Saba Karim: 'We are open to former cricketers becoming umpires'

Former cricketer Saba Karim and General Manager of BCCI (Cricket Operations) believes an improvement in the standard of umpiring in India may leave footprints at the international level.

Former India wicketkeeper Saba Karim at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur.   -  Vivek Bendre

It's been almost three months since Saba Karim, the former India wicketkeeper-batsman, took over as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) General Manager (Cricket Operations). Karim opens up on issues surrounding Indian domestic cricket in an interview with Sportstar.

Excerpts...

It's been almost three months now. Which are the areas that need improvement?

I've travelled a little bit. I watched a few games of the T20 knockouts, then I watched the Vijay Hazare knockouts, then I was in Nagpur (for Irani Cup). The idea was to interact with the players; spend some time with the match officials — the umpires, referees, scorers, video analysts — who work very hard. The idea was to

know the logistics better and understand where we are headed in domestic cricket; what kind of quality we have provided, what kind of competition we see. Now, we are aware of the areas where we can improve. All that is kind of conceptualised but it will take some time to implement.

But I think by the time the next domestic season starts, one can expect some positive changes. So far, the Indian team is doing very well because of the kind of structure we see at the domestic level. It is healthy and competitive. It inspires good quality cricket and that's what we strive for. And it's not only about men's cricket, it's also about women's cricket, age-group formats, so on and so forth.

READ: International Cricket Council silent on BCCI’s request to treat Women’s Championship as 'best of six'

Is the BCCI actually looking at doing away with neutral or BCCI-decided venues for Ranji Trophy knockouts from the coming season?

Yes, we are looking at that because the home and away policy was very well appreciated at the captains and coaches’ conclave. Most of them gave very good feedback about the neutral curators' policy we had this season. We had great percentage of outright results. None of the wickets was doctored, we did not receive a single complaint in that regard, so that was brilliant.

If that is the case, then why can't we take it forward? The next step is hopefully next season, we can have even the Ranji knockout games on home and away basis. We want to generate more publicity for domestic games. And I think for that, we need more support from the state associations.

How does the revised domestic match-fees structure actually work? It looks like the effective payout to the players will more or less remain the same...

I am not aware about the nitty-gritty of it. Mr. Johri (BCCI chief executive Rahul Johri) will be in a better position to make you understand since he was a part of the discussion. But in totality, the fees have gone up. Not only for domestic or men's cricketers but even for age-grup and women cricketers. From the BCCI's perspective, we want to make this a feasible career option for youngsters.

Isn't it high time state associations start handing out annual retainers to players, on the lines of England and Australia?

It can only be in an advisory capacity from the BCCI. We would love to see the state associations taking it up. I think that's the way to go. And it should not only be restricted to male cricketers but also to female cricketers. That's how you can empower women cricket. That's how you can inspire youngsters to take up cricket as a career. That can happen from the state association.

They can hand out central contracts. It should be left to the state associations to devise their own structure. In my opinion, we have a few good people there who can look after the players.

During the captains and coaches’ conclave, the latter demanded for reducing the disparity in their compensation. How can you actually make it happen?

There have been some internal discussions, so we will have to take it forward before the next season. We have to have some kind of benchmark for the state coaches and the support staff.

Despite the umpires’ academy in place for over a decade now, the quality of Indian umpires continues to be questionable. Is it time to perhaps relook at the umpires training programme?

We are doing that. We do have our regular training workshops. But I feel in the end, we need hard-working professionals to come into this field. We are trying to put in some stringent and transparent measures to get the top candidates; that’s why we may redesign our Level 1 and Level 2 examinations.

ALSO READ: BCCI examinations for Level-1 umpires to be held again

Starting with the just-concluded season, 23 of the 40 umpires in the domestic panel are supposed to retire in the next two seasons. How do you plan to maintain, if not raise, standards in domestic cricket?

It's not about maintaining. It's about evolving. We have to raise our standards. That is one point that we will discuss with our umpires during the workshop. Umpiring standards have to go up. That is how we can have more footprints at the international level. The BCCI's aim is to have to more and more umpires in the ICC Elite panel.

Right now we have five (international, one Elite) and we do have some very good young umpires coming through. The reports from our exchange programmes with the England and Wales Cricket Board and Cricket South Africa have been wonderful. Last year, some of our umpires did fairly well in the Indian Premier League (IPL). They were able to understand the dynamics of the IPL and the international level.

Going forward, that is what we want to do, to have more and more umpires at the international level, provided we are able to produce quality umpires. We need to have a solid education pathway for them, need to update them all the time, there has to be upgradation and faculty development and then, the exams that we conduct has to be in a transparent manner.

Will involving more former players as umpires help?

We are open to that, but they have to go through the entire process. It is quite similar to coaching. Just because you have played the game does not mean you will be a good coach. The same stands for umpiring. We are extremely open for first-class or international cricketers to get into this role. It is tough work, so they'll to consider it.

Are former cricketers not attracted towards umpiring because it is not as lucrative as it should be, especially at the domestic level?

We will try and make it lucrative for them. Try and make it possible for first-class cricketers to get into this profession. It is a highly demanding and a respectable profession. We'll have to work something out.

Cricketers' match fees have been revised but it is still pending for the officials — umpires and analysts...

It is a decision that is taken by the top management. They are aware of the fact that something should be done about it and I am sure they will look into it.

A majority of players are apprehensive with the BCCI using SG white balls in domestic cricket. Why is it that you are trying to persist with it?

The way I look at it is to have more players in the market. If I am getting a similar quality of balls from another vendor, there is no harm in trying it out. Obviously it depends on the feedback from cricketers but it is a work in progress. It will take them some time to understand.

But look at the kind of challenges Test cricket poses to cricketers. When you play in India, you play with SG Test, you go to England you play with Dukes and in Australia, you get Kookaburra. The players have to adapt not only to the conditions but also to the difference in ball. We can have something like that in India as well. It is only a discussion. It'll take some more time to concretise.

Do you think it's high time we have a proper domestic calendar in place in advance?

The only reason we had the captains and coaches conclave so early this year because we want to freeze the calendar as soon as possible. The changes are inevitable depending on the nature of the game and the conditions available in India; not only the players and the state associations. But in general, we need to finalise the calendar as soon as possible. Maybe by April, we should be able to do that and give state associations and players enough time to prepare for the season.

Delhi cricketer Rishabh Pant takes a selfie with fans at a Ranji Trophy game.   -  PTI

 

How do you deal with the growing perception that Indian domestic cricket revolves solely around the IPL?

I am aware of that and I think we can change that perception. From the coming year, we will have more and more domestic games televised so that people realise that people, who play the IPL, develop from here. If you don't have a strong and robust domestic structure, you cannot have a good IPL because seven players from each team have to be Indians.

The franchise scouts pick talent from only from the domestic tournaments. People need to understand that. The IPL withstood the challenges of time and international cricket by being such a quality tournament because it belongs to a structure with such a healthy state of affairs.

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