The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is considered to be the richest cricket body and the Indian Premier League (IPL) the foremost cricket event. India has always been a cricket-crazy country and with the streaming of matches and content through television and mobile devices the popularity of the game is on an unbelievable rise.
Cricketers are now the real live heroes and darlings of the entertainment world. Cricket has developed into a big business in India. The infrastructure to cater to this exponential growth has initiated cricket related activities for Indian cricket to gain the maximum from this meteoric rise.
However, Indian cricket has been left behind in one major area of the game "umpiring". India, presently does not have a single umpire in the Elite panel of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Umpiring in the past had been a major concern and issue when local umpires were appointed to umpire in a home series. One felt that there was a touch of bias especially at times when crucial decisions were to be made against a local player or team.
Foreign teams returning home had umpiring tales of favouritism and at times outright cheating. Unfortunately, when one goes deeper into understanding the tales of the past, one realises that this was the case in every country that played the game.
This epidemic of favouritism grew to a level wherein it became difficult to beat the host side in their domain. Imran Khan, the former Pakistan captain, fortunately was one of the cricketers to advocate and insist on having independent international umpires to officiate matches. Finally, it dawned upon the ICC to take this issue up seriously and an elite list of umpires came into existence from 2002.
India, in the past had some very good and astute umpires. Some were as popular as the cricketers and had distinct characteristics in their personality as well. A.M. Mamsa, Swaroop Kishan and Piloo Reporter were a few who stood out not only for their umpiring but also for a bit of fun and frolic during a match.
Mamsa was a live wire on the field. He was the one who kept not only players on the field alive but also the crowd with his funny hand and body gestures.
The huge broad frame of Kishan, sweating profusely under his white coat and hat, made one wonder as to whether he would be able to sustain the hot sultry day. He did so without a problem and also had enough energetic humour in him after the game.
Whereas, Reporter with his subtle Parsi one liners, was not only entertainment for cricketers on the field but his unconventional ways of indicating boundaries made him a treat to watch for spectators as well.
However, all of them had the no nonsense view where authority was concerned and this is what made them special.
Umpiring in India then was not a full-fledged career, One marveled at the enthusiasm with which umpires at all levels of the game, without a care, withstood the heat of summer, the rains during the monsoon and the cold of the North Indian winter.
These gentlemen were as much the backbone of the development of cricket in India. They also helped cricketers understand the rules and the ethics of the game they were playing. India, had a list of some very good umpires and a few of them went on to officiate in Test matches. However, the heroes were the unknown ones who never missed a weekend to wear the sacred flowing white coat.
India, since 2002, has had very few umpires on the international field. The great Indian off-spinner S. Venkatraghavan has been the most distinguished of them all. Having umpired 73 Test matches he stands tall above the rest.
There defininetly seems to be some major issues of concern, as regards umpires in Indian cricket. The amount of cricket played domestically and internationally has increased quite substantially. Therefore, for Indian cricket not to have umpires of top quality and class is quite baffling .
Sundaram Ravi with 33 Test matches was the last of the umpires in the international arena. He too was recently removed last year from the elite umpire panel of the ICC. It seems he did not make the grade.
The BCCI one is given to understand, has processes in place for certification, evaluation and training of umpires in India. Even a junior umpire is paid well to pursue umpiring as a profession these days. One therefore fails to understand as to why umpires in India still lack the skills to be at the top of the chart internationally.
Some of the domestic captains and players have time and again criticised the umpiring standards in domestic cricket. One is surprised as to why the standard has not improved over the years, even though, they are officiating plenty of matches and are commercially being well looked after.
The post COVID-19 period should come as a boon to some of the Indian umpires as the ICC has indicated that only local umpires will officiate in their respective countries because of the virus.
Simon Taufel, the distinguished umpire, at present heads the ICC umpires committee. He along with Australian cricket were earlier instrumental in conducting and putting into process the umpire program in India.
India is the front runner in most aspects of the game of cricket at present. It is time for the Indian cricket empire to be also flushed with Indian umpires in the elite list. The BCCI, therefore, needs to make a constructive effort to make this into a reality.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)