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Vol. XXV No. 11, September 16-30, 2015

An elite umpire from Madras

by A Sports Correspondent

It’s been nearly 12 years since an Indian was on the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) panel of Elite Umpires. One of the country’s, and more specially Chennai’s, distinguished cricketers-turned-umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan was the last Indian on that prestigious panel. Now, coincidentally, a second Chennai umpire has been chosen from India to be on the ICC’s elite panel. He is the 49-year-old S. Ravi, a former club and university cricketer.

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Umpire S. Ravi.

A post-graduate from Pachaiyappa’s College, cricket was always a part of his life. An opening bat and a left-arm spinner, he represented the Universities. He also became a respected cricketer in the TNCA first division league. He first played for YMA, then switched to ICF before moving to Reserve Bank, playing first division from 1983 to 1991. Those were some of the strongest teams of the period.

By 1991, Ravi had qualified as an umpire and was appointed to supervise games in the First Division. “When I umpired in first division here in 1992-93,” Ravi recalls, “the standard was so high that it almost matched that of the Ranji Trophy. Umpiring in those matches made my transition to first class cicket easy.”
Ravi umpired his first Ranji game in 1999. Along the way, he was guided by two former first class umpires from the city, R. Radhakrishnan and R.V. Ramani.

Ravi has had interactions with Venkat who had taught him to be relaxed while being at the centre of the pitch and advised him to give decisions “with conviction and confidence.” This was evident in the Second Test at Headingleys Leeds, when England played New Zealand. Ravi came up with a decision endorsed appreciatively by Third Umpire Marais Erasmus who remarked: “Great decision Ravi!”

Ravi has spent sessions with celebrated Australian umpire Simon Taufel which has also had a huge influence on him. Describing Taufel as his mentor and coach for the last three years, Ravi adds: “He is my idol as an umpire.” As an ICC Training Manager, Taufel had advised Ravi that in order to be a good umpire, “you had to be a good human being.” The one thing that umpiring had taught him was to be humble.

But that does not mean that he meekly submits to senior players on the field. He told a bewildered England fast bowler James Anderson, who had crossed 400 Test wickets at Headingleys, pointedly how he was treading on the “danger area” of the playing surface. Television replays showed how correct Ravi was. But the warning was given to the player with serenity and calmness and Alastair Cook, the England captain was forced to change ends for Anderson.

Use of technology does put more pressure on umpires, according to Ravi. “You have to be focussed and learn to take things in your stride. There will be days when you may make a couple of errors. You can analyse them after the match and get better. There will be times when everything goes your way too.”

Ravi agrees that instinct does play a part in umpiring as there are times when there is a lot of noise on the ground and you have to take the cricketer’s body language into account. This is particularly in the sub-continent, where there is a lot of noise and appeals for catches close to the wicket.

According to Ravi, fitness is essential for an umpire as he has to stand on all five days of a Test. “I do some gym work, running to keep fit,” he adds.

On preparations for a match or a series, Ravi looks at a lot of things like the venues of matches, the conditions to be expected, the teams and the players. “And the weather, of course. I factor in these elements and have a fair idea on what to expect,” he says. Ravi found umpiring in the recent England-New Zealand Test at Lord’s and Leeds “wonderful.” He found “so much importance for traditions and values. Umpiring in England can be hard because of the weather and late swing.”

Ravi is among four Indian umpires – Vineet Kulkarni, C. Shamshuddin and Anil Chaudhary being the other three – who are serving on the ICC’s international panel of umpires, the level immediately below the elite panel. He is now convinced that more people can make the grade and credits the experience of officiating in the IPL over the last few years as the reason for improved umpiring standards. “In the last five-six years, Indian umpires get to work with elite umpires and referees from different countries. They get to interact with international players, coaches, support staff and other stakeholders. All these things have made Indian umpires better. A couple of them (Indian umpires) are now nominated for the World T20 qualifiers in Scotland and Ireland. That’s a big tournament for them. If they do well, they can get on to the emerging panel and move up the ladder.”

Ravi has stood in six Tests,  including the recently completed series between England and New Zealand, 24 ODIs three of which were during the 2015 World Cup – and 12 T20s.

The experience gained from these high-profile assignments has made him realise that intense scrutiny comes with the territory.

“As umpires, who are umpiring at the highest level of the game, we are bound to be scrutinised by the media, the players, and the captains,” he says. “We should be prepared for that. If you make an error, it will be highlighted, technology will expose you at some stage or the other. You should be prepared for that, learn from that error and move on. You can’t do much about it.”

He has a lot of “respect and regard” for the late David Shepherd of England, who officiated 92 Tests and 172 ODIs over his two-decade career. “He was a great umpire and great personality,” Ravi says, “The way he conducted himself and had such a good relationship with the players is something fantastic.”

On his job commitments, Ravi will now need more time off from his day job as Special Assistant at the Reserve Bank of India, where he has worked since 1989. “The bank has been kind to me so far,” he smiles. And what about his dream assignment now that he finds himself among the world’s top umpires? “An Ashes Test match at Lord’s,” he admits – (Courtesy: Straight Bat).

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