Sportstar Archives: Raman Subba Row - 'Game has to fit into the world'

In this interview to Sportstar, Row, spoke on the ICC's National Grid Panel of Umpires and Match Referees system, introduced in the early 1990s.

Former England cricketer and former ICC match referee Raman Subba Row.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Raman Subba Row's place in modern cricket as Match Referee is unmatched. The Indian born, Row, who celebrated his 66th birthday with his wife at Chirala, Guntur District (A.P.) in February, spent a week in Mumbai after officiating a series between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. He has been the International Cricket Council's seniormost Match Referee, with New Zealand's John Reid coming a close second. He has officiated in close to 15 Test series. "As an ICC National Grid Match Referee, I have been to all the countries, except Zimbabwe," said Row, slitting a fresh green chilli at the 'Samrat'.

He likes the ambience at The Cricket Club of India (CCI) where he stays during his "Bombay beat." In this interview to Sportstar, Row, spoke on the ICC's National Grid Panel of Umpires and Match Referees system, introduced in the early 1990s.

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The 1990s have been eventful times for the International Cricket Council (ICC). Cricket is supposed to be a gentleman's game. And yet, it needed an independent panel of umpires, match referees and a Code of Conduct for players and establishment of Standard Playing Conditions and Rules.

Maybe it's for simplifying the whole thing. But cricket is part of life and life has changed. And therefore cricket has had to keep pace with life. But that doesn't mean to say necessarily that you have to sacrifice standards. But the game has to fit into the world... that is today. The cars, the television, the computer and the aeroplanes have in the last 25 to 30 years transformed the world. The world is a tiny... tiny.. place today in relation to what it was 25 to 30 years ago. And cricket, without sacrificing principles, standards and integrity has to keep pace with that. And one another thing, it had to do was to ensure that, with a lot of money coming into the game, the standards of behaviour were maintained. And in order to do that, first of all, the refereeing system was set up six and half years ago and a year after that one external umpire came in. And I feel that the standards of behaviour since, have gradually improved amongst the players.

What do you think is the single decisive factor that influenced the ICC to administer the game in a manner it is being done today?

Quite apart from the fact that cricket had to fit in with the changing pattern of life, the game has become more commercial. Really, there is lot of money coming into the game from sponsors, television and quite rightly the rewards for players has increased substantially and so have the pressures with it. And I think that's the main reason to the fact that you haveto have more specific controls these days.

Would you say that it was Imran Khan who was the first to initiate the move to have a neutral panel of umpires?

Actually, the leader, who is still alive, is Air Marshal Nur Khan. He was then the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. It was in 1980... 18 years ago. He managed to persuade the MCC, not ICC then, to experiment with neutral observers. I was one of the four neutral observers who went out from the U.K. for the Pakistan versus West Indies series in order to observe the game from a neutral position. So he (Nur Khan) was the one with the foresight. He was a great man. And, yes, Imran then took it up and developed it in Pakistan. I think, not necessarily in Pakistan, but all over the world, players felt that the umpires, home umpires, were against them. That was the rea- son for the refereeing system and one external umpire too came in. It even went to the other extreme, where I can remember, not so very long ago, the England players complaining about having two English umpires because they felt they could never get any Ibw decision. It went the other way. I am not trying to paint England as a saint. But there was a time when you had that argument. So it gradually developed. I am all in favour of having external umpires. I think all umpires, now, are impartial, but it is just that since you are external, you are actually seen as somebody like the match referee, who has got nothing to do with either side.

A specific system has been in place for six to seven years. Has it worked?

I think it has worked. I don't think it is hundred per cent at the moment. We still have examples of bad behaviour and people who break the ICC Code of Conduct. But I think things are improving and gradually players are beginning to understand that if they don't conform... behave themselves, they are not just going to be fined any more, but they may find themselves being suspended for a game or for a couple of games, which is what they dislike most... suspension. And one doesn't want to use it, unless one wants to absolutely do it. But it's usually the players who are the first to say, "I, really, should not have done it. I am sorry." By that time it's too late, because 300 million people have seen it on television.

Subba Row with Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajit Wadekar. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES


You have been a part of this system from the start. What's been the reaction of the players and the administrators?

