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The Unsung Heroes of Cricket

When you have grown up watching the one sport you love the most, you imagine yourselves to be just like your favourite player. When you have grown up watching cricket, that player maybe Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara, Glenn Mcgrath or Shane Warne, or even Jonty Rhodes. Growing up, we have all come to admire our cricketing heroes who have entertained us as long as we could remember. Old ones faded but new ones arose, keeping the passion of the game still alive in each one of us.

When I was a kid, I never imagined myself to be a cricketer. Loving cricket has always been a natural feeling for me but when my eyes scanned the field, they always rested on the one person I thought was even more powerful than a cricketer. Yes, I wanted to be an “Umpire”. It was a weird fascination and my friends ridiculed me because for young minds, batsman lofting sixes over the stadium and bowlers shattering stumps were more acceptable and natural choices for super-heroes. How can two insignificant people on the field and two off-field ones (third and fourth umpire) hold so much power in them, that any player, irrespective of the team he plays for, has to compulsorily accept their decisions!

The word ‘umpire’ came from the french word ‘nompere’, meaning not equal or impartial. And impartial they have to be, to keep up with the spirit of the game and relish their authority with utmost caution and fairness.

To understand the value of patience for a sportsperson is evident when we look at cricketing greats who have disciplined themselves over the years to achieve milestones. But patience holds an entire different meaning for umpires who have to show great restraint over their temper and keep their feelings aside and dispense judgments. It’s not only standing still at one place, but carefully watching every move, not letting the ball out of sight even for a moment, and coolly having their say. Their job is not easy as it sounds. While raising the finger to signal a ‘wicket’, flailing arms on the sides to signal a ‘wide’, signaling a ‘no-ball’ or nodding the head for a ‘not-out’ may appear cool, it requires great skill and “eye-to-detail”.

Apart from this, many a times, umpires have to pacify agitated bowlers, and break-up ugly fights. Not only do they bear the brunt of players’ temper but also shoulder the responsibility of punishing offenders fairly. And if you thought the life of a player was hard, always moving around for tours and spending time away from friends and family; the same applies for umpires too. They have to stay away from their family, maintain a strict diet and take equal care of their health. They have to make sure they don’t strain themselves before a match, take ample of rest and conduct themselves respectfully when on field.

Being an umpire also means knowing A to Z about cricket and its laws. An umpire must have himself played the game to have a thorough understanding of how it works and be well-versed with all rules and regulations.

It does not mean they are machines, meticulously imparting judgement; they are humans like us and they fail, just as us. It’s easy for a batsman to show dissent when he gets out wrongly or a bowler whose appeal has been turned down to run screaming on the field. But in that split second, where one wrong decision could turn the outcome of the entire match, umpires face tremendous pressure to make sure their judgement is correct. They know how important their contribution is in turning the face of the game. And every wrong move on their part hurts them just as much. It’s easy to forget them as humans and curse them when your favourite player is denied the opportunity to shine but remember, messy decisions have an impact on their standing too.

We have watched David Shepherd and Dickie Bird rule the game; loved Rudi Koertzen, hated Simon Taufel for leaving the game so early, enjoyed Billy Bowden’s antics, respected Aleem Dar and all the great ones who have been and the ones still giving themselves selflessly to the game.

In my own kiddie world, umpires have always been the superheroes with the mightiest of powers and strength, pillars of patience, tolerance and humility. They have been the unsung heroes we fail to admire as they fade into the shadows of some players’ greatness. They are alone, in their own cocoon, perfecting their technique, trying hard to be fair and honest. They have to forget boundaries and countries and any associations and only remember what’s best for the game. They love cricket differently, not like a cricketer, but as someone who will nurture the sport. Their love for cricket is like that of a parent for a child, unconditional and impartial!

Take a bow, all umpires, you are the real heroes who breathe life into cricket! R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

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