How many times have you, along with millions of other cricket fans, held your collective breaths when a Sachin Tendulkar on song barely manages to reach the crease after a hasty run and a nippy fielder has managed a direct throw at the wickets from the boundary? Don’t your eyes then automatically shift to a certain gentleman in a white hat and coat, and doesn’t your heart send a prayer up there, hoping for a miracle, dreading the fact that he might just raise that dreaded finger and send Tendulkar back to the pavilion?
They wield enormous powers, these umpires. Their decisions on the cricket field are sacrosanct and no one dares question them. So coveted is the job that it led to Anil Kumar Chaudhary quitting his engineering midway. “I had completed my engineering diploma and was preparing for a Bachelor’s in engineering when I was given an opportunity to do umpiring by (Late) Ram Babu Gupta at a state-level Test match. I was then just 22 and I enjoyed the respect an umpire commanded. That was the beginning of my career in umpiring,” says Chaudhary.
It is necessary for an umpire to have been a cricketer, he says. “You must have played at the club or state level, otherwise you can’t be familiar with the game,” adds Chaudhary.
Piloo Reporter, who umpired in the 1992 World Cup, agrees. “You can’t become a national level umpire straightaway. I also got my first break in umpiring for a Kanga League competition when I was 23 and it took me another six years to reach the Ranji levels,” he says.
Though two decades have passed since Reporter umpired his last professional match, he still yearns to take “sporting” decisions and participates in low-profile corporate matches. “Though I was a player, I was more passionate about being an umpire,” adds Reporter. And he has been unable to give it up even at the age of 72.
To become an umpire, you have to qualify theory exams conducted by state sports bodies like the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). Once you qualify, you become eligible for the exams conducted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and your state cricket association will endorse your candidature.
Please note, gathering information on the exam dates etc becomes easier if you are a cricket player at the state or club level. One should also ideally keep in touch with the state cricket associations’ convening committee to stay updated on exams.
The profession is getting lucrative. “Initially I used to work merely to earn something extra, but now I make Rs 10,000 for each day of work. And thanks to the scarcity of umpires in Delhi, I normally get 200 days of work a year,” adds Chaudhary.
On the qualifications, Rajiv Gupta, another umpire on the DDCA panel says, “There are no prerequisites in terms of educational qualifications, which is why those who can’t even read the rule book of cricket claim to be umpires of local cricket matches. One should be able to read as well as understand the rules of cricket — written in English.”
An umpire is the only person on the field who enjoys the game from up close and is in control of the progression of the game. With power, however, come responsibilities. “If you can’t go with the flow of the game in the first half-hour, then you can end up taking a wrong decision,” says Gupta. But what happens in case of a wrong verdict? Normally no serious punitive action is taken against an umpire. “But in an extreme case of dereliction of duty, he can be barred for two three matches,” adds Gupta.
Chaudhary calls umpires match managers. “There are only 42 laws of cricket, but a cricket match might throw up thousands of problems which are not written anywhere. You are entrusted with the responsibility of managing 22 players,” he says. One tends to develop managerial skills through on-field experience.
What's it about?
An umpire has the authority to make decisions on the cricket field, according to the 42 laws of cricket. Besides making decisions about the legality of delivery, appeals for wickets and general conduct of the game, the umpire also keeps a record of the deliveries and announces the completion of an over
9 am: Reach the stadium
10 am: Discuss pitch and preparation with team officials
11 am: Walk into the field (as and when the game begins) and make announcements of over completion, player dismissals, sixers, boundaries, wide/no balls, etc. Players complain of poor light, hold discussions with the square leg umpire before resuming play
2 pm: Half-an-hour break
2.30 pm: Back on the field
6 pm: End of match. Winner is announced
In national matches, umpires get a fixed amount of around Rs 10,000 per match while in local and corporate matches the money is relatively lower — about Rs 800 per day.
. You must know the 42 laws of cricket properly
. Incisive understanding of the game
. Ability to take spontaneous decisions
. Be a good manager
. Be very patient. You can’t afford to lose your temper at any cost
How do I get there?
You have to qualify the theory and practical exams conducted from time to time by state sports bodies. You then become eligible for the exams conducted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) at two levels — one and two. After clearing the second level, you make it to the BCCI panel and can umpire at the highest level. After your case is endorsed by the BCCI for the International Cricket Council (ICC), you can join the race to be an international umpire. But until you pass these exams, you must grab whatever opportunity comes your way to umpire — corporate match, domestic or club level
There is no institute which trains you to become an umpire. It’s only the BCCI which conducts classes before the umpire’s exam. Once nominated by your state to the BCCI, you can attend these classes
Pros & cons
. The money is reasonably good if you make it to national or international levels
. Quite a respectable job. Even celebrity players address you as ‘sir’
. Hi-tech umpiring with the use of electronic eye etc might replace human umpires in future
. At times, stress levels can get high if you declare a favourite player out of making a doubtful decision. The crowds or players can turn against you and you have to stay calm all the time to ensure the match gets over peacefully
Knowledge of cricket laws is vital
A former international umpire talks about the demands of the sport
Why and how did you get into umpiring?
It was just my passion. I wanted to be an umpire. It started in 1984 — I passed the Tamil Nadu state panel examination (for selection of umpires). I was
working as a technical hand in the Air Force and played for its team.
What are the vital qualities required to become a successful umpire?
You must have passion for the game, dedication towards the work and knowledge of the laws of the sport and their interpretation.
Are the laws and their interpretation self-learnt?
Yes, the sad part is there’s no academy or coaching institute. So, the 42 laws are self-learnt.
What is the downside of the job?
Many. You can’t rely on umpiring alone. You should have a business or another job with it, like I am a senior superintendent in customs at the Indira Gandhi
International Airport, New Delhi. First class matches happen for five months a year, from October to March. So, you are employed only for five months.
What’s the supply and demand?
There is enough number of umpires. Professionalism (read: quality) is required. Professional umpires should be given more weightage and matches than those who don’t do a good job.
In India, workplace politics can make or mar your career. How should aspirants deal with it?
That’s everywhere. Only your performance should matter.
Have you ever been affected by it?
I don’t want to comment on that.
Interviewed by Rahat Bano