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Shirin Sadikot in Mumbai

We too need protective gear: Umpire Rauf

Anecdotes, tributes and insights from an umpire-raconteur

Some of cricket’s best stories come from the umpires. As someone who is smack in the middle of all the action, an umpire is arguably the person most involved in the game. And when the man in question is a raconteur like Asad Rauf, the stories are not just intense but also colourful and entertaining.

‘T20 is slow’

People don’t understand this but T20 is in fact slow for the umpires. In this format very few decisions come to the on-field umpires and the ones that do come to us are usually straightforward. The bowlers generally bowl a bit wide of the off-stump which is relaxing for the umpires.

The IPL experience

Coming to India is different [from visiting other countries]. I believe the people of India have very good knowledge about cricket and hence they appreciate the role of the umpires more. The kind of atmosphere that we see during the IPL isn’t seen anywhere else. Close to 40,000 people shouting in the stands, cheering for their team – I think no one experiences that better than the on-field umpires who are right in the middle of all the action.

Adversaries turned friends

When you play for one team you develop a fellow-feeling for each other. I really like what the IPL has done in this aspect – players from different countries playing for each other and bonding well.

Protective gear

The kind of shots that batsmen play these days, we’re seriously thinking of demanding protective gear for the umpires. Very few people think about this but even the umpires have to work hard to maintain a standard of fitness. If the players have to play for six hours, we too have to stand for the same time on the field. In modern times we have to work a bit harder on that aspect.

Leader extraordinaire

Being on the field, I can sense how much pressure the captain is under. The most important thing for a captain is to be cool. I think [MS] Dhoni is best in that regard. I also like [Virender] Sehwag’s captaincy. Both these men are very cool which helps them make better decisions. One of the secrets behind CSK’s success over the past seasons is Dhoni’s coolness and in this tournament I’ve seen the same with Sehwag.

Billy does a helicopter

Everyone has his own style; I too have my own style of signalling a six. But Billy Bowden has this peculiar style which cannot be matched by anyone. He goes a little over the top. When he’s in form, he does all kinds of crazy things.

Once after an IPL game that he officiated, he came up to me and asked, ‘Asad, did you see the helicopter on the ground’? When I said no, he told me to watch the highlights of the match. I watched it and there was a no-ball signalled by him that went for a four. He signalled it and then went round in circles in the way that the [propeller] of a helicopter turns. I laughed like crazy and told him that it was a bit too much.

Working in pairs

I share a good rapport with Aleem Dar. One reason for that could be that both of us hail from Lahore and have played for the same club. We also made our umpiring debut in ODIs together. We share a great understanding. We also help each other a lot while on the field. Even generally, I try to maintain a good rapport with my fellow on-field umpire in terms of interacting with him and helping him. Umpiring is team work. In case of wrong decisions, people will say the umpiring was bad; they won’t name a particular umpire.

Friend, philosopher and guide

I really respect Steve Bucknor. He once told me ‘Asad, I have a feeling that you will be included in the ICC’s Elite Panel very soon’. Six months later, I was part of the panel. He is my mentor and my coach. I have learnt so much from him since I started my career.

Thankless job? Not anymore

Earlier an umpire’s role was taken for granted but now that has changed. Cricket coverage has improved so much and with the awareness spread by the media about the sport, everyone has realised the toughness of the on-field umpires’ job. People acknowledge that sometimes they cannot make the right decision even after watching the replay six times. An umpire makes the same decision in a fraction of a second.

Tale of the missing umpire

During a Test of India’s tour in West Indies in 2006, Irfan Pathan appealed for the run-out of Brian Lara. The players turned to square-leg umpire Billy Doctrove but he was not found there. The players then turned to the cover-point region but still couldn’t spot the umpire. That was a hilarious situation and everyone laughed their guts off. Finally, Doctrove was spotted near the sight-screen fixing a problem that Lara had complained of. He didn’t think it was necessary to inform anyone, not even me. That was an incident I will not forget.

The good that came out of the funny situation was that a cricketing law came to the fore. The players insisted that I refer the decision to the third umpire; I refused saying, ‘According to the law, I’m not in a position to do that’. Just then I recalled a law that says that if an umpire is not at his position when the ball is bowled, it is not a legal delivery, and I signalled a dead ball. Thankfully, Lara had made his ground. Had he been run-out, there would have been a lot of furore over it.

The biggest ‘Tests’

The most challenging game for me was the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne in 2006 between Australia and South Africa – the top two teams. It was only my third Test as an umpire. I was sent for this Test by the ICC when no one really knew me. That was the most memorable day of my umpiring career and it was the match with which my career took off. Before that I had officiated in two Tests between Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. My appointment was in India for the next match but they cancelled it and sent me to Australia. I got my confidence from that match. Steve Bucknor helped me a lot in that Test.

Then there was the 2000th Test, between India and England at Lord’s in 2011. I wasn’t supposed to officiate that Test but was called up to fill in for Mark Benson who was sick. It was also the 100th Test between the two countries. It was a memorable match for me. It was an honour that the ICC called me up. My decisions were good in that match.

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