Events and people that shaped the game

No. 38

The match referee and third umpire

Two officials who appeared on the cricket scene as it grew into a high-stakes sport: one to police it, the other to make it more error-free

Rahul Bhattacharya

February 26, 2011

Text size: A | A

Rudi Koertzen calls for the third umpire, Australia v World XI, Super Test, Sydney, October 14, 2005
Television forced the authorities to bring in the third umpire © Getty Images
Related Links


As cricket grew into a high-stakes sport, there was an increasing need for a neutral authority to oversee matches. Third-country umpires were fine to ensure impartial decision-making, but there were factors beyond their ambit: ground conditions, player facilities at a venue, and most importantly the tricky matter of keeping players from infringing the ICC's code of conduct.

Enter the match referee, an ICC-appointed official, and usually a former international player of repute. MJK Smith from England was the first appointee, when he officiated in the first two Tests during India's tour of Australia in 1991-92. On December 28, 1992, Aqib Javed became the first player to be suspended for a match by a referee when Peter Burge punished him for showing dissent against the umpires during an ODI in Napier. Essentially, cricket became more policed. It needed it.

But a high-stakes sport also needed greater accuracy in decisions. It was the advent of television, and in particular the slow-motion replay, that really began to undermine the authority of the umpire, exposing his every mistake. It became apparent that some kind of electronic back-up had to be made available to umpires, and in 1992 there appeared for the first time a third umpire or TV umpire, who could be consulted only for the decisions: run-outs, stumpings and boundaries.

The third umpire was a boon to fielders - fittingly it was Jonty Rhodes who claimed the first dismissal by this means, when South African umpire KE Liebenberg adjudged that he had run Sachin Tendulkar out in the first Test on India's tour of South Africa in 1992-93. Not only was the full value of the direct hit now felt, referrals to the third umpire also added a sense of theatre, with thousands of viewers waiting with bated breath for the red or green light to blink.

This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003

RSS Feeds: Rahul Bhattacharya

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Email Feedback Print
Rahul BhattacharyaClose
Rahul Bhattacharya Author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04

    Test cricket needs fewer teams, not more

Ian Chappell: It's clear that for the ICC votes mean more than results

    Lara's peaks

Tony Cozier: While the 375 had a sense of inevitability to it, the 400 came amid a backdrop of strikes and the threat of a whitewash

    The world record that nearly wasn't

Rewind: Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it

    An archaelogical probe into the state of the game

Review: Gideon Haigh comes out with another set of essays that sound uncannily prescient about the way the game is headed

The home invasion

Hassan Cheema: The Emirates have been Pakistan's home away from home for three decades. To see the IPL being played there must feel like betrayal

News | Features Last 7 days

UAE all set to host lavish welcoming party

The controversy surrounding the IPL has done little to deter fans in UAE from flocking the stadiums, as they gear up to watch the Indian stars in action for the first time since 2006

Attention on Yuvraj, Gambhir in IPL 2014

ESPNcricinfo picks five players for whom this IPL is of bigger significance

The watch breaker, and Malinga specials

The Plays of the day from the match between Kolkata and Mumbai, in Abu Dhabi

India: cricket's Brazil

It's difficult to beat a huge talent base exposed to good facilities, and possessed of a long history of competing as a nation

The captain's blunder

The Plays of the day from the match between Chennai and Punjab in Abu Dhabi

News | Features Last 7 days