“Cricket umpiring is today like living your passion.”

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Ganesh R Iyer (63), a Management Consultant in Sports and Operational Efficiencies, was CEO for 17 years with W H Brady & Co Ltd; Managing Committee member of Mumbai Cricket Association for seven years; Convenor of the Infrastructure Committee of MCA responsible for setting up the Indoor Cricket Academy in 2007-08 and revamping the Wankhede Stadium, from 2009-2011 and General Manager with MCA for World Cup 2011.

He retired on superannuation as National Panel Umpire of the BCCI in February 2012. Moving away from competitive matches of MCS from March 2020, two years in advance to promote younger talent, he is currently an Umpires
Educator with the BCCI.

He speaks to A.Radhakrishnan on a hobby which became an ardour.

What is umpiring?

Umpiring is a job to ensure that a sports match or contest is played fairly without rules being broken. The umpire’s decision is final.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional career?

Well, there’s nothing offbeat about this career. As a keen sportsman, interested in outdoor games I represented school, college, and office in football, hockey and cricket.
The urge to understand the rules and principles of the games I played was always paramount. It was but natural, therefore, that when professional commitments and age intervened, it prompted me to take up cricket umpiring to be in tune with them.

How much did you enjoy umpiring?

What started as a hobby, became a passion and I enjoyed my umpiring, improved my concentration, upgraded my knowledge frequently, applied the laws fairly and in the process met and made many new friends and retained my reference with old ones. The journey from 1991 till date was truly enjoyable.

Is it mandatory that to be an umpire, you need to have at least played first-class cricket?

No, it’s not mandatory but it helps if you have played the game at a decent level. In 1991, I appeared for the exams conducted by M.C.A. and was tutored for this by the late A M. Mamsa, a doyen of Indian Umpiring.
I was fortunate to be asked to officiate in games by the Cricket Club of India for six years along with matches of MCA. In 1997, when the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) held an examination for national level qualification, we were coached by M V Gothoskar, another doyen and a strict taskmaster. I became a National Panel Umpire and travelled all over India, officiating in matches under different climatic conditions, worked with innumerable partners, referees and different cultures. 

What are the skills required of a good cricket umpire?

Being level headed, impartial, cool, focused, physically well maintained, reading and observation are the skills required with a touch of sense of humour too.

Is a good umpire born or made? Can he afford to have an ego?

Good umpires are not born but evolve.
Yes, it’s paramount to be a good and impartial person.
As for ego, I would say an emphatic No. Conflicts emerge with a clash of egos. An arbitrator of disputes must be seen as a level headed person.

Your umpiring icons. Why?

Rudy Koertzen was knowledgeable, cool and non-fluttered who did his job and went away unseen, unheard as an umpire should be.

Is umpiring more taxing mentally than physically?

Well, you can say that it’s both mental and physical. It gets taxing only if you probably don’t enjoy it. I took the pains as gains for my personal life.

Who were the people who helped you in your development?

I am indebted to late A M Mamsa for my initiation into umpiring. I cannot recall any other person who could teach and interpret the laws without referring to the Law book. His classes remain the foundation on which my umpiring career was built. M V Gothoskar who guided me to the higher plane, Major V D Gupte, late Dara Dotiwala, P D Reporter and the late G K Raman are others to whom I shall dedicate my complete umpiring career.

Is there a healthy understanding and respect for how difficult an umpire’s job is.

The game has evolved from an amateur level to a professional career and by and large, the understanding and respect have been maintained over the years, with checks and balances nowadays to ensure this.

As an umpire, did you consciously build relationships with players?

As it happens in life, the more you see each other a relationship develops; but it should not cloud your decision making.

Can you talk about your regimen for mind and body? How would you rate your eyesight?

It was simple to look for positives, ignore the negatives and keep smiling at Nature.  Simple and least complicated.
We were medically checked each year especially the eye and ear and my ophthalmologist would rate me 6/6. 

Your thoughts about woman umpires in our testosterone-heavy maidans.

A welcome addition. I firmly believe that they are equal to men, and I have had the pleasure of initiating about 7/8 girls into umpiring in Mumbai. One has gone on to become a Match Referee with BCCI and another is now on the ICC developmental panel of Umpires. No mean achievement in the last nine years.

Your views on BCCI? Should it be nationalised?

A vehement no. This is the only sports body in India which does not take any subsidy or grant from the government to run its activities. In order of spectator preference in India, compared to yesteryears, today cricket leads by miles, only because there is no government involvement. The state of hockey and football in India need not be elaborated. 

How much did it hurt when you got decisions wrong? Did it affect you? 

Well, I had to ensure that I forgot what had happened and look out and get right what was going to happen. I am a human and may err… so just carry on.

Don’t you think the concept of neutral umpires is outdated, with the technology available to assist officials?

No, it’s going to last a while, as even technology is not foolproof. The allegation of bias, however wrong it was, is also eliminated.

Do you feel comfortable having all that power over 22 players on a cricket field?

No, it’s not a case of power, but a case of great responsibility.
You must acknowledge that those 22 men/women trust you for your wisdom in applying the laws.

What notebook does an umpire generally keep in a one day match? What information does it contain?

Notebook or Card, contain details of teams, the number of overs being bowled by a bowler, time losses markings, fielder being off the field timings and any other special trivia that he wishes to record.

How many umpires are there in different formats of cricket?

At international level, it is four per game; at the domestic level, it is three per game and at the local level it is two per game.

How many rules are there in cricket? How important was it for you to have a grasp of all?

There are 42 laws and playing conditions related to those laws that have not changed since 1980. You need to know all because you could be confounded with a situation in the game which was unexpected or unusual.

Is the Umpire Decision Review System (DRS) a friend or a foe?

Technology is always an aid. Treat it as a friend.

What is ‘mankading’?

Mankading is a method of running out where a bowler dismisses a non-striker by hitting the bails before bowling when the latter is outside the crease. Though this is a legally permissible dismissal, it is considered against the spirit of the game. It got its name from Vinoo Mankad who indulged in it for the first time on an English tour.

What is the switch hit?

It’s a stroke played by the batsman by reversing his stance. In the case of a right-handed batsman, the right hand is below the left hand in the grip of the handle. However, when the batsman switches his left hand below his right hand it becomes a switch hit.

What is Net Run Rate and Target Run Rate?

NRR is runs scored divided by overs faced. Target run rate is one run over the opponents’ total.

How would you have umpired the World Cup match which New Zealand morally should have won?

There are no morals etc., in a game; it’s the rule which needs to be applied and I think one must get on with it. I feel the umpires did the best under the circumstances.

How would you tolerate a screaming inconsiderate fan? 

Ignore him. Nobody disturbs me from over 60 yards.

Is cricket still a gentleman’s game?

I believe yes, but then values are changing.

Any new initiatives after retirement for improving umpiring?

At a time when the country is under a 40-day lockdown period, along with nine of my colleagues who have retired from BCCI umpiring, I have started a new concept to encourage the development of umpires in the city through a sort of e-learning process to help the next group of umpires upgrade themselves, through two WhatsApp groups one for the BCCI umpires from Mumbai, and the other for all local umpires. For one hour per day, there will be a topic, law, or a playing condition, on which there will be a discussion, moderated by one of our senior umpires.
Another outreach is a group, Lending a Hand to help umpires and scorers whose livelihood depends on cricket. A voluntary fund has been set up to ensure that they are provided some assistance at a time when not just cricket, but all sport has come to a grinding halt.
Till now we have been successful in raising ₹2.5 lakh and the process of raising funds will continue. Each of them would be given ₹5,000 individually.


A. Radhakrishnan

A. Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance writer, poet and short story writer.

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