Bangladesh players would want to erase the ongoing World Cup from their memories. It is natural to seek that after winning just two matches out of nine. But, at least one man will always cherish the memory forever. He is, by the way, not a current cricketer. Sharfuddoula Ibne Shahid conducted as many as five matches as field umpire during the World Cup 2023 in India.

Sharfuddoula received plaudits for his umpiring almost in proportion to the criticisms Bangladesh players got for their performances. Earlier, two Bangladeshi umpires Masudur Rahman and Gazi Sohel were appreciated for their good work in the last two editions of the Asia Cup. These three are the examples that Bangladeshi umpires can do well if they get opportunity in the big stages.

But, the criticism that was rife about umpiring at the club level has now spread to first class cricket. The main accusation about the umpiring in first-class cricket is of bias. And the controversies raised in this year’s national league was due to ineptness of some umpires. Not only the poor decisions, the weaknesses of some umpires about controlling the field were also exposed.

Cricketers allege that many of these umpires are not competent for conducting first-class matches. One of the cricketers raised the question of umpire’s competency even during a match by saying, “go back to the division where you came from. Why did you come here?” Upon hearing such brazen comments, the umpire had nothing to do but blush. It is learnt that another umpire replied to a leg-before appeal of a bowler, “I did not even see the ball.” It is even heard that bowlers are encroaching middle of pitch while appealing, but umpires are saying nothing. There are many allegations of umpires raising their fingers under the pressure of bowler and fielders appealing.

Observing the poor quality of umpiring in the country's premier first-class tournament, a cricketer playing for the national team said, 'Even at a mere glimpse it seems like they don't have the ability to officiate at this level of matches.' He even mentioned another side effect of such poor umpiring in the national league, “Selectors select Test players by evaluating the performances of the national league. If the umpiring of that national league is this bad, just imagine how much it is harming Test cricket.”

The problem is, in most of the cases no allegation is made at the captain’s report that is submitted at the end of every day’s play. Even if the allegations are made, they are done very haphazardly. Someone else may write something and the captains often sign it without even bothering to read that.

A total of 35 umpires including five reserves conducted the first five rounds of the ongoing national league. As many as four umpires made their debut in first-class cricket this time and two umpires made their debuts within the last two years. The umpires who made their debuts this year were kept as reserves in the last two years.

But that does not mean all the mistakes are done only by the rookies. The decisions that are making the national league questionable are mostly coming from the old umpires. One of the umpires, who was once accused of biased umpiring in domestic cricket, gave some controversial decisions just by conducting one match in the national league. The video clips of those are being circulated through the cricketers.

Bangladesh Cricket Umpires and Scorers’ Association distributes matches among umpires. An umpire is paid Tk 40,000 for each of the matches of the national league. Indicating the matter, one of the BCB officials accused the association by saying, “One gets good money by umpiring in the national league. So, umpires do many things to hold their positions here. The association has to take the blame.

Cricket Umpires and Scorers’ Association, however, is not ready to take the blame. Rather, they accused that they did not want to let many umpires, who were included in the last year, conduct the games. Association wanted these umpires to come to first class cricket after umpiring for a few years in the lower level. But BCB did not pay heed to their recommendation.

The chief of BCB’s umpires’ committee, Iftekhar Ahmed, however, is hopeful, “If the number of good umpires increases, at a stage the difference of performance will reduce the number of weak umpires.” But they should not naturally get the responsibilities of conducting first-class games after giving wrong decisions openly. Iftekhar declined to comment anything about it but a BCB director seeking anonymity said, “They are very powerful, you can’t discard them at will.

The bias of umpiring in club cricket takes place with the influence of power. Does that ‘ghost’ now hover over the national league as well?

This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Syed Faiz Ahmed