March 11, 2001

Captains past and present urge ICC to tackle umpiring issue

CricInfo and agencies

England captain Nasser Hussain and two former skippers of the national side - Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart - have all called upon the ICC to address the umpiring issue following the controversial Second Test against Sri Lanka at Kandy.

A host of questionable umpiring decisions and some poor player behaviour often overshadowed a thrilling Test Match which England won to square the series 1-1.

Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya was handed a suspended four-match ban after hurling his helmet into an advertising board after being dismissed through another controversial umpiring decision.

That dismissal sparked an angry confrontation between Atherton and Kumar Sangakkara, resulting in them both being severely reprimanded by the match referee who also issued a final warning to both teams to improve their behaviour.

Now Hussain believes it is time for the ICC to tackle the umpiring issue. "I have to be careful what I say, but it's the decision-making that's caused the problem over the last two games," he said.

"It needs to be looked at because it's hard enough for me just to get 11 cricketers ready for playing a Test Match without worrying about other people's jobs as well.

"I can offer my suggestions about what should be done and I know some people are saying we should have neutral umpires and others think the best 12 in the world should do it.

"There are a lot of suggestions flying around and I think it's time the ICC sat down and had an open forum to discuss it properly - that must be done sooner rather than later.

"I don't know if these two games are in isolation or not, but if you speak to Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton who have played 107 Tests, they will tell you they can't remember two games like this," he said.

"Not too much needs to be done if it is just these two games and we all return to normal after this, but it seems to be happening more and more in the game around the world.

"The game is moving forward very professionally, technology is getting better so let's get everything moving forward together."

Hussain plans to discuss the issue with coach Duncan Fletcher, chairman of selectors David Graveney and England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Lord MacLaurin, who is going to Colombo for the final Test.

Hussain said: "We have to make sure that decision-making within the game is as good as it can possibly be because it's not an easy job in this part of the world - if the game of cricket goes on we have to make sure that technology and everything has to get better."

Meanwhile Atherton, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, said the series was the most ill-tempered he had played in, and called on the ICC to set up an elite panel of umpires to officiate in future matches.

"The situation has got so far out of hand during this series that the ICC will have to act to prevent serious damage to the game," he said.

Atherton said although increased technology had highlighted umpiring errors, he was in no doubt umpiring standards had declined during his career "to the point where some games, such as the two in this series, have become farcical".

The England opener said a panel of well-paid neutral umpires should be set up to handle international cricket matches. "Umpires need to be as prepared and professional as the players and put under the same scrutiny by their employers...those who have a bad run of games should be dropped as any player would be," Atherton wrote.

In Alec Stewart's column in the Sunday Times, the England 'keeper wrote: "These have easily been the two most controversial and acrimonious Test Matches I have played in.

"What has happened in Kandy and Galle has really shown up the problems which the game faces with umpiring."

He said having two neutral umpires handling Test matches would be "an important step forward".

"If the ICC is worth anything then that is what it should do," he said.

"It is not that local umpires are consciously biased towards the home side, but in situations where a few controversial decisions are made it is very easy for the visitors to get into the frame of mind where they think they are being hard done by, even when they are not...before you know it the two teams are at each other's throats," Stewart wrote.