Taufel: ‘To be a good umpire, you need to be a good person’

“There are sufficient resources, programmes and coaching support in most Full-Member countries for those umpires with the determination, work ethic and discipline to access them. We believe that the umpires themselves are charged with the responsibility for their own development. However, there are many resources provided for their assistance. As I would say, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear…” Simon Taufel, the reputed former umpire, in a chat with Sportstar.

Simon Taufel... one of the best umpires to have graced the game.   -  R. Ravindran

Scrutiny and analyses of umpires may have reached a peak in the current age of technology, when an array of television cameras is behind every bit of action in an international contest. Among the umpires who stood out for their success in the 21st century was Australia’s Simon Taufel, who in time became an icon of professionalism in his domain. His success on the Elite Panel — a category of umpires under the aegis of the International Cricket Council that distinguishes and suitably employs the best umpires in the world — along with a demeanour that signalled authority and trust helped him become one of the leading umpires in his time. He won the ICC’s Umpire of the Year award five times in a row, and stood down from the Elite Panel in 2012, when all of 41.

Taufel’s influence in the cricket landscape could be gauged from the Marylebone Cricket Club’s invitation to him to deliver the Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture in 2013.

Taufel has had various roles after retirement towards sharpening the output of umpires from all over the world. Besides the ICC, where he served as Training Manager, he has also worked with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to help improve standards of Indian umpiring.

In an elaborate chat with Sportstar, Taufel talks about ICC’s pathway towards sieving umpires from full-member nations, India’s rising standards in umpiring, and his opinions on various scenarios surrounding umpires in cricket today.

Question: Please tell us about ICC’s pathway for talented aspirants (in the scenario of nomination by a member board) to establish themselves in the Elite Panel.

Answer: The way for an aspiring umpire to reach Test level (Emirates Elite Panel) is through one of the 10 ICC Full-Member Countries. To get started, the person would need to be trained on the MCC Laws of Cricket and sit for an examination — the pass mark is set by that local umpires association (somewhere between 85% and 95%). Then the umpire would officiate domestic cricket and work his way up from premier or grade cricket through minor representative (Second X1 or U/19 rep matches) to First-Class.

Each country may have some slight differences here, but the main initial goal would be to achieve selection in the National First-Class Panel. For most countries, this would be around 12 umpires.

An umpire would then work towards improving his performance ranking on that National Panel to be in the top three and seek nomination to the ICC International Panel from his home Board. To support this nomination, there is an ICC Umpire Accreditation Programme that is desirable for the umpire to have been working through to show he has the required competencies covering preparation, match management, decision making, technique and attitude/teamwork.

Taufel in battle dress in his heyday along with umpire Steve Davis.   -  Reuters

 

Once an umpire is on the ICC International Panel (and there are three or four from each Test-playing country), those umpires need to officiate well, be selected and perform well in ICC events or series and be considered for the Emirates Elite Panel by the ICC Umpire Selection Committee.

In your experience of working with the BCCI, are there enough aspirants from India to ensure a competitive pool? If not, what steps can be taken to bridge that gap?

The short answer is yes. There is a lot of cricket being played in India for umpires to officiate and gain experience. The standard of umpiring at the domestic level is improving through the programmes of the BCCI. The BCCI has implemented umpire exchange programmes with Cricket Australia, Cricket South Africa and the England and Wales Cricket Board. (In 2016), the umpires who officiated first-class matches in Australia and South Africa have performed to a very high standard which reinforces the high standards in India.

Apart from that, the Indian Premier League provides domestic umpires here with a great opportunity to effectively umpire international cricket from a domestic platform. Umpires gain an exponential experience on field, in the third umpire’s role and fourth umpire’s role as they officiate side by side with the world’s best. IPL 2016 saw four new umpires debut on field and in the third umpire’s box and they performed extremely well for their first season. So, the future does look bright here.

Is umpiring a viable, full-time career option for aspirants from Associate and Affiliate nations? Given ICC’s interest in the expansion of cricket, does umpiring feature in the training programmes in other countries? If so, in what ways and how frequently?

I’m not sure there is sufficient money and contract security for Associate and Affiliate umpires to forge out a full-time career in umpiring. There are now over 30 umpires on this panel and I understand that the amount of cricket played at this level is going to increase. However, the structure and remuneration around their appointments is far more challenging than the ICC International or Elite panels.

Taufel with the Umpire of the Year award in 2008. He won the prize for five straight years from 2004 to 2008.   -  AP

 

Is adequate training given to and received by those in full member countries aspiring to umpire at the highest level? In what core areas do they need training and guidance?

There are sufficient resources, programmes and coaching support in most Full-Member countries for those umpires with the determination, work ethic and discipline to access them. We believe that the umpires themselves are charged with the responsibility for their own development. However, there are many resources provided for their assistance. As I would say, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

What are your observations on the standards of Indian domestic umpires after having trained them and worked with them?

