New Zealand Cricket have scrapped the Match Referees off their payrolls for their domestic Plunket Shield season. Budget cuts are the primary reason behind this unconventional stance taken by the board. But it raises a legitimate question. Are Match Referees really needed to officiate a cricket match? Or are they simply a waste of space and resources?
Match Referee is someone who is appointed by the ICC to oversee the match. He analyses the game from a third person’s point of view and documents it. He takes the pitch and conditions into account and sends in a report to the ICC every match. According to the Marylebone Cricket Committee rule book, the duty of the match referee is to “ensure that the ICC Cricket Code of Conduct is upheld during the game, to assess any breaches of the Code, and to hand out penalties for any breaches”. He administers the toss in every match. Over the course of the past year the added responsibility of the match referee is to identify bowlers with suspect actions and to report them. But thinking more rationally, the on field umpires and the third umpire are at a much better position to judge the bowling actions.
Given the fact that there are already two on field umpires, a third umpire as well as a reserve umpire, the role of a match referee is pretty much negligible in the actual match functioning. The duties he/she performs doesn’t have a direct influence on the match proceedings. The function of the Match Referee is that of a judge when it comes to miscommunication and issues on the field. This role can well and truly be done by the third or the reserve umpire as well. The decisions that the referee makes in general have a post-game effect and given the fact that the conclusions they come to are with inputs from the on field umpires, the duty they have to perform is basically downright minimum.
Given the fact that most countries excluding the Big 3 – India, Australia, and England are facing financial constraints. Leaving one individual out of the pay roll could make a genuine difference over the long run. They are paid a fixed amount on a yearly basis. The match referees have to be transported and accommodated. They are also given their regular match fees for doing work that can in turn be fulfilled by the third umpire or the reserve umpire. Most matches taking place at the domestic level in most countries don’t have a match referee. Matches played at the associate and the affiliate levels don’t have a match referee. Yet, these matches function smoothly.
Over the course of the years, ICC is trying to incorporate technology into the game more and more. And the first Hierarchical post that is under threat is definitely the position of a match referee. Following New Zealand’s lead, I think it is high time ICC considers scrapping the post of a match referee. The Third Umpire would be the best person to fill the mediocre tasks the match referees have been performing overtime.