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New Zealand's cricket umpires have joined the professional age at last.
Five years after New Zealand Cricket (NZC) employed its elite panel of umpires for first-class summer fixtures a New Zealand Professional Cricket Umpires' Association (NZPCUA) has been established.
Its main role is to formalise contract negotiations with NZC, an organisation which found itself at loggerheads with the match officials last summer.
There was a threat of the umpires striking but that did not eventuate after the national body and the officials settled on a one-year deal relating to retainer payments and match fees, which remain confidential.
NZPCUA president Barry Frost, of Auckland, told NZPA today that the formation of the new body placed the umpires on an equal footing with the players, who are represented by the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association.
"Being fulltime created a new dynamic and I suppose we have been muddling along with each umpire trying individually to sort out their contracts with New Zealand Cricket," he said.
"We have essentially decided to follow the model established by New Zealand Cricket by splitting the professional and the amateur games.
"It will be far more efficient now that we've formed our own association to have one voice talking to New Zealand Cricket."
Elite panel umpires are in for a busy time of it next summer when the men's domestic competitions alone will be played on 88 days starting on November 7.
Frost said his organisation was negotiating with NZC for terms to a long-term contract but he did not expect next summer's remuneration levels to differ from those used in 2010-11.
Meanwhile, NZC today released its umpiring panels for 2011-12, highlighted by the promotion of Auckland's Wayne Knights to an eight-strong elite list and the demotion of former New Zealand and Wellington left-arm spinner Evan Gray to the A panel.
The elite panel does not contain Auckland pair Billy Bowden and Tony Hill, who are both on the International cricket Council's elite panel.
Two other additions to the A panel are Tony Gillies, who was promoted from the emerging panel, along with fellow Aucklander and former first-class player Chris Brown, who has been umpiring for just two years.
NZC's national umpire manager Rodger McHarg said Gray's demotion was a "really hard call".
"We have had to look at the wider picture and the opportunities on merit to promote talent.
"In the end it is a numbers game and trying to fit a quart into a pint pot is not easy.
"Wayne Knights deserves his promotion to the elite panel after consistent development and performances in the A panel recently and I'm confident he will continue to develop and progress."
Wellington's Kathy Cross is the sole female named on the 10-strong emerging panel and she has also been appointed to officiate at the women's World Cup qualifying tournament in Bangladesh in November.
Elite panel: Gary Baxter (Christchurch), Chris Gaffaney (Dunedin), Phil Jones (Auckland), Wayne Knights (Auckland), Derek Walker (Oamaru), Barry Frost (Auckland), Evan Watkin (Wellington), Tim Parlane (Christchurch).
A panel: Phil Agent (Christchurch), Hiran Perera (Auckland), Evan Gray (Tauranga), Mike George (Paraparaumu), Chris Brown (Auckland), Ash Mehrotra (Papakura), Mark Elliott (Masterton), David Reid (Christchurch), David Paterson (Blenheim), Peter Spall (Auckland), Peter Gasston (Auckland), Tony Gillies (Auckland).
Emerging panel: Paul Anderson (Napier), Glen Walklin (Napier), Shaun Ryan (New Plymouth), David Tidmarsh (Hamilton), Kathy Cross (Wellington), Raoul Allen (Auckland), John Bromley (Nelson), Garth Stirrat (Waikanae), Johann Fourie (Masterton), Aaron Hardie (Tauranga).