From my perspective, the standards are rising every year. Excellence is not a destination, it is a journey. However, I may not be the best judge regarding progress being so close to the work and people in India — the best judges for me are the local players and IPL overseas players, umpires and referees.

I had an Indian State captain complain to me after the last season that he was concerned about the standards of umpiring in India and (in 2016) he tells us that it’s the best he’s seen. Also, the recent Elite umpires participating in the IPL have passed comment that the BCCI umpires (in 2016) are the best that they have seen — so, it is pleasing to receive feedback that suggests our work (and the hard work of the umpires) is being noticed and making a difference.

There are so many good umpires and referees coming through here, so the future is bright as long as we all keep working hard in the same direction.

What are the challenges that aspiring Indian umpires face before rising to the highest level?

There are a number of challenges — access to the right resources, being assessed accurately and fairly, getting accurate and timely feedback so that they can build confidence and self-belief while addressing the required development areas.

Is there a necessity for an umpire to be of a certain disposition to excel and gain the trust and respect of the players?

Not really. My stated belief is that to be a good umpire, you need to be a good person, having a good set of values and people skills in order to manage players and the match in a respectful manner.

Trust and respect comes with acting professionally and by giving the players a high standard of performance, every game. They need to be approachable, humble, firm, committed, consistent, disciplined, fair, focussed, reasonable and supportive of their colleagues.

Although it generally helps to eliminate wrong decisions, does the DRS impede the authority of umpires?

I don’t believe so. The role of technology is to support the umpires, not replace them.

The communication between the third umpire and the on-field umpire is nowadays transmitted to television viewers. Is this a right step?

I think it is. It is good for people to understand what the third umpire is seeing and working through. The umpire can explain the process and why he has decided a certain way because sometimes replays/television pictures can be inconclusive. Being the third umpire is now the most challenging umpiring position in the team and the listeners can appreciate the difficulty of some decisions more so now.

With increased scrutiny at the highest level, what techniques are umpires trained and encouraged to employ to handle pressure?

It’s important for the umpires to be better prepared so that their normal response to a situation is the right one (to practise under pressure). We have to train more in order to eliminate mistakes in the game.

It’s also vital for umpires to build their confidence through training, relax during the game and really enjoy the challenge. It is a challenging job, but with a positive approach and a focus on enjoying the game, the umpire will have a better chance of doing well.

Taufel with his family at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on October 6, 2012, after announcing his retirement from the ICC’s Elite Panel of umpires.   -  K. R. Deepak

 

With the increase in big hits via muscle power these days, is there a necessity to protect an umpire with a helmet? Do you believe a rule, or at least an encouragement from the respective boards/ICC should come in, which will have umpires wearing helmets and ensuring adequate protection like for the batsmen?

There is no doubt that the ball is coming back or towards the umpire faster and harder than ever before. The bats are more powerful and the players are stronger. Umpires have to make their own decisions regarding safety equipment, but like the players who now wear protective equipment as the norm, it is likely more umpires will follow suit.

The role of ICC and the Boards will probably be to work with the umpires in designing more user-friendly and practical safety equipment for approved manufacturers and make them available.

How does an umpire control boorish behaviour on the pitch? How does an umpire handle a player who incessantly chats to distract another player, which may not entail abusive language, but something more subtle to escape scrutiny? How much should be left in the players’ hands?

One of the real man-management skills of an umpire is knowing when to step in and when not to. Step in too quickly and an umpire can make things worse. Take too long to step in and an umpire can lose control. These days, umpires work well as a team on the field and they also have the support of third umpires and the match referee at the highest level. Umpires used to use the technique of having a quiet word, and this still does work. Other techniques used more in today’s game include using their eyes to continually watch the players and also to get into the player’s space using their presence. You may notice at the highest level that after an over is completed, the umpire at the bowler’s end stays there until his partner at square leg comes in for the new over before he moves himself back to square leg — walking backwards, to ensure fielders passing the batsmen are fine and the pitch is also protected from unnecessary damage.

Quite often, the umpire can get his message across of “enough” or “let’s move on with the game” by making eye contact with a player to tell him, “we know what is going on, or don’t try anything because we are here and watching”.

Please tell us about how ICC’s umpires training programme has benefitted umpires under the programme?

Perhaps the biggest difference is in the consistency of higher standards of performance. We take a global approach to improving standards through the establishment of the ICC Umpire Accreditation programme and coordinated training and coaching programmes. We continuously work on how we can improve training, coaching, assessment, preparation, third umpiring, match management and other key areas. We also have to keep pace with the changing game and ensure our umpires have a full knowledge of new Laws, Playing Conditions and interpretations.

By addressing all of these issues, we are able to promote a high level of teamwork and performance when umpires come together from different parts of the world to officiate a match together — we are all on the same page and will be successful as a team.