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Cricketing activities all over the world have come to a grinding halt. With lockdown measures forcing everyone to remain indoors, the extended break has thrown things into disarray. While the sudden change in the lifestyle accords plenty of time for self-reflection, the forced break is being utilized by some of India’s finest umpires to fine-tune their skills.
Nitin Menon, Anil Chaudhary, C Shamshuddin and Virender Sharma, the International Panel of ICC umpires from India have engaged themselves in community services and online tutorials.
“We are constantly studying the playing conditions and laws of cricket and keeping ourselves updated. We have group discussions with ICC Umpire Coaches and we also undertake simulation activities regarding third umpiring,” says Sharma.
The purpose of online training is to establish uniformity. “We are practicing scenarios and watching the actual match footage and training ourselves. The motive is to ensure that we are all on the same page and we agree and follow the same protocols when it comes to DRS,” explains Shamshuddin. The seasoned umpire had suffered an injury in the final of the Ranji Trophy held in Rajkot and was forced off the field. “It took me 10 days to recover from that, but injuries are a part and parcel of the game. I am completely fine now. As umpires, we must always be ready to perform to the best of our ability and be ready for the new season whenever it starts.”
Before the season ended, Menon had a hectic schedule, having officiated in the ICC Women’s World Cup in Australia and for the Test match involving Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka in Harare. Menon became the 62nd Indian umpire to officiate in a Test match when he made his debut at Lucknow for the match between Afghanistan and West Indies. “It is every umpire’s dream to officiate in a Test match. I was a bit nervous, but followed my routine and familiar conditions helped me. Having officiated in IPL matches before, I was confident as I had seen most of the players earlier. The IPL experience not only helps the players, but also the match officials like us,” shares Menon.
For 55-year-old Anil Chaudhary, the lockdown has taken him back to his roots. Soon after the home series against South Africa was suspended, he went to his village Dangrol in Shamli district of Uttar Pradesh. “I planned to stay for a week and return to Delhi but soon the lockdown was enforced, and I stayed put. This is a sugarcane belt and I have been ploughing the field. We are trying to set up the internet facility here and I am confident we will have connectivity for everyone,” shares Choudhary, who has to climb up a tree outside his village to receive the signal on his phone.
“I am enjoying my time here. We are trying to bring about some social reforms here and getting them to follow social distancing. The village life is entirely different and has its own charm.”
Auto no-ball, a successful exercise
When India successfully tried the auto no-ball technology, it was Choudhary, who made the first-ever no-ball call. West Indies quick Kesrick Williams had overstepped slightly in the first T20 against India at Hyderabad and Chaudhary picked it up from the third umpire's room. “I remember the first no-ball call that was made. It was extremely tight and the screen there really helped. Picking it up from the naked eye would have been difficult.
“It was a new experience as the setup was entirely new. For the first three overs it was very hectic, but I settled down quickly. I would first watch the main screen, followed by the no-ball screen and then again back to the main screen. I spoke to the on-field umpires and they too were happy with this method,” he reminisces.
Interestingly the two on-field umpires for that game were Shamshuddin and Menon. “Front-foot no ball is the area of focus now and this helps in making the right call. It is difficult for umpires to judge extremely close calls. I feel this technology should be implemented everywhere,” says Shamshuddin.
“The first call was a tight one. What we realized was that this technology would be instrumental in games that go right down to the wire as you can make the right call and no team suffers. The same was also used at the Women’s T20 World Cup and I am hopeful it will be tried everywhere,” adds Menon.
It was the second time that Menon officiated in the World Cup. “This time I was more confident as this was my second World Cup and had more experience under my belt. I was confident of my abilities and was very well prepared.”
The past season was also a memorable one for Sharma, who made his ODI debut as an on-field umpire in the match involving India and Australia at Rajkot. “It was a dream come true for me and also a big challenge as the match involved two best teams in world cricket. I will be honest and say there were few butterflies in my stomach, but at the same time, I was quite confident. I followed the basic rules of cricket and life in general and that really helped me, he gushes.
‘The BCCI’s domestic setup is probably the most competitive one in world cricket. You experience different conditions, pitches, atmosphere within India. A full domestic season really helps an Indian umpire and the support has been such that even on short notice we can be ready.” He says the break period is ideal to sharpen his skills. “We must learn and improve every day. The goal is to be in the Elite Panel of ICC Umpires. I am doing my best to bridge the gap between where I want to be and where I am at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Shamshuddin is also helping the local umpires of the Hyderabad Cricket Association. “We are helping the local umpires who in various ways we can. There are some umpires whose livelihood is directly depended on cricket matches and right now they have nothing to fall back on. Our endeavour is to help them get through this tough period.”