Brent 'Billy' Bowden's demotion from world cricket's elite umpiring panel has surprised the head of New Zealand Cricket's umpiring department.
The Aucklander has been dropped for the 2013-14 year, having been among the world's best umpires for about 15 years.
Bowden, 50, and Pakistani Asad Rauf have been left off the list, and replaced by Australian Paul Reiffel and England's Richard Illingworth, both former international players.
Bowden has stood in 75 tests since 2000, 19 T20s, and 181 ODIs since 1995. Known for his idiosyncratic body language, including his crooked raised finger delivery of grim news for batsmen, that shouldn't disguise that Bowden has long been a highly competent umpire.
"It's very disappointing for Billy and yes I was surprised," national umpiring manager Rodger McHarg said today.
"I know Billy has been working very hard and is still acknowledged as one of the best decision makers in the game."
The sole reason given for Bowden's demotion is form. There hasn't been an umpire born who hasn't made mistakes, and with the officials in the full glare of television slo-motion replays, it's never been harder to get it consistently right.
Some of those who remain on the panel should consider themselves fortunate, notably Australians Bruce Oxenford and Steve Davis.
"The selection panel considered the overall performances of the umpires over the past 12 months when deciding which umpires would be offered contracts for 2013-14," said International Cricket Council umpires selection panel chairman Geoff Allardice.
Rauf was dumped for the Champions Trophy tournament when he was named in a police investigation into spot fixing in the Indian Premier League. However his axing was unrelated to that, Allardice said.
McHarg said NZC would work with Bowden to ensure he has every chance to put his case for a return to the panel, if he wishes to. Bowden didn't want to comment on the ICC decision today.
"I'm sure there'll be opportunities this summer," McHarg said. Expect to see Bowden popping up during the tours by the West Indies and India next summer.
Under ICC rules, tests are controlled by three elite panel officials and the fourth official is home based; for ODIs the on-field umpires are one each from the panel and the home country, with the TV official from the panel; and in T20s, all officials are from the home country.
The change comes in from July 1.
Tony Hill is now New Zealand's only representative on the elite panel.
The full list is Hill, Aleem Dar (Pakistan), Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka), Steve Davis, Bruce Oxenford, Rod Tucker, Paul Reiffel (Australia), Marais Erasmus (South Africa), Ian Gould, Richard Illingworth, Richard Kettleborough, Nigel Llong (England).