Non-neutral umpires will continue to officiate in international cricket, with the ICC deciding to extend the Covid-19 regulations it put in place last year till July 2021. That is one of the key recommendations of the ICC Cricket Committee, which has been approved by the global body's chief executives' committee (CEC) and is set to be ratified by the ICC Board when it convenes virtually later this week on March 31 and April 1.
The ICC Cricket Committee, which is chaired by the former India captain Anil Kumble, had met earlier in March and approved a hybrid model of match officials where feasible; that would allow for one neutral umpire and three home umpires in a bilateral series. But this model would be restricted to countries where the neutral officials can travel without having to quarantine.
The CEC, which met virtually last week, approved the recommendation and has sent it to the ICC Board to get a final approval. As it stands, the World Test Championship final - scheduled from June 18-22 in Southampton between India and New Zealand - would be officiated by a team of neutral match officials, all English. Chris Broad is likely to be the match referee, with Richard Kettleborough, Michael Gough and Richard Illingworth - the three English umpires on the 12-man elite panel - to form the umpires' line-up for the match.
Last June, the ICC took on board the recommendation of the committee on having home umpires officiate in bilateral series mainly due to the logistical challenges of travelling during the pandemic. It was the first time non-neutral umpires have officiated in bilateral Test cricket since the ICC introduced the concept of neutral umpires in 2002.
Since then, the only exception was Illingworth standing in the two-Test series recently between Bangladesh and West Indies, which was only because Bangladesh does not have any umpires on the elite panel.
To remove any perception of bias, the Cricket Committee had agreed to allow teams an extra review across all three formats as an interim measure during the pandemic.
That move, the committee discussed this month, had worked satisfactorily, and allowed the ICC to widen its pool of home umpires who were getting exposure standing in international cricket. This February, the MCC World Cricket Committee, too, suggested that "a balance could be struck" by pairing one home and one neutral umpire as the on-field officials to provide exposure to neutral umpires as well to standing outside their home country.
BCCI wants Cricket Committee to discuss soft signal
During its meeting, the committee is understood to have also discussed the soft signal, in the spotlight during the India-England T20Is, though a number of members including Kumble favoured sticking to the protocols around it as they stand.
The soft signal came into focus, anew, when Suryakumar Yadav was ruled out after being caught in the outfield by Dawid Malan; the TV umpire said he did not have conclusive evidence to go against the on-field soft signal of out. According to the playing conditions, the third umpire does have the authority to overturn the on-field umpire's decision but in this case it was upheld.
India captain Virat Kohli had suggested the soft signal should have an added option of "not sure" in such close decisions where the evidence to the naked eye is not conclusive. It is believed that, this week, that suggestion was made by BCCI secretary Jay Shah to the CEC too.
Most members on the committee, however, strongly supported the on-field match officials having a decisive say and not relying entirely on technology, which might not always provide definitive evidence. This is also one of the reasons the committee decided to retain the umpire's call, which Kohli had called "confusing". However, they decided that the concept of umpire's call needed to be simplified in order for all stakeholders - including players - to have a better understanding. The CEC has agreed to the committee's suggestions on the umpire's call and sent it to the board for approval.
Saliva ban and other Covid-19 regulations to continue
The extension of the interim Covid-19 regulations means the ban on use of saliva to shine the ball as well as the allowance of like-for-like substitutes in Test cricket, in case a player tested positive for Covid-19, would also remain in place.
Those recommendations were made by the ICC's medical committee, which once again recommended that those regulations should stay. The ICC said that only sweat would be used by teams to shine the ball. In case saliva was inadvertently applied, the on-field match officials would, after a period of "leniency" and having given at least two warnings, penalise the bowling team with five runs.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo