The role of a Match Referee has been revamped

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

RANJAN MADUGALLE'S rise as a competent Match Referee has been the highlight of his cricketing career. After retiring in 1988, he kept links with the game as a National selector and played an important role in enforcing discipline among the players. He also brought in consistency in selection policies and was regarded as a valuable contributor to Sri Lanka's rise as a cricketing power.

Ranjan Madugalle is among the best Match Referees in the world.-V. V. KRISHNAN

When he decided to become a Match Referee, Madugalle was only taking a step towards serving the game. Today, with an experience of being a Match Referee in 40 Tests and more than 100 one-day internationals, he is among the best in the world. As chief of the elite panel, he has a contribution to make in various departments. Madugalle spoke to The Sportstar at length on his career as Match Referee. Excerpts:

Question: Your views on the elite panel and your role in it?

Answer:The need for the elite panel of umpires and referees came from the captains and the Boards to ensure that the best teams and players in the world are adjudicated and judged by the best. My role therefore was to pick a panel of five referees from nominations sent by each of the Boards. Hence, therefore, the role for the referee too has evolved from its initial stage in the early 90s. I would now look at the Match Referee as a representative of the ICC. He in a sense would now be more of a general manager.

How do you look at the role of a match referee now?

What I would look for is that the role has got more revamped. I would look at myself as an ICC representative in a more general management sense. I've to look after the players aspect of behaviour, adherence to playing conditions, but overall, look at the facilities, security and act as a conduit between the two Boards. I would look at it as setting another standard. It is still in its formative stage and hopefully would improve in keeping with the demands of the game.

Do you look at yourself as a policeman?

Not at all. I would be disappointed if someone looks at me like that. I'm more of a facilitator who has to ensure that the players and the officials have the best conditions and it is my responsibility to safeguard their interests.

Is it not unfortunate that you need Match Referees to control the players?

There has always been aggression at the top level. However, it was only when players went over the top and brought the game into disrepute that referees came in and certain standards had to be set. To arrest that slide one had to introduce certain measures. Once you have a system in place you have to have people to monitor things. And that's where we come in. As far as players are concerned it should come from within. It has happened in the past. But the baton gets transferred from one generation to the other. I'm of the belief that its also the responsibility of the players. To present themselves well so that the spirit of the game is maintained. It is something that has to come from within them as well.

How can you help ease the pressure on the umpires?

Pressure has always been handled in the past differently by different individuals. What I do is to ensure that their off-field factors like accommodation, travel are looked after. On the field I give them an objective assessment of their performance. So that we become more realistic. This has become easier with the formation of the elite panel... You know how they react in different conditions as you work with the same group over a period of time in various conditions. At the end of each match the captains too provide the umpires with the feedback face to face so that lessons learnt can be put into practise in the matches that follow.

How do you establish rapport with the players and the officials?

Each person is different. I try to be frank and honest upfront. Have an open dialogue with the manager, captain, and individuals too. Try to understand them better. So when a difficult situation comes you would have broken the ice already. It is a question of trying to speak to them and enlighten them. I like to nip trouble in the bud. If you can do that you present the game in a better light. As far as the harsh and light decisions are concerned you sometimes have a job to do and that's what you have been paid to do. And that's what I do in the interest of cricket. I keep my doors always open to players, officials, and media, who can approach me any time. I feel we all are shareholders in this game of cricket.

How was your transition from a player to a Match Referee?

I had to make certain adjustments. I stopped playing in 1988 and became a Match Referee in 1994. In between I was a National selector and that helped me keep in touch with the game. And most importantly with the people who were playing the game. The transition was actually easy. Those factors helped me a lot.

How do you manage to concentrate?

You mean how I keep afloat. I watch the game to enjoy, watch the game to learn from it, and watch it to analyse. I am keyed up all the time. I played the game because I loved it and I'm doing this job because I like it. This way I'm always focussed. I've followed it as a player, a spectator and now a referee but the principle has always been the same - to enjoy and learn all the time.

How does your family cope since you constantly travel all over the world?

It's tough. I have two girls, the elder (Aneesha) is 11 and the younger (Dhanya) is seven. Their demands are growing and they need both parents now. It puts a heavy burden on my wife (Kumi). As she has to be a father and mother to the children during my absence. She's done that well and I'm thankful to her for that. That's the down side. But I've chosen a job aware of this and look more at the positives of it.

What are the essential qualities to become a good Match Referee?

He must have a true feel of the game, understand the laws and the playing conditions. Understand the culture of the place and people. He has to be an excellent communicator to convey his feelings and views to the players and the officials. It is a matter of good man management, good sense of judgment and basically the ability to decide.

Which was the most satisfying series for you?

I feel happy to contribute in upholding the spirit of the game and it's continuance. It gives me satisfaction if I can do that in that spirit.. I think it came in Karachi when India played Pakistan. The game almost had to be stopped because of some crowd problem. I had to step in. Maybe I used more authority than I had and everyone went back and played the game. We saw some good cricket and the series went on smoothly. So it was good to see that cricket won.

Finally, what reasons would you attribute to Sri Lanka's consistency in international cricket?

I feel the strength has been unearthing young talent at the right time and being able to blend that with the experienced players. We haven't made mass scale changes and put players into the deep end suddenly. The changes have been gradual. We have been blessed with some good leaders. Arjuna (Ranatunga) was very good. Sanath (Jayasuriya) is not far behind. He may not be aggressive like Arjuna but he commands total respect from the players. We have had two very good leaders. And also we've been able to support Murali through some young fast bowlers who can push the batsmen on the back foot. Another crucial factor is that (Chaminda) Vaas has grown into an all-round fast bowler. He can use the new ball and the old ball with plenty of craft. All this has helped us to be a threat to most sides at home and away.