Not among the ‘elite’

Issue

It’s common knowledge that India, off the field, is the strongest force in world cricket. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the richest federation by a distance and the biggest contributor towards International Cricket Council’s finances. The Indian team is the No.1 ranked Test team in the world and second in one-day internationals. Current players like Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma are superstars in the country with millions of followers. But, what about umpires?

Sadly, the answer isn’t all that encouraging. A few days ago, the ICC dropped S Ravi from the Elite Panel while naming four Indians (C Shamshuddin, Anil Chaudhary, C Nandan, Nitin Menon) in the International Panel — the second rung who largely get to officiate limited-overs games. The move from the ICC didn’t elicit much reaction at home as the common grouse amongst most domestic captains has been about the ‘poor’ quality of umpiring, especially in Ranji Trophy and IPL.

That concern was shared by many during Captains’ Conclave last May where BCCI takes stock of the season gone by and implements suggestions for the fresh one to come. Umpiring errors, apparently, were a major topic of discussion following several bloopers, especially glaring ones like in the semifinal between Karnataka and Vidarbha. For a board so rich and country that consistently produces superstar players, it’s quite baffling how the quality of umpiring has failed to consistently touch elite levels.

“I don’t buy the argument that Indian umpires are bad,” defended former international umpire A V Jayaprakash. “Top Indian umpires are as good as anyone in the world. In my opinion, Ravi had a good World Cup. After Venky (S Venkataraghavan), we didn’t have anyone in the Elite Panel and Ravi’s promotion was a welcome boost. But his axing is not a good sign. Yes, the standards at the domestic level have fluctuated but I’m not sure why it has dropped. It was very good until a few years and I’m not sure why it has fallen.”

K Hariharan, another former top level umpire, blamed it on the ongoing tussle between the Committee of Administrators and the BCCI. “Since the CoA took charge of running the sport in the country, umpires have ended up suffering the most. I’m not blaming anyone here but that’s what it is. There is no Umpires Committee and the academy (in Nagpur) is also not functioning. This has a direct bearing on the performance of the umpires. Umpire development is an ongoing process and a break for a year or two can have serious implications. Umpires, just like players, need to keep themselves abreast of the latest developments in sport.”

The BCCI Umpires Academy was established in Nagpur in 2010 with the primary objective of providing wholesome training for domestic umpires to enhance their levels. But since 2013, owing to several conflicts, the academy has ended up in the scrapheap. The same applies to Umpires Committee. Vinayak Kulkarni, who was actively involved in the functioning of the academy, felt it needs to come back.

“Most batsmen watch videos of their dismissal to correct their flaws. Similarly, umpires also get a copy of their decisions so that they can use it to correct their mistakes. Earlier, some of them would get it to the academy and there were mentors who would watch it and offer suggestions for improved decision making. Now, the umpires have no one to take these footage to. They’ll have to study them on their own. They can discuss it with their peers but there’s a feeling of insecurity. What if the peer, who’s also competing for the same job, shares the mistakes with others.

“The comfort level they shared with the panel at the academy is not there. However good you are, you always need some assistance. Someone to pinpoint your flaws and offer tips for improvement. Umpires have to make their decision in split second. That’s how demanding it is. Even the ICC Elite Panel guys make mistakes but they have a strong support group. The BCCI does hold lectures and classes since the academy stopped functioning, but it’s random. You need something consistent for the umpires to fall upon.”

Kulkarni, however, feels umpires need to make an effort themselves also and not rely too much on administrative help. “Life of an umpire is a much better now. Elite BCCI umpires make Rs 40,000 per match-day while others make Rs 30,000. So a decent umpire gets to make at least Rs 12 lakh, excluding the travel and accommodation, which is a good income. Unlike our times when umpiring was a hobby, people can take it up as a profession. So umpires shouldn’t get complacent saying I’m happy doing only domestic level. They should aspire for more. And there are some really hard-working umpires out there. BCCI should form a committee to oversee the performance of such umpires and encourage them.

“With the right motivation, right opportunities and right guidance, umpires too can grow and reach world-class standards. I also don’t buy the argument that Indian umpires are bad as it’s portrayed mostly. The opening day of the Ashes Test saw so many decisions being overturned by DRS. Our top umpires are as good as any in the world. The problem is with the next level and as I said, you need good mentoring and coaching to bring them to elite level. You also need effort from their end.”

Comments (+)