Well, initially, I think there was quite a degree of suspicion as to what this chap was, arriving from another country. And I have to say in defence of the players and the people who criticise, we - and I would like to list myself amongst them - were feeling our way at the start. We did not have proper rules and regulations to suggest what to do and what not to do. That has evolved in the last five years. Now, it looks pretty well standardised. Again we have exceptions when things go wrong. Because it has become standardised, the players and the TV umpires - who were very suspicious at the start on what this chap was looking over the shoulders - don't have any problems with us. They don't regard us as unfortunate any more. They are very pleasant.

There ought to have been specific instances in your long tenure as match referee which were challenging and tricky, too?

I have had my moments over the years. I would like to recall this incident during the series between Pakistan and the West Indies four years ago. Five one-day internationals and they go to Georgetown 2-2. It's a small ground and there is no provision for a match. And off the last ball of the match and the series. West Indies wanted two to win or one to lose... not one to tie, but one to lose. Hooper hit to long on where the fielder was surrounded by the spectators and soon they were all in the middle. The bowler fumbled and the West Indies got home for their second run which they should have never have got. They won the match and the series. I got them together afterwards and said how unhappy I felt about what happened. So somebody said, "What are you going to do about it." Since I was asked a question, I was trying to apply common sense and just not stick by the ruleswithout any degree of flexibility. I said, I well make it a tie and that the series is split... two and a half and two and a half and share the prize money. Whereupon they all shook hands and started laughing. Even the West Indians were very good. They felt slightly guilty at winning under the circumstances. Looking back at it I felt pretty pleased. I got a bit of stick from the "Trinidad Guardian." It said, "You are not empowered to do that. So why did you do that." Well... in cricket... you have got to use common sense. I have had to face other problems. But you have to deal with them. But in the main, and as I said earlier, the players normally say, "I am mad. Why did I do that?"

Which violation from a player, according to you, has been the worst example?

I don't think there has really been any bad example. Well, there was the problem with lan Healy in South Africa last year when he barged up the steps and threw his bat on the changing room door. Oh... we had a problem with Brian Lara when he refused to go when given out at Goa. There was one with Aamir Sohail, when he was caught at deep fine-leg in a one-day match. He claimed that it was a bouncer and said that he should not be given out. He stayed there for a long time. When such things happen, you have to just take some action. The referee is there to support the umpires. Well, things have not been desperately bad, but there are certain things players should not do.

What about the incident involving Hansie Cronje, when he pierced the umpires' room door with a stump in Australia? Would you like to comment on that?

I have got to be very careful about commenting on what happened in Australia. The match was
over and it did not actually happen in view of the television cameras. It was something which was recorded on later. I am not excusing him (Cronje) because he should not do things like that. But as one of my colleagues was the match referee, I should not be saying anything.

Would you like to quantify the success of the system and suggest areas for improvement?

The whole system is gradually improving. There are times when I get a bit frustrated. I don't think it is improving quickly enough. There is more and more commercial atmosphere to the game. It has to change, perhaps at a faster pace than it is doing at the moment. The match referees, now, have to report in a standard way. No more putting in your report the way you want to. There is now a standard detailed form for reporting. There are recommendations that are made in that report regarding what the ICC should do about the playing conditions. They are all coded and have to be listed in the end. All these recommendations go to the host country and the special committee of the ICC. There is a system of looking at records and working on them.

There is a speculation that the ICC may advise countries to stage Test cricket at traditional centres, ones with excellent facilities? Like ITF's Davis Cup rules.

I don't think countries have to stick to the same venues all the time. I think if they want to change venues/what the countries have to ensure is that the changed venues have proper facilities like proper outfield, changing rooms for players and umpires. There have to be standards across the board. In fact the host countries, now, are starting to look at the match referees' reports, take them seriously and act on them. I have to say that, four years ago, before the reports were standardised, the match referee's report would go out to the host countries. And I am sure most of them were put in the "too-difficult tray" and quietly forgotten. I can think of two grounds where match referees have said international cricket should never be played there again because they were not good enough. Not necessarily Ahmedabad and not necessarily India. And that took a lot to swallow.

On what lines do you think the ICC should move after the abandoned matches at Indore and Jamaica? Will there be an international pitch committee?

I won't be surprised if eventually it became more international: the inspection of Test match grounds and pitches, even beyond what goes on at the moment by the match referees. But first of all, the host countries have to make sure that wherever international cricket is played, the host Board has got to make sure that as far as possible, the conditions are good. It's no use giving that responsibilities to the individual centres. I am not just referring to India or even Jamaica, where we just had that disaster. It was only two years ago in England, where we played on a strip that was green in the middle and brown at the two ends. And the first ball that was bowled went straight over the wicketkeeper for four byes. The match got over in two days and one hour. You cannot play Test cricket on those sort of pitches. It was something actually we saw in England. Now the other countries are going wrong as well. This has got to be eradicated. I did not see the one at Indore, but I did see the one at Jamaica on television. And I am not at all surprised that the umpires stopped play there. When one ball shoots along the ground and another one goes past the helmet and hits you on the fingers you cannot play Test cricket in those conditions. And I think it was wise to stop. I don't know what happened at Indore, but clearly whichever side you are in, whether it was just too bad or you should have carried on, the fact is that the pitch -was not good enough. These things have to be sorted out by host countries.

Subba Row at the toss of a World Cup 1996 match between India and the West Indies in Gwalior. - S. Subramanium


At Indore, the umpires were quick to take the assistance of the match referee and he was the one who made the decision to call off the match after three overs?

There is much more communication and consultation at team management now amongst the officials. We now have what we call the Playing Control Team (PCT), which has the match referee, the two umpires on the field and the TV umpire and the other umpire who has massive things to do during the course of the match. And these five blokes constitute the team. And as far as I am concerned, decisions, serious decisions should be based on consultations between them, rather than by one person. That's better. These five have got to use their common sense. As far as I am concerned the two match umpires and the match referee are the ones to decide on whether the pitch is safe to proceed. I don't think anybody else has to be consulted.

Would you suggest a training course for ICC's match referees and umpires before they are appointed in the panel?

I do, now. I have been thinking about it for a couple of years. The whole business has become much more professional... the match referees, the umpires and the glare of television, slow motion replays. I think he time has come for a training period... training school for match referees when they are starting and to do the same thing for the international umpires. Not to teach the umpires when the batsman is Ibw or not. There is a great deal in an international umpire beyond giving decisions. It's all about your standing and communication with people, your bearing and your behaviour. Again I am not saying necessarily that the behaviour is bad. But all those things do, now, need looking at before somebody becomes, I think, to be accredited to the international panel.

Do you think that the home umpires still come under pressure?

I will like to call them internal and external umpires. Yes... I think they can. I have always argued until this year that it is better to have one internal and one external umpire for a Test match. Because it will then provide a training ground for the home country. I am beginning to wonder really, whether that's right or whether we should go over to proper international panel of umpires... fewer of them, but high class... all of them which will bring umpires who will have no connection with the home or visiting teams. That's a change of view on my part. I think, I suspect, we may move towards that in the years ahead. Not in any haste. But I think that may emerge.

We had a situation wherein Steve Bucknor, for whom it was his 33rd Test and A. V. Jayaprakash in his first Test, stood in Mumbai?

I take a point in that. But I am sure someone like him (Jayaprakash) would not like to duck out of responsibilities. If you are standing with a very, very senior umpire there is a danger that you may be rather overawed by that. On the other hand you have a lot to learn on how he reacts to situations having lived through 33 traumas and a million appeals. As I said before, it's time for a proper and overall training course before being appointed on the panel. You have got to umpire your first Test somewhere. You cannot get away from that. But you actually need to go through that course. It can be over in a week's time.

Can you be more specific on the training school for match referees?

