KARACHI: The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has every right to rejoice over the overwhelmingly success story of its inaugural franchised-based T20 league held in the UAE. But there was one grey area during the HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL) which raised many eyebrows – umpiring.
The belated announcement of officials before the much-blighted event began took many by surprise when a number of deserving umpires and match referees were overlooked for the seven-man panel to oversee the 24 PSL fixtures.
There were just two overseas officials who accepted the invitation to officiate in the matches staged in Dubai and Sharjah.
Former Sri Lanka batsman Roshan Mahanama, who stepped down from the ICC Elite Panel of Match Referees last November, was in-charge for the last nine PSL fixtures after officiating in the inaugural Master Champions League that also took place in the UAE almost concurrently.
Joel Wilson, a current member of the ICC International Panel of Umpires from the West Indies, was the other outside who was initially slated to officiate in 13 games as an on-field official and six other fixtures as the TV umpire.
But in an eleventh hour development, the PSL technical committee, comprising of Haroon Rashid, Ali Zia and Dr Sohail Saleem, decided to reward the 49-year-old Trinidadian by switching him from the third umpire duties to stand alongside Aleem Dar, instead of the officially nominated on-field umpire Ahsan Raza, in last Tuesday’s final between eventual champions Islamabad United and Quetta Gladiators.
According to investigations carried by Dawn, the decision was taken in consultation with Usman Wahla in a ploy to appease Wilson who was reportedly unhappy with the financial package made to him by the PCB.
Usman, who replaced former cricket board director Zakir Khan as general manager international cricket operations last year, was the front man in the PSL secretariat and according to well-placed sources he was PSL governing council chairman Najam Sethi’s go-to-man because of his close contacts with Sethi, who also happens to be the head of PCB’s executive committee.
That was not the end of the story. Wilson was further rewarded with a special shooting star-shaped trophy during PSL’s final post-match presentation ceremony – something that was unusual because normally after the final, match officials on duty are presented with medallions as a token of their participation.
Sources said the PCB was forced to stick with Wilson after they failed to rope in Bruce Oxenford, who is a colleague of Aleem on the ICC Elite Panel of Umpires, since the Australian had reportedly demanded $1,000 per match, while Wilson, the other hand, agreed to a lower match fee.
But on the field, Wilson had a rough time of it since he is rated as an average umpire by most international players around the cricketing globe and committed mistakes which were noticed by those watching the PSL games on television.
All five PSL franchises were perturbed by the poor standard of umpiring, notably from the local officials. Even Aleem Dar performed well below his high standard. He looked jaded at times and committed several errors because his concentration level was on the wane due to lack of proper rest — a natural phenomenon for a globe-trotting ICC umpire.
The other umpires on the PSL panel, apart from Aleem and Ahsan, were Ahsan’s colleagues on the ICC international panel Shozab Raza and Ahmed Shahab plus Khalid Mahmood and Rashid Riaz, who was not even supposed to be in there at all in the first place. But connections in the appropriate places helped Rashid become the biggest beneficiary of the skulduggery of some PCB officials.
Details of Rashid were conspicuously not published in the official PSL handbook which was also distributed to the media. But sources confirmed to Dawn that Rashid used his contacts — among them is a former first-class player who later became a TV sports anchor — to make the PSL panel after the list was revised on the intervention of a powerful lobby.
Umpires on the PCB elite panel who are much senior to Rashid both in the profession as well as in experience were shell-shocked when Rashid, who himself is a former first-class cricketer, bypassed them all despite making his umpiring debut at the first-class level only last October.
Senior umpires like ex-ICC panel representative Riazuddin, Tahir Hussain, Ghaffar Kazmi, Qaiser Waheed, Mohammad Sajid Afridi along with the emerging ones like Asif Yaqoob and Waleed Yaqub were notable victims of PCB’s gross injustice.
But Rashid, who inducted into the domestic panel only two years ago, even surprised the ICC officials when he was sent to Dubai for training since he had no prior experience, superseded the seniors in the domestic panel. He is the same umpire who once awarded nine runs in a PCB Inter-district match when the ball struck a helmet and crossed the boundary.
Indeed, even Khalid Mahmood was not spared despite building a good reputation over the past 16 years in the top domestic panel. To the surprise of many, Khalid’s presence in the PSL was just confined to fourth umpire duties in 11 matches while Rashid got as many as nine on-field postings, one as TV umpire and six as the fourth official.
Sources further added that Rashid mainly benefited since he is presumably in the good books of Aleem Dar as well as several PCB officials who are in the habit of obliging him blatantly at every opportune moment.
“Just take a look at his [Rashid] performance during the PSL. He was clearly lacking the acumen one must possess to officiate at the top level. Unsurprisingly, he was found wanting since his nomination was certainly not based on merit,” another senior umpire confided to Dawn while requesting anonymity.
“If he’s really good enough then his standard of umpiring contradicted that and a number of decisions made by him left a lot to be desired. And that goes for some others as well because TV replays don’t lie. They were close to around 40 howlers collectively committed by them during the PSL. Moreover, Rashid acted at times as if he was the Simon Taufel [celebrated Australian umpire who retired in 2012] of Pakistan.”
Mohammad Anees was another major PSL beneficiary for being the solitary Pakistani match referee who supervised the opening 15 matches until Mahanama arrived. He had come through the ranks almost in the same way as Rashid did while other current match referees — such as Musaddeq Rasool Khan, Ishtiaq Ahmed, Khalid Niazi, Azizur Rahman and Nadeem Arshad — were overlooked.
Sources pointed out Anees paid no heed to several incidents when action was required from the match referee to ensure fair play.
“There were clear evidence of ball-tampering but the match referee chose against penalising the players and teams involved. Players of one franchise literally tampered with the ball not once but several times in different matches but Anees, instead of taking prompt action and imposing penalty, stayed quiet,” they said. “Match referees are supposed to act accordingly when there is foul play and the game’s reputation is at stake. But Anees is definitely not in the league of Naeem Ahmed, Anwer Khan, Iqbal Sikander, Abdus Sami Khan, Ilyas Khan or Khateeb Rizwan. They were among the country’s finest referees who served Pakistan cricket with dignity and honesty. Had they been around now then characters like Anees and company would have struggled to see anyone of them in the eye because he has come this far through the back door like Rashid Riaz.”
Curiously, PCB replaced long-serving Saqib Irfan as umpires/referees manager with Bilal Qureshi. But since taking over last December, Bilal has yet to prove his credentials after he was specifically brought in by the cricket board’s top brass when reports of alleged malpractices surfaced in the media.
“Umpiring and refereeing are two areas where merit is seldom given any priority by the PCB in recent times. And when deserving match officials are repeatedly ignored and unworthy ones get out-of-turn promotions, the image of Pakistan cricket will suffer,” the sources feared. “The onus is now on the top hierarchy of the board to take serious notice of the irregularities committed by people with vested-interests.”
Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2016