On a May afternoon this year, a couple of local league-level umpires attending the BCCI Level 1 umpires’ workshop approached one of the tutors, TK Handu, a former international umpire, with a strange demand: “Can this workshop be extended by a couple of days? We are struggling.”
“We had also asked the BCCI to give us six days, but they didn’t agree,” replied Handu.
It was Day One and the trainees were fired at with 18 laws and their sub-sections. In four days, they had to cram cricket’s 43 laws and their sub-sections. On top of that, they were supposed to undergo practicals, take part in group discussions, which meant explaining the assigned laws to the class and then sit for an exam.
Interestingly, the advice from both the tutors was “understand the laws thoroughly”.
The Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) had held a similar workshop in February and it helped the trainees, who made the cut after passing the exam. But, as many complained, it was equally brief.
One of the trainees, who fared well in the DDCA exam, had the laws on his fingertips. There were others like him, but their hopes were shattered by the other tutor --- TR Kashyappan.
“I don’t know Hindi and I’ll explain only in English. You can’t become a good umpire unless your English is good,” said Kashyappan.
The tea break saw a couple of angry young trainees question the logic.
The anger was shared by SK Bansal, a former international umpire and long-time director of BCCI’s umpiring academy at Nagpur.
“Aleem Dar (of Pakistan) is one of the best umpires in the world and is on the Elite panel. His English is not good. Asad Rauf, before being removed due to the fixing taint, too was on the Elite panel, but his English was poor. A person can best understand the laws in his mother tongue. I have seen many umpires with great judgement and courage without the knowledge of English. You can’t deny people on the basis of that,” said Bansal. “The exam only qualifies you to perform at the local league games where you don’t need to know English.”
Bansal complained that the policy tilted the scale in favour of candidates from South and West Zone when it comes to graduating to the national level.
Kashyappan opined, “What if you faced an Australian cricketer arguing with you? How would you handle someone like Ricky Ponting?”
The results showed the preference. People whose English was considered good were cleared even though many of them had no experience of umpiring. Many who had experience couldn’t make it past the initial stage.
Both Kashyappan and Handu were adamant and not in agreement with Bansal, who had earlier conducted the DDCA workshop along with K Hariharan.
They went ahead with the group discussion session where the class of 25 was divided into four groups and each group given a law to explain in front of the others. There were supposed to be questions from the audience too.
Even before the session took off, an over-enthusiastic trainee fainted and couldn’t participate. Some others disappeared, citing illness to their relatives.
Stage fright was clearly taking a toll.
The BCCI had already made its view clear by signing up with the British Council and organising English language workshops for umpires.
Language preference and the brief workshop weren’t the only issues.
Jatin Sood is an experienced hand at umpiring at the league level and scoring at the BCCI level. He qualified for the BCCI Level 1 the last time it was held in Delhi four years back.
He even cleared the BCCI refresher course, which one has to go through to gain practical experience at local league games. He appeared for Level 2 but failed. In normal circumstances, he should have been allowed to appear for Level 2 again.
But a strange clause made him sit for Level 1 again.
Handu asked for those who had appeared in the previous workshop and cleared it. Quite a few hands went up.
“If you fail in a class, what do you do? You are asked to sit for it again, aren’t you? You don’t ask the student to sit in a class which he has already cleared and start all over again,” said Sood, who endured nervous moments before clearing the exam.
He has to sit for the refresher again. In fact, another who had cleared Level 1 confessed that he would have given up had he failed to clear the exam this time. “I can’t keep going over it again and again.”
Unlike Sood, he failed and probably it is all over for him despite clearing Level 1 before and putting in years at the local league, where the only attraction is experience as money comes in a trickle.