S. Ravi: ‘An umpire never stops learning’

The lone Indian slated to officiate in the upcoming Champions Trophy shares his thoughts on various aspects of umpiring at the highest level and its challenges, in a chat with Sportstar.

S. Ravi... “In Test cricket, umpiring is a lot about mental and physical fitness, concentrating for long periods.”   -  Getty Images

When S. Ravi travels to England for the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy, he will be the lone Indian in this Elite umpiring mix. The 51-year-old umpire from Chennai – he became a part of ICC’s Elite panel in 2015 – has earned the respect of the cricketers with his reliable decision-making and no-nonsense approach.

In a conversation with Sportstar here on Monday, Ravi recalled an interesting incident. “It involved a couple of Australian players. There was an issue regarding player behaviour and I had to intervene.” Ravi revealed, “The Australians in question said ‘Ravi, we are grown-up cricketers, we know what we are doing.’ My answer was ‘I am just following the rule book.’”

He disagreed with the view that contemporary umpires were soft on players. “A certain level of chatter between the batsman, the bowler and the fielders, everyone wants to see. But it should not cross the line and get personal.” He elaborated, “Once that happens, the ICC has given umpires clear guidelines and there is a match-referee to oversee things as well.”

The topic predictably shifted to the Decision Review System (DRS) and Ravi felt technology was good for the game. “DRS doesn’t undermine an umpire, it assists him. If he has made a mistake, it is corrected and the game moves on.”

Ravi felt DRS should be a part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and narrated an incident from the recent final in Hyderabad. He said, “When Rahul Tripathi was struck on the pad off Jasprit Bumrah, it looked plumb from a front-on view. I gave out. Later, I was told by the TV umpire that the side-view replays showed the ball was missing the stumps by millimetres, going over.”

Ravi noted, “Had DRS been there, the mistake could have been rectified. A couple of millimetres can make a difference. And with the kind of noise in the stadium during the IPL games, it is almost impossible to hear a feather from a batsman.”

Demanding task

Umpiring in the sub-continent can be challenging, particularly in Tests, with the close-in cordon and the bowler appealing vociferously for bat-pad or leg-before decisions. He said, “The Sri Lanka-Australia series on turning pitches in Sri Lanka last year was tough. You have to base you decisions on the combination of your experience, instinct and reading of the pitch, like how much it is turning.”

An umpire faces different difficulties in England. “There it is late swing or tail swing as some call it. You have to watch the ball till the last moment, calculate the swing and the seam movement. Then there are rain interruptions. You have to refocus. It is not easy.”

Standing in the Ashes in 2015 – the seaming track in Nottingham was a test for the umpires – and the Boxing Day Test between Australia and Pakistan last year are among the highlights of Ravi’s career so far. He spoke about umpiring across formats. “In Test cricket, it is a lot about mental and physical fitness, concentrating for long periods. In Twenty20 cricket, you focus on no-balls, wides, above-waist-high full-tosses, number of short deliveries in an over. The game moves very quickly. A single run can make the difference.”

“An umpire never stops learning,” concluded Ravi. “If you think you are very good, then your growth stops.”

Ravi also had the honour of standing in the historic first ever pink ball Test, between Australia and New Zealand, in Adelaide, 2015. What are his impressions on the pink ball? He replied, “It swings more in the last hour so you have to be really on the ball. Pink ball is all right but becomes slightly difficult to spot in twilight, during that half-an-hour period.”

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