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Sunday, 24 March, 2002, 10:30 GMT
Laptops and exercise bikes
Two umpires at a Test in England
BBC Sport Online's Marcus Prior watches umpires on exercise bikes at the International Cricket Council's four-day seminar for elite officials.

Arabella Country Estate just outside Cape Town might be an unlikely place for a revolution.

But the breathtaking spa and golf resort nestled on the banks of a blue lagoon in the shadow of the Overberg mountains has recently played host to a groundbreaking meeting.

The ICC prefer the word "evolution" to "revolution", but the organisation is making serious ground in its attempts to build a new, more professional image for itself as a global sporting body.

Arabella was the venue for a four-day seminar for the ICC's new elite panel of five match referees and eight umpires, who in future will officiate in all Test matches, always in a neutral capacity.

David Shepherd's fitness was tested
David Shepherd's fitness was tested

The exclusive club of 13 have all been contracted by the ICC and will spend seven months of every year away from home.

It's the kind of serious commitment which prompted England's Peter Willey to withdraw from the original panel, saying he feared the impact such demands would have on his family life.

The seminar, which finished on Sunday, covered every conceivable aspect of the match referee and umpire's role - and one or two other matters.

As well as discussions on playing conditions, legal considerations when laying disciplinary charges and the increased use of technology, the delegates were put through fitness tests.

Even the eldest of the umpires, David Shepherd, was happy to admit with a wink and a twinkle in his eye that he had come through unscathed.

Laptops

But he was also clearly relieved the test included a session on a bicycle rather than a treadmill.

Another important new development was the delivery of a laptop computer to all of the officials.

E-mail and the internet are envisaged as the prime tools of communication between the ICC and their men in the field.

Peter Willey decided it was all too much
Peter Willey decided it was all too much

And while most were already completely au fait with the technology, the likes of Mike Procter eagerly lapped up the training which will finally see them join the online fraternity.

Perhaps the highlight of the seminar, however, was a two-hour session on Saturday morning with former England captain, and now psycholanalyst, Mike Brearley.

The details of his input were jealously guarded, but ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed was happy to offer an insight.

"The object of the exercise with Mike was to introduce an intellectual, cerebral aspect, rather than just dealing with day-to-day issues," Speed told BBC Sport Online.

"We tried to get into some of the personal issues of umpiring.

"Things like dealing with pressure, dealing with tension, dealing with difficult people.

'A good session'

"It was largely interactive with the umpires in particular talking about their experiences and how they had coped in the past. It was a very good session."

Speed was also satisfied with what had been achieved at the seminar and the new environment into which the elite panel will now be moving.

"It's been a comprehensive weekend," he said.

"One of the outstanding things is you have here a group of former cricketers in their 40s and 50s - and in one case in their 60s -who have been given the opportunity to start a new career.

"They've got a completely new focus reasonably late in life."

And, of course, the eyes of the cricketing world will be focused on them as never before.

See also:

24 Mar 02 |  Cricket
Dalmiya pleased with ICC changes
21 Mar 02 |  Cricket
Umpires give ICC approval
12 Mar 02 |  Cricket
Shepherd takes lone stand
11 Feb 01 |  Cricket
Umpires set for senses tests
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