The umpire who works to ski
"It ain't easy," Peter Hartley tells you, pointing to the top of the cantilevered roof covering the North Stand at Wankhede Stadium, "Falling down two or three kilometres on the floor; some of it is ice and some of it is snow. It is such a great buzz to get down a steep hill in one piece." Hartley, who is part of England's panel of first-class umpires, says if he can succeed at the sport of Alpine (downhill) skiing, he is not at all daunted about standing as an umpire in the upcoming Ranji Trophy semi-final between Mumbai and Tamil Nadu and subsequently in the final.
"I work to ski," Hartley, who has also officiated in six ODIs and three Twenty20 internationals, says with a loud chuckle. Hartley landed in India on Friday evening as part of the umpire exchange programme between the BCCI and the ECB. Dressed in a light blue T-shirt, dark-coloured formal trousers and brown moccasins, Hartley is enjoying the Mumbai weather, a far cry from the bone-chilling winter back in his native Yorkshire.
Once he was told he was travelling to India, Hartley picked the brains of fellow English umpires Peter Willey, Neil Mallender and Greg Evans, all of whom had travelled here in the past. "You can't pre-judge what is going to happen. They just asked me to do what I was doing in the UK," Hartley says. If anything, they asked him to "eat sensibly" and enjoy India.
According to Hartley the biggest challenge for him in India is bound to be the pitches. "The challenges are similar to the UK: just analysing the bounce of the pitch, probably there won't be much seam movement and the ball may swing when it is new but probably not much as in the UK."
Hartley reckons that as far as an umpire is concerned things are generally similar to a degree. "It is the entire challenge of doing something in a different country, how people go about it and how teams develop the game plan."
He is also not bothered about the fact that SG balls would be used in the semi-finals and in the final. In England Hartley is used to the Dukes, Kookaburra and other brands but never an SG. He is not really concerned though. "It is a cricket ball. It ain't gonna bother me."
If he turns heads now with his skiing credentials, Hartley did the same as a player too, when he became the first Yorkshire player to play for another county and then debut for Yorkshire. "There is another first," Hartley remembers fondly. "My first first-class wicket was Richard Lumb from Yorkshire. And my last first-class wicket was Michael Vaughan, when I was playing for Hampshire. So my first and last wickets were from Yorkshire," Hartley, who picked 579 wickets for Yorkshire, says. He was part of a select band of five Yorkshire bowlers to take 500-plus wickets in less than 200 matches.
When he dismissed Lumb, Hartley was part of Warwickshire, where he played for one season before moving onto the Somerset second eleven but eventually earning his way back into the Yorkshire squad where he played till 1997. He finished his career at Southampton at the age of 40.
Being a fast bowler with a long run-up, young Hartley had his own run-ins with umpires. Hartley picks a favourite in Dickie Bird. "It was a Yorkshire v Derbyshire game at Scarborough. The last batsman had just come in. First ball I had pitched up and he played and missed. Next one, he drove it through the covers for two runs. Then a bouncer, which he played badly and was hit on the shoulders. I bounced him again. I had got it a little bit too wide but the way he played it, he ended up looking terrible," Hartley recollects. Before the next ball, Bird interrupted him and said, "This batsman cannot defend himself. No more short stuff. You are going to injure this guy." So the last ball of the over Hartley pitched it up, but was smacked through the covers for a four. "I asked Bird, "are you taking the mickey out of me?," Hartley says.
Hartley himself was in the line of fire in his debut ODI, between England and India at The Oval in 2007, when he requested for a delayed referral of a run-out decision involving then England captain Paul Collingwood. Kevin Pietersen had called Collingwood for a tight single. The Indians believed Collingwood was short of his crease and appealed to the advancing Hartley, who was coming in from square leg to replace the bails removed by the wicketkeeper MS Dhoni.
"When this incident happened I was only twenty yards from the stumps but it was a too close a call to make, real tight. Dhoni and the Indians appealed. I thought I would go and pick the bails up and then send (the decision to the TV umpire)." Dhoni asked Hartley if he was going to send it upstairs. Just then somebody said Collingwood is out. Hartley was confused. He realised that the big screen at the ground had shown the replay and that Collingwood was out. Hartley by now had called for the TV umpire.
The England captain argued with Hartley that he could have not referred the decision because a lot of time had passed but Hartley gave Collingwood out once it was confirmed. Hartley admitted he learned a lesson that day. "I should have done it [referred to the third umpire] while I was walking to pick the bails," Hartley says, admitting that he does not know all the 42 Laws in the MCC book. "But if you cite me an incident I can pin point which Law [applies] then."
Hartley's short career has already been full of incidents including the Oval fiasco where he was the TV umpire when Pakistan forfeited a Test for the first time in cricket history. Hartley would rather not talk about that incident but agrees that the umpire's job is a very difficult one. "We are not here to keep everybody happy," Hartley says, summing up his job.
The toughest call for an umpire, Hartley says, is when the batsman plays too close to his body while trying to flick, glance or roll the ball off his hips. That and the bat-pad are always difficult. "Every umpire will say them two are the most difficult," he says. That is where his experience of being a player comes handy. "You know the frustrations that bowlers have; you can see weaknesses in the batsman's game. You can read that something more."
So far Hartley has logged in about 1000 first-class days as an umpire at the rate of 96 days per season from 2002. "The problem is we never win the toss. Every day is a fielding day," he says. At the moment he is not bothered about standing for a maximum of another nine days in India because immediately after that he is ready to take a flight of adrenalin. "I leave India on January 25 and on January 28 I will be in France to get ready to go downhill."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo