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Officiating in India has been an eye-opener: Jele

South African umpire Bongani Patrick Jele shares his experience of officiating in the Ranji Trophy

He is only 29, but has been officiating in first-class matches for six years now. An early starter, Bongani Patrick Lele has also been to Australia and New Zealand and is now in India to officiate in the Ranji Trophy. The affable South African took some time out to chat with BCCI.TV to narrate his experience of umpiring in India as part of the umpires exchange programme.

Is this your first time in India?


Yes, this is my first time in India and I have been enjoying every moment of the time spent here. My first game was between Uttar Pradesh and Punjab at Kanpur. The Mumbai-Gujarat match will be my last and I will head back after that.

You have also officiated in New Zealand and Australia? How would you sum up your experience here?

In India, cricket is played hard and with a lot of passion. Umpiring here has been an eye-opener. It has been a great experience. People are nice and friendly. I had been looking forward to my trip to India for a very long time. I would have loved to be a part of a more turning wicket as both the matches I officiated in were green tops. Overall, it has been a very pleasing experience.

The umpires exchange programme is a wonderful initiative, isn’t it?

It is a very good initiative from the boards who are involved in this programme. One grows as an individual and also gets valuable experience as an umpire. It opens up your eyes on dealing with different players, cultures and conditions. I have found first-class cricket to be of very high standards in the countries I have been to. There is so much for the players to achieve and at the same time, there is so much for umpires to achieve.

Did you have to do any prior homework before coming here?

I needed to prepare myself as to what conditions I am going to come across, so that when I come here, I am not shell shocked. You need to make sure that when you get an opportunity, you hit the ground running and are not found wanting. I spoke to senior international umpires in South Africa who have officiated in India and all of them gave me positive feedback. They told me what I must do rather than what I shouldn’t.
You are still very young and have quite a bit of experience under your belt. People your age are trying to establish themselves as professional cricketers. You chose a different path.

I get that question a lot. I played U13 and U15, but started umpiring when I was 14. A friend of mine was the coach of an U11 side, and he would drag me along whenever his team played. I would often stand as an umpire when they played and that is how it all began. I appeared in all the related exams and began officiating in national age-group tournaments in South Africa. Since then umpiring has been my passion and I have steadily climbed the ladder. I have loved every minute that I have spent on the field as an umpire. Now, I don’t really feel young and my age does not affect my decisions. We now have younger guys coming through and I hope that the experience I have gained by starting early helps me in my career.

Would you recommend cricket fans to take up umpiring as a career option?

Definitely, I would encourage guys to consider taking up umpiring as a career. Also, for a cricket fan, this is the best seat in the house. I would have loved to play at the higher level, but I am very happy that I could reach this level thanks to umpiring. It is definitely an alternate career choice.

Does it ever get intimidating when some really big names are playing?

When you cross the boundary rope, all players are equal. I don’t have friends or enemies when I am on the field. I don’t see a name, I just see a player. That has been my thought process throughout. It has helped me not to get star-struck. 

Umpiring is a demanding job. How do you unwind?

Post-match, I take deep breaths. I take a shower and try not think much about the game. You try and go out. In Mumbai you have a lovely beach, so I go for walks by the beach at Marine Drive. I try and get to know players and officials. Those are the types of things you want to be doing as it is important to unwind and relax. Cricket brings people from different backgrounds together and what we can do is share those backgrounds.

Moulin Parikh

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K Hariharan – You need to prove yourself at every level

The veteran official talks about the journey towards getting an international game.

Umpire K. Hariharan explained the process to become a recognised BCCI umpire in part one of the series. In the concluding part, the veteran official talks about the journey towards getting an international game.

There are no shortcuts in sports. It is your hard work and patience that counts. Before one can become eligible to officiate in an international game, one has to prove himself at various stages.

The BCCI recognised umpires are allotted matches conducted by the Board and one starts from the junior level. There is bound to be nervousness initially and to help a young umpire deal with anxiety if any, a senior umpire is always posted. The match referee too helps and provides assistance.

Every match is video recorded. Your performance speaks for yourself. A review committee goes through the footage and monitors you.

One has to slowly climb the ladder and in the first year, one gets U-15, U-19, U-23 and women’s junior and senior games. If your performance is not satisfactory, you need to go down a level, improve and come back again.

The review committee judges you on these criteria

a) Body language

b) Communications skills

c) Man-management skills

d) Player and team management

e) Team work with match referee and scorers on the ground

f) Your focus and alertness

With so much cricket being played all around, fitness is something very important. You may not require the same fitness levels as the players, but you still need to be fit to stand on the field all day. Mental alertness is also very important. The upkeep of your body, your heart beat and your eyesight and vision need to be optimized.

The BCCI will send you for medical examination every year and you need to prove yourself medically fit. You will be checked for stress levels, hearing capacity, eye test and physical fitness. These tests are part of the system. You have to prove yourself in every way.

If you are doing well, you get to officiate in multi-day games. Officiating in multi-day games is an entirely different experience. Your fitness and ability to concentrate for long hours is put to test and your performance is watched.

Once you tick the boxes and gain confidence of the committee you are promoted and get to officiate in the Ranji Trophy. To help you familiarize with first-class cricket, at first you are posted as an official for Group C games.

The level of cricket played in the Ranji Trophy is different and competitive. As you do well, you earn your way to officiate in matches involving the top teams.

You first get to officiate in league games of the tournament and when you do well, you get knockout games.

When you clear that stage, you get Duleep Trophy, Irani Trophy and the Challenger Trophy. Some of these matches are even televised and by now, you are well aware in the circuit. A good show will once again result in further promotion and you get to officiate in practice matches or A games involving the visiting teams.

At every stage you are being assessed and they give you feedback. The ability to withstand pressure is also checked. When you tick all the boxes, you go to the international panel.

The pressure at the international level can be demanding and thus you first get home series. You start with either being the third umpire or the fourth umpire and later get the distinction of being an on field umpire. If you perform well, you get to join the ICC elite panel.

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