Handling Indian superstars has got Nitin Menon ‘match ready’ for Ashes

After being inducted into the ICC Elite Panel in June 2020, Menon did majority of India’s home games due to COVID-19 induced travel restrictions put in place for foreigners.

Published : Jun 16, 2023 18:27 IST , New Delhi - 6 MINS READ

FILE PHOTO: Umpire Nitin Menon will be making his Ashes debut next month.
FILE PHOTO: Umpire Nitin Menon will be making his Ashes debut next month. | Photo Credit: Sportzpics

FILE PHOTO: Umpire Nitin Menon will be making his Ashes debut next month. | Photo Credit: Sportzpics

Umpiring at home over the past three years under the constant pressure put by the big Indian stars has helped Nitin Menon grow immensely as an ICC Elite Panel umpire, preparing him well for his much-awaited Ashes debut next month.

After being inducted into the ICC Elite Panel in June 2020, Menon did majority of India’s home games due to COVID-19 induced travel restrictions put in place for foreigners.

He also got to officiate in couple of T20 World Cups in UAE and Australia and he was in England last year for its home series against South Africa, taking his match tally to 15 Tests, 24 ODIs and 20 T20 Internationals since June 2020.

In an exclusive interview to PTI ahead of the Ashes, Menon said it was a blessing in disguise that he got to do so many games over the past three years.

“It has been a amazing experience working in Indian sub-continent in the first two years, doing Test matches and then getting to officiate in T20 World Cups in Australia and Dubai. I am working with best match officials and players has added to my umpiring experience. I have learnt a lot about my own character, how I behave under pressure, so lots of positives.”

Menon is expected to be part of the umpiring team in the last three Ashes Tests. Having done most of games in a pressure cooker environment at home, Menon finds officiating in overseas games much easier.

“When India play in India there is a lot of hype, lot of big stars in the Indian team they always try to create pressure on you, they always try to get those 50-50 decisions in favour of them but if we are in control of ourselves under pressure, then we don’t focus on what they are trying to do.

“It just shows that I am strong enough to handle any situation rather than getting working up by the pressure created by players. That has given me a lot of self confidence.

“Leading the Indian international panel of umpires at home has also been a big responsibility. I did not have a lot of experience initially (when he entered ICC elite panel) but the last three years has helped me grow as an umpire,” said the only Indian in the elite panel.

‘Like the players, nothing better than match fitness for umpires’

As an umpire, one has to deal with variety of personalities on the field. Both physical and mental preparation is key to handle them, feels Menon.

Before an international game, it is a common sight to see the umpires taking a run around the ground. Talking about his fitness, Menon likes to keep it simple.

“It is all about gym sessions and eating the right food. The more games you do your match fitness gets better as you are standing on the field for six-seven hours. I don’t have to do anything extra.

“I spend 75 minutes in the gym six days a week if I am not officiating. For mental strength, I don’t do much. I feel the more games you do, the more you are put under pressure, and you get to know more about yourself, and you can self analyse your rights and wrongs and develop levels of concentration accordingly,” he said.

How does he prepare for players who tend to be aggressive and animated on the field? “If we are going to do a game tomorrow, we know who the players are. It is part of our preparation. If a player is expected to react in his typical way, we think about how we are going to handle him. “Some players put more pressure but we are tactically ready as to how we can handle them,” said the 39-year-old cricketer turned umpire.

Javagal Srinath has been of great help in last three years

Former India pacer Srinath has been ICC match referee for more than 15 years. Like Menon, he too did a lot of games in India in COVID times and the two got to spend a lot of time together.

“He has a lot of experience not only as a referee but also as a player. I and other Indian umpires got to learn a lot from him. He is one person which has changed the way we look at the game and taught us how to treat players.

“He always says that getting respect of the players is paramount as an umpire. Not to just punish the players if they have done something wrong. He advises us to try and gain trust of the players.

“There are few things where line can’t be crossed and we have to be firm on that but there are things which can be managed by quietly speaking to the players. This is something we have tried to do in the last few years under his guidance,” said Menon.

I know what to expect: Menon on Ashes

Menon will be seen in action from third Test onwards. Having officiated in England last year, he knows what to expect.

“It will be a great series. I was there last year in England when they hosted South Africa. I could actually see what ‘Bazball’ is. So I know what to expect. Australia have a fantastic bowling line up and the England the way they are playing are redefining test cricket. “Stakes will be high but for me every match is a game between bat and balll. Will keep it simple just watch the ball and make decisions accordingly.

“I am very excited about it too as this was my dream. I could not do the previous Ashes as it happened during COVID. So really looking forward to it and hopefully I will give my best shot there.” Menon concluded saying that things are on the up for Indian umpires and he expects to get company in the ICC Elite Panel soon.

“There are couple of very good umpires coming up . I don’t think I will be the only one, sure there will be a couple of who can rise up the ladder if given proper exposure.

“I don’t think Indian umpires are lacking in anything. The most important thing is giving them exposure at the right time. If we do that, we will find more umpires.” He also believes that being a former player gives you significant advantage as an umpire.

“It is very important to have played the game at any level. It makes you understand match scenario much better. I strongly believe someone who has played the game will do a better job as an umpire. The BCCI is looking to induct more former cricketers into umpiring, so the standards will improve gradually,” he concluded. 

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