Umpire Pashchim Girish Pathak, who hails from Mumbai and who has been in service for six years, has come up with a safety measure not very often seen in cricket, during a domestic match in India.
The rare sight of an umpire wearing a helmet – the first in the country – is being seen this week in Karnataka during the ongoing league matches of the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Pathak was at the square leg position during the recent Ranji Trophy match in Tamil Nadu, which had seen a shot hit the back of umpire John Ward’s head. Ward had survived the blow, but the sight of the prostrate umpire had sent shockwaves.
Barely a few days later, in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy that has since then begun, Pathak entered the field wearing a helmet – so that the horrific scene does not come to pass again. He wore it first on Thursday while standing for the Kerala-Haryana match, and has been wearing it since then.
Pathak explained the move to Mirror: "Post Phil Hughes incident and the death of an umpire in Israel, I had been thinking of wearing some kind of protective gear but wasn't too sure how wearing a helmet will feel. I had been discussing the prospect of using a helmet with fellow umpires but the thought had stayed at the idea stage only."
“The sound of the ball hitting him (Ward) was scary. I thought that his skull has opened up. The way he collapsed, it sent shivers down my spine. It was at this moment that I thought I am definitely going to wear a helmet during my next assignment.
Saying that the helmet does not hinder him from spotting no balls or to move his neck, Pathak also refused the notion that the move was one born out of fear.
"The best of batsmen wear helmets and one doesn't say that they do so because they fear the fast bowlers. They are just taking precautions. I am not afraid of the ball but just protecting myself. There are some umpires who wear abdomen guard during T20 games.”
Umpires wearing helmets in cricket
The 39-year-old Pathak has officiated in Indian first class cricket since 2009, has been the reserve umpire for 2 Tests and 3 ODIs in India, and has also stood in four IPL matches each in the last two seasons.
Earlier this year, former Australian umpire Simon Taufel had said on-field match officials might use helmets in the future. "I wouldn't' be surprised in the future, if it continues the way it's going, where umpires start looking at that (wearing helmets)," Taufel was quoted as saying in New Zealand media in March this year.
Discussions for umpire protection have been ongoing in recent times, with baseball-style helmets and even chest guards being suggested in the new age of hard hitting cricket.
Sydney grade cricket umpire Karl Wentzel is known for wearing a helmet after losing five teeth when he was hit in the face by the ball in 2001.
In a tragic incident last year, Israeli umpire Hillel Oscar died when a ball ricocheted off the stumps and struck him in the head.
It remains to be seen now whether other umpires follow Pathak’s lead.
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