India and Pakistan do not play bilateral cricket as often as earlier, but when they have to meet in global tournaments, hype and emotions peak amid the frosty ties between the two countries.
Players stick to the script and downplay the stakes, but fans on either side let fly. It is no different ahead of the India-Pakistan World Cup 2019 match at Old Trafford, Manchester, on June 16.
For fans, advertisers and everyone keen on getting a piece of the action, the games begin well before players actually hit the ground. The marquee rivalry also puts the spotlight on umpires.
For neutral umpires, officiating an India-Pakistan match poses its unique challenges, such as the exhaustive build-up and the deafening crowd noise, among other sideshows.
Former ICC elite-panel umpire Simon Taufel, who officiated the 2011 World Cup semifinal between India and Pakistan in Mohali, apart from many other matches between the two countries, shares his experience of the game.
“The challenge is to manage your own composure and focus, and also manage the match issues and players. Umpiring a match like this is somewhat of a paradox as you cannot wait until it starts, and then look forward to it being over – hopefully with no mistakes or controversy,” says Taufel.
For the Australian umpire, the most challenging aspect of officiating an India-Pakistan match was adjusting to "all the security requirements and pre-match restrictions”. But those are not the only ones. “Then there is the noise."
Taufel, who officiated the India-Pakistan match in the 2004 Champions Trophy at Old Trafford, says, "The constant sound of the horns and hooters will produce one giant headache for the umpires, aside from the challenge of hearing a thin edge.”
The hype apart, an India-Pakistan cricket match is like any other, according to Taufel. “The rivalry between the two sides could be considered similar to the Ashes (Tests) between Australia and England. Due to my nationality, I was never able to officiate an Ashes Test, but I’ve been in the middle for plenty of Indo-Pak matches. What happened inside the boundary was like any other match.”
For Taufel, the rarity of India-Pakistan matches (a fallout of terror attacks and border tension) should have no bearing on a match official's job. “That’s (scheduling) an uncontrollable for me. My attitude to this type of issue was to umpire the match in front of me to the best of my ability, no matter who the teams were. It was critical to umpire the ball in front of me well, regardless of who was playing.”
While the two on-field umpires face the most heat, Taufel says the TV umpire has an equally difficult job these days with the use of the Decision Review System (DRS) and the scrutiny that comes with it.“... These days the TV umpire has the hardest job in the umpiring team, in my view. No one understands or accepts when the TV umpire makes an error. The success of the officiating team means that all umpires need to have a good match and respect the opportunity to prepare thoroughly and work hard on match day.”
Talking about his experience of officiating the second semifinal of the 2011 World Cup, he says, “I tried to keep it the same as all my other matches.” He did make some changes, though. “There were some unique circumstances that made me think of varying my preparation to cope with all the off-field distractions. For example, when I checked into my hotel in Chandigarh a couple of days ahead of the match, I did not turn on the TV in my room at all.
"I didn’t want to watch the news, any interviews, any old matches or see any ads for the game. I also didn’t open any of the daily newspapers that were left outside my door. I didn’t surf the internet or visit any cricket websites. Basically, I kept to myself, my own thoughts, and my umpiring team to keep the focus on my/our game. I intended to block out all the outside noise and simply focus on what I had to do.”
Recounting the experience, Taufel says, “This match felt like a final (before the real final). It was an honour to be appointed (for) this match with Ian Gould, as I’d like to think it represented how much faith the ICC selectors had in us to officiate such an important fixture.
"This match was more than just a game of cricket – the relatively small city of Mohali was packed with Bollywood stars, dignitaries, Prime Ministers, and their entourages. I was told that there was no spare parking space at the airport for private planes due to the popularity and importance of the match.”
Amid all the pressures and challenges, a job well done is satisfying, says Taufel. “On the positive side, when you walk off the field, having had a good game and been part of an exciting spectacle, there is no better feeling and sense of satisfaction... I fondly remember sitting outside the dressing room on the steps in Mohali, having a drink with Ian Gould as the ground authorities started turning the lights off.”
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