One day, a commentator had to make his decision live while a fielding side was appealing. The player realized that after this event it is easy to be wise. He made most of his decisions incorrectly. “Judging is not everyone’s cup of tea,” the great Swarup Kishan Reu, the late Indian judge who served in the 1970s and 80s, often ticked off people who questioned his decisions. Reu was an umpire who was friendly with the cricketers but never compromised his position. He never stopped mentoring the players on the field.
For retired English umpire Dickie Bird, who played in three ICC World Cup finals, nothing could compare to the thrill of umpiring Test matches. Bird wrote in his autobiography: “I always found it difficult to come back down to earth after a big game, especially after the excitement and tension of a World Cup final.” Participating in the World Cup is truly a source of great pride for every match official – be it an umpire or a match referee.
Over the years, cricket umpiring has undergone incredible changes with umpires feeling more pressure in big matches, especially World Cup games. But for Nitin Menon, who will referee the 2023 tournament, there is nothing like a big match. He said Sports star“We don’t consider matches “big” or “small” as such. Every game is important for us. But we prepare for matches in different ways – we have to deal with different conditions, with different teams. For example, our preparation for the subcontinent may be different. There will also be matches in which we will take into account the rivalry between teams. The position of the tournament – knockout game or league game, etc. can also be in the back of our minds.”
To bring some consistency to the system, the cricket authorities introduced technological support to make umpiring as error-free as possible by taking advantage of the third umpire, a concept that debuted in the 1992 series between India and hosts South Africa. By the way, the first victim of the third umpire was Sachin Tendulkar himself, who was run out by Jonty Rhodes. The same year, during India’s tour of Australia, a match referee was introduced.
Fast forward to the 2010s, the 2011 World Cup introduced the Decision Review System (DRS) through which a team could challenge an on-field umpire’s decision. India had been opposed to DRS for a long time and ironically it was the use of this technology that saved the home team from the match against Pakistan in Mohali. Umpire Ian Gould ruled on Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket to Saeed Ajmal and a review showed the ball had missed leg stump.
Ball tracking and Hot Spot were innovations that increased the pressure umpires felt. Having their decision overturned may cause judges to feel unsure, but then they are well prepared for such moments. Game conditions are taken into account when making decisions, such as choosing a stage. “We take into account the conditions of the field: not only how much the ball turns, but also its bounce. Is it high bounce, low bounce or variable bounce? All these things matter, especially when making weight decisions,” says Menon, the youngest judge at the tournament at 39 years old.
Menon will partner Kumar Dharmasena in the opening match of the 2023 World Cup between England and New Zealand. Incidentally, Dharmasena also officiated the final between the same two teams at Lord’s four years ago. Paul Wilson (TV umpire), Sharfuddula Ibne Shahid Saikat (fourth umpire) and Javagal Srinath (match referee) will be the other officials for the opening match.
The ICC follows a carefully considered selection process through member councils. Initial recommendations come from member councils and are then assessed by the ICC. The member councils themselves are expected to help produce quality umpires through a robust system that evaluates performances in domestic cricket before candidates are promoted to the next level.
There may be exceptions, such as Simon Taufel, who was a natural judge. His sense of judgment and understanding of game conditions greatly helped him make consistent decisions. Taufel took part in his first test when he was just 29 years old and became regarded as the best judge on the circuit. Despite this, he was unable to compete in a World Cup final until 2011 due to his home country’s relentless winning streak in 2003 and 2007.
Apart from the elite group, there is also an international group that intervenes when necessary at events such as the World Cup as well as many other international matches. The process is again rigorous and the emphasis is on consistency in making the right decisions. In fact, old-timers say that a good judge is the one who makes the fewest bad decisions.
There is a system for developing judges. Umpires are trained by ICC umpire coaches over the years and receive feedback on everything from their decisions to how they controlled the game and their reactions. This is where umpires learn to support each other because umpires are known to have excellent connections on and off the field. Referees and match referees discuss situations, decisions, teams and players. Eating and traveling together is an integral part of their process of understanding each other.
Match referees are mostly famous players who have an in-depth knowledge of the game and its conduct. Every match official has their own strength – some excel at on-field decision-making and some are better at on-field decision-making, such as television referees. The ICC also includes women umpires and they are confident that their number will increase in the coming years. The ICC also holds seminars – this used to be at certain times of the year, but now usually before major events. It is understood that a workshop will be held ahead of this World Cup as the subcontinent offers different challenges in terms of weather and pitches.
Sean Easy, ICC Senior Manager of Umpires and Umpires, says: “The selection and appointment processes we undertake in conjunction with member councils have helped us identify highly qualified elite groups and a robust pipeline that includes international and development groups. The ICC cricket department has a system for evaluating the performance of umpires which helps in their development, but what is also important is the teamwork and support they receive from their colleagues. They all support each other and share experiences. I am confident that we will have many good judges in the coming years, including several women who consistently perform well.”
The biggest irritant for match officials and referees is the relentless attention they are subjected to. How do they deal with this? “The best way to deal with scrutiny is to avoid social media and what newspapers, pundits or former players say. Whenever we have free time between games, we avoid talking about cricket. We read books, some play golf, others just go to the gym or swim,” concludes Menon.
For this tournament in India, the ICC has announced 20 officials – 16 umpires and four match referees. England has the highest representation of judges (four), followed by Australia (3), New Zealand (2) and South Africa (2). Twelve of them are from the Emirates ICC Elite Group and there are six debutants – Sharfuddula, Menon, Ahsan Raza, Adrian Holdstock, Alex Wharf and Chris Brown. Sharfuddula especially has additional reasons to be proud as he is the first Bangladeshi umpire to be selected to the World Cup umpiring panel.
Referees and referees for the 2023 World Cup matches
Chris Brown (New Zealand), Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka), Marais Erasmus (South Africa), Christopher Gaffany (New Zealand), Michael Gough (England), Adrian Holdstock (South Africa), Richard Illingworth (England), Richard Kettleborough (England), Nitin Menon (India), Ahsan Raza (Pakistan), Paul Reiffel (Australia), Sharfuddula Ibne Shahid (Bangladesh), Rodney Tucker (Australia), Alex Wharfe (England), Joel Wilson (West Indies) and Paul Wilson (Australia).
Geoff Crowe (New Zealand), Andy Pycroft (Zimbabwe), Richie Richardson (West Indies) and Javagal Srinath (India).