’t be there after March 31.
[While the Elite Panel began with eight umpires, Billy Bowden, Darrell Hair and Simon Taufel were added last April.]
“The annual review of all ICC umpires has just been completed and, according to the assessment, Pakistan’s Aleem Dar and Englishman Neil Mallender scored higher… Therefore, they are being promoted (from the International Panel),” a well-placed source revealed on Friday evening.
In fact, the Elite Panel’s strength is being reduced to nine, as the promotees are only two and India’s Srinivas Venkatraghavan has decided to retire.
“Operationally, there won’t be a problem with a reduced number… It’s been a conscious decision by the ICC,” the London-based source maintained.
The review, one understands, was conducted by the ICC’s chief executive (currently Malcolm Speed) and the chairman of the Cricket Committee-Playing. The latter post is held by our very own Sunil Gavaskar.
Venkat too has been on the Elite Panel since its inception but, talking to The Telegraph from his Chennai residence, insisted he had been “contemplating” quitting for some time.
“Back in 1999 itself, I’d almost made up my mind to leave in 2003… So, it’s not an impulsive decision… In any case, I’ve put in more than a decade and, frankly, am getting on a bit,” he pointed out.
Turning a bit emotional, Venkat (a double World Cupper and former captain who has also been a Match Referee) added: “I’ve enjoyed this innings and always gave my best… I don’t have a regret… Hopefully, I’ll be remembered as somebody who did his job honestly.”
His final (Test) assignment, next month, will take him to Sri Lanka.
Incidentally, there’s an outside chance that Venkat may make himself available as a Board nominee for the International Panel. Except very rarely, the umpires on that shortlist just get to officiate in ODIs.
“Right now, I can’t say… I’ll have to discuss things with the Board… If they need me, then…” is all that Venkat, who turns 58 in April, said on the issue.
The International Panel has nominees from all Test-playing nations, but those umpires are without contracts. They are paid match fees only.
While there’s going to be disappointment and sadness over Venkat’s decision, nobody in these parts will shed any tears for De Silva. In recent times, after all, some of the worst decisions for Team India came from the Sri Lankan.
(April 1, 2004-March 31, 2005)
Billy Bowden (New Zealand), Steve Bucknor (West Indies), Aleem Dar (Pakistan), Darrell Hair (Australia), Daryl Harper (Australia), Rudi Koertzen (South Africa), Neil Mallender (England), David Shepherd (England) and Simon Taufel (Australia).