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Cricket was something which was ingrained in me. My father Mr. Narendra Dua played Ranji Trophy for Madhya Pradesh from 1964 to 1976 as a fast bowler and got 107 wickets in 29 first class matches. My younger brother Rajeev also represented MPCA in Ranji Trophy for two seasons. I also played cricket for long, representing Indore University and MPCA U-19 team. But since, I could not make it to the higher level, the thought of becoming an umpire struck my mind and the urge to remain associated with this wonderful game made me take up umpiring.
I started Umpiring at Club Level where we used to get a waiver of one-month club fee (Rs.25/-) in lieu of umpiring a match. When Mr. Sanjay Jagdale watched me umpiring, he advised me to take this seriously. He encouraged and allowed me to umpire in the prestigious All India Bidasaria Trophy Final in which the leading India players like Sandeep Patil, Chandrakant Pandit and Sanjay Manjerakar, besides the other acclaimed stars were playing.
The positive feedback I received made me prepare for the State Panel Umpires Examination. We were trained by senior umpire Mr. Narendra Menon, with my father also guiding me with the preparations for the examination. In 1986, we appeared for the state panel examinations. I topped the exam, my other colleagues who passed with me included Sudhir Asnani (now a retired ICC Panel Umpire), Rajiv Risodkar (retired BCCI Panel Umpire), and Amardeep Pathania (retired BCCI Panel Umpire).
We started our career as umpires together and were preparing for the Ranji Panel Exams whenever BCCI organise. BCCI conducted the Ranji Panel Exams in 1991. Sudhir Asnani and myself passed the written examinations from MPCA and qualified for the Viva and Practical. I could not get through the Practical and Viva, which was heart breaking for me as I worked very hard for the same and was confident that I will get through, but the destiny had some other ideas.
At that moment, I thought of leaving umpiring but all my friends, family and the then MPCA Secretary Dr M K Bhargava supported me in pursuing my passion. Then came the announcement in 1996 for another examination. This time, I was ready with better preparation and maturity. By God’s grace, this time I cleared the examination with flying colours along with my colleagues Rajiv Risodkar and Amardeep Pathania. This is how I became a Ranji Trophy Umpire.
Umpiring at Domestic Level
During my first season in 1998, I received my first posting for an Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy between Railways and Rajasthan at the Karnail Singh Stadium Delhi. I was thrilled as my mentor, Mr. Narendra Menon was my partner. It was a proud moment for me to wear the BCCI tie for the first time. Same year, I was thrilled receiving my first Ranji Trophy posting. The match was between stalwarts of domestic cricket – Tamil Nadu and Karnataka – and my partner was none other than my friend, and now a senior, Sudhir Asnani who was already an International Umpire by then. Mr Piloo Reporter was the Match Observer.
Initially, I was nervous as it was a big platform and both the teams had a few international players. But the moment I stepped on to the field, all the nervousness was gone.
The best compliment I got after my debut match was from one international player from Tamil Nadu who asked me, “Sir, are you also on the International Panel like your partner?” He was shocked to know that this was my debut as a First-Class umpire. Our performance was also praised by Mr Piloo Reporter, who too was surprised that this was my first Ranji match.
In early days, when the facilities were nowhere near what we get now, the preparation was little bit different. Before the start of domestic season, I used to do a lot of local games where you get good practice as well as a feel of the game. In the earlier days, the preparation started with the bookings for travel, talking to partner regarding the lodging arrangements etc. Then came the second most important part of organising yourself, which included the readiness of personal attire/kit and going through the latest Playing Conditions along with revision of the laws and discussions with fellow umpires.
As part of my preparations, I used to through the scorecards of previous games of both the participating teams to get an idea about the stock bowlers, no balls bowled, mode of dismissal of batsmen etc. This helped me a lot during the game.
On reaching the venue, the usual routine was followed, which included talking to groundsmen in charge, scorers, officials of the staging associations, checking of equipment/ground and other Implements etc.
Memories and highlights
My first Ranji Trophy match after which I got the best compliment ‘Sir, are you also on International Panel like your partner?” will be embedded in my memory.
Then the Deodhar Trophy match between West Zone and North Zone with the likes of Virendra Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Ashish Nehra, Virat Kohli, Wasim Jafar, Ajit Agarkar, Ajinkya Rahane and Yusuf Pathan playing.
Then, the match between India-A and Australia-A, where I did my first live game. In the first over of Shaun Tait, I gave Robin Utthapa out LBW and when I asked third umpire, he said, “Well done, Sanjeev. That was spot on.” The feeling was tremendous as the speed of the ball was shown as 150 kms.
Highlights, in terms of performance during the career, are the feelings which gave me inner satisfaction that I have done my job professionally without any prejudice or any other thing on my mind. One Incident I want to quote here. In a Ranji Trophy match between Haryana and Services at the Palam ground when I gave Ajay Ratra (captain of Haryana) out LBW. In the evening, Ratra told me that it was a brave decision to give a captain out LBW; that too on the front foot. But he said that the decision was correct and till date we are friends.
The highlight of my umpiring career is that I maintaining my status in the panel of umpires who are appointed for Ranji Trophy matches with my consistent performance without any break from inception till retirement.
When you travel to different parts of the country you come across different cultures, languages, variety of food, weather conditions, and a fresh set of people around you when you are working on and off the field. I learnt so many things, such as:
- How to communicate with people around you
- How to perform your duties in a different set of conditions
- How to adapt the food habits
- How people behave - Man management
- Adaptation to weather conditions
You come to know about unity in diversity. The lovely game of cricket provides you this opportunity through the BCCI.
A lot has changed over the past 10 years, regarding facilities and increased accountability. Now, anybody who has to take up umpiring has to be a thorough professional. The introduction of cameras in all the BCCI matches has changed a lot of perceptions.
The only advise I wish to offer to youngsters who have taken up the umpiring, or want to take up umpiring, to have patience and keep putting in hard work as there is no substitute to hard work.
One word explains all. It was a wonderful journey full of memories of joy, happiness, friendship building, support from parent bodies BCCI/MPCA/IDCA, amazing colleagues from all over the country and abroad (a few of them with whom I have worked) learned a lot from all associates of this lovely game including players/scorers/video analysts/coaches/referees and Groundsmen and many others like liaison officials of all associations.
I will also like to thank my employers Allahabad Bank (now Indian Bank) for giving me encouragement and allowing me to pursue a parallel career. Thanks are also due to my family, my mentors, my colleagues in the fraternity, my parent associations and all the officials of the BCCI and state associations who have helped me during my umpiring career.
The feeling of satisfaction gives me immense pleasure and I will cherish all the good memories with me for the remaining part of my life.
Sanjeev Dua started his umpiring journey from 1998-99 season and went on to officiate in 53 Ranji Trophy games. He also officiated in 5 WODIs, including the 2006 Asia Cup final between India and Sri Lanka. His last game as an official was the Assam-Tripura Ranji Trophy match in 2019-20.