Meet the match referee
Ranjan Madugalle cut his cricketing career short because he wanted to concentrate on building a post-retirement career. A successful career as a marketing executive for a multinational company ensured that there was life after cricket for Madugalle. But the lure of sitting at a cricket ground, in the best seat in the house, and being involved in the game dragged him back. At the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium the match referee's box is situated on the highest point. And the view makes the long walk up the rickety spiral staircase worth it.
"I took to match refereeing because I have a marketing background, professionally, and I thought my general management background combined with my cricketing background would help me put certain processes in place," said Madugalle. "I've been involved since 1994 and the roles have evolved. In small ways we have put processes in place to ensure that what happened by accident 10 years ago now happens by design."
The processes are anything but simple. A match referee's job is not quite as simple as people think it is. "My job starts the day before the match. At the start of the series, there's a pre-series meeting with the captains, the managers, the coaches and the umpires. We go through the playing conditions and any changes, what balls are being used, the appointments for the series. Basically, the expectations from the officials and the guidelines we're expected to follow. Both sides meet and we discuss the areas that could come up as issues. We also do a pre-match inspection of the venue. This includes the pitch, the rollers, the outfield, the practice facilities, dressing-rooms, toilets ... the whole gamut. That goes into an ICC database so that any country that is going to play at a venue knows what to expect." And that's only what happens before the actual cricket begins.
Typically, the playing control team, consisting of the four umpires and the match referee, gets to the ground about 90 minutes before the scheduled start of play. Then, the match referee sits along with the third umpire and watches every single ball bowled. "From a personal point of view I look at the game to enjoy from a cricketing perspective. When you do that you see the trends that develop, what the bowlers are trying to do and how the batsmen adapt. When you follow that, you can see which way things are headed," said Madugalle. But his job is not all about enjoying the cricket. "We keep a record of the time taken for each over. The scorers are briefed about what allowances they can make. The team is supplied with an over-rate record, logged in blocks of 10 overs. Also, every decision that is made by the umpires and every appeal that is made is logged in a separate sheet with comments."
This sheet is then sent to the ICC headquarters in London where an independent assessor looks at replays of relevant decisions and completes his assessment. "At the end of every day we have a debriefing with the umpires, and if there's a hearing, that's another process altogether. Umpires lay charges, lead evidence and there's a hearing, and findings are released to the media."
Of course, it is when there is a need for disciplinary action that things heat up. Match referees have come in for plenty of criticism in the press for disciplinary action taken or the lack of the same. But personal attacks aside, Madugalle does not mind the criticism. "Once you've played the game you accept criticism as a part of life. In any job you do you expect criticism. The higher you go the more criticism you get. I think I live by the fact that criticism and taxes are two certain things in life."
Mistakes umpires make, especially the senior ones, have come in for tremendous criticism in recent times. The calls to drop certain umpires from the elite panel have gathered volume, and in Lahore we even had John Wright going up to the match referee's box to have a chat. Madugalle says this was a run-of-the-mill interaction. "I encourage the managers and coaches to come up to my box and sit and have a chat. Then they see things from our environment and our perspective. It's very important that the players see things from our point of view. We are one big family here and we [the officials] feel we're the third team in any match."
One big family or not, the match referee is often called upon to deliver the unpalatable news to offending cricketers. "I wouldn't say there has been any occasion where it was particularly difficult to convey a decision to a player, because doing that is in the line of duty. In my last hearing I had to speak to Parthiv Patel, who is a really young man, and I took great pains to explain the process to him. He might play for another 10-15 years and if he understands things early, then when he reaches higher positions this will cascade down to the others. How you put things across is very important." Madugalle, once the darling of Sri Lankan crowds, especially the fairer sex, certainly has no difficulty putting things across in the smoothest possible manner.