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?
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.