The match referees have got to be aware of the ICC Code of Conduct and the breaches over a period of years. The ICC is now doing a very good job. They comment on all those breaches. And one needs to go through some of those breaches in a course of several days, so that when people meet those situations, then they recognise what's happened. When I started, I had no idea of difference in penalty between breach of a, b and c. It's only really after having done it for six years that it has all settled down and I instinctively know if somebody crosses the line between disappointment and dissent. It is a very thin line sometimes, but then you know what is dissent. You will pretty well recognise it. And then you take some action which is in line with action which has been taken before. The same thing would apply to umpires, too. They will be put through all sorts of practical examples of what has happened. It's all trying to accelerate experience. This helps in making enormous progress; what you learn from five years experience will be learnt in one week. I mean this would only make the umpires more confident. You talk about the walkie-talkie. You actually should know to talk the walkie-talkie language. It's not necessarily English. There is a certain way to use the walkie-talkie. You don't have a general chat with people, misunderstanding words. It has to be crisp and clear.

Are the ICC Panel of umpires abreast of the violations and punishment meted out so far?

They are not involved in the disciplinary process, unless they bring a charge against somebody. I mean they could have a list. The breaches become public knowledge anyway. I think they regard us as persons who take responsibility off their shoulders. They have got to think of what's happening out there on the field. My experience is that they like such responsibilities off their shoulders.

What about the Standard Playing Conditions. And the Laws of Cricket, in view of what happened in Australia after Mark Waugh hit his stumps?

There is nothing drastically wrong with the playing conditions, but they need to be kept under permanent review. As things happen, there is no need to be frightened of changes. If one is talking of the Mark Waugh incident, I think, probably, the decision by the laws was the correct one by the umpires. I am not too sure the laws are very sensible on that particular subject. It's just a personal view. When I started, I had no idea of difference in penalty between breach of a, b and c. It's only really after having done if for six years that it has all settled down and I instinctively know if somebody crosses the line between disappointment and dissent. I think it's up to the batsman to make sure that his stumps are not knocked over. And if he knocks it over, I think there has to be a very, very, very good case why he is not given out.

Would you say that most captains and players have complete comprehension of the Laws of Cricket and the Standard Playing Conditions?

I think they do understand the playing conditions. I would not like to say that every single one understands all the playing conditions, the exact phraseology in the ICC Code of Conduct, advertising regulations and so on. But I think in the main they do. They are living in a professional atmosphere, most of them are getting pretty well paid and they don't want to lose that revenue. I think most of them are sensible enough to know and understand what's the name of the game is. If they don't, they ought to be in some difficulty.

What about the security aspect? What's the progress on this front?

Ah.. progress has been slow on that front. The ICC, though I cannot speak directly for it, are concerned about the players' safety, not only on, but off the ground as well. I would not be at all surprised if the ICC came up with safety regulations and say specifically what has to happen on grounds. I think it will accelerate activity in that area in the next few years. You just cannot wave a magic wand and get it right. No way you could do that. You got to look at each and every ground independently and see what exactly can be done. I was in Sydney 18 months ago and we had a dreadful day/night match with people running on the ground the whole time. The authorities were even more angrier than I was. And they had a big, big blitz on that situation. And in the next couple of games, there was no trouble at all there at Sydney. But it just needs to be tackled, you cannot take anything for granted these days.

Can you list the top three priorities of the ICC?

Well, that's not really for me to answer. But the ICC is tackling the globalisation and the development of the game. There are initiatives that are being taken which are steps in the right direction. The main thing at the moment is the regulation of international cricket. The ICC is now starting to look closely at how much cricket should be played and where it should be played. In my personal view, the right number of matches should be played at the right venues and at the right time. If we adhere to the old system of people ringing each other or faxing to each other, saying "will you come in two years' time and play 17 one- day matches and six Tests? This, I regard as "hit and miss" policy and I don't think this is any good for the future. I think there needs to be a lot more planning. That's on the fixture side. I think in the past the ICC was somewhat reluctant to interfere, but I think the time has come where it needs a lot more direction, if for nothing else, to ensure that the players play the right volume of cricket. I think the next change could be on the international sponsorship of Tests and one day matches... who knows ..that may follow before too long. Apart from the question of matches, what we have been talking about is the way the matches are played in most venues in terms of pitches, facilities for players and officials. And make sure that wherever international matches are played, there are proper facilities. That's the regulation side of the coin. And that's where the ICC is starting to gradually make its presence felt. There is a lot more to be done. But we all have to start somewhere. And I think the ICC is going in the right direction.

(This interview was first published on Sportstar on March 21, 1998)

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