On August 26, the day before the first game in the two-match T20 series between West Indies and India in Florida, Leslie Reifer went to the teams' training session. As he stood in the India nets, offspinner R Ashwin walked up and asked if he played for West Indies. MS Dhoni too wondered what a West Indies player was doing at an India training session. "He wasn't aware that I was actually going to be standing in the game. I kind of do get that a lot," Reifer says over the phone from Montreal.
Somewhat understandable, given that when Reifer stepped onto the ground in Lauderhill, Florida, in the second match, he was a week short of 27, probably the youngest international umpire in modern cricket. The ICC does not have official records, but Simon Taufel, who was regarded as one of the youngest previously, made his international debut at 28.
"I have always wanted be around international cricket," Reifer says. "I used to play the game and I really wanted to end up an international cricketer, but I wasn't able to do that. So to be able to walk out as an international umpire was a tremendous honour - to be able to have reached so far at such a young age."
Late this July, Reifer was packing his bags to join the rest of his family in Orlando, Florida for a holiday when he received a call from WICB operations manager Roland Holder, who told him he would be one of the match officials for the T20 series in Florida. "Luckily, mum and dad did not have to travel too far and instead only had to take a bus between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale," Reifer says.
Unlike players, who are given their cap on the morning of their debut, umpires receive their kit in advance and have to be at the ground before the teams arrive. If Reifer had nerves, they didn't show. Ranjan Madugalle, the match referee, asked him to do nothing different from what he was used to doing from the time he took up umpiring seriously.
The match ended in a fiasco when play was abandoned two overs into the second innings due to rain, after 40 minutes were lost at the beginning due to "technical" reasons that were never explained. It was not the best first day at the office for Reifer, but he says he managed to take home some learnings.
"From an umpiring perspective you have to cover all your bases and ensure that conditions in international cricket have to be safe. The major takeaway for me was managing the ground, weather and light - GWL in umpiring parlance."
"People wanted to know who was this little boy coming to umpire. It was not common to see a youngster stand as umpire in Barbados."
Reifer has good cricketing pedigree. Eight men from his immediate family have represented Barbados in cricket at various age groups, including first-class cricket - most famously Floyd, who was West Indies captain in nine matches in 2009.
Reifer himself played for Barbados in Under-15 and U-16 cricket as a batting allrounder. He captained Jason Holder and Carlos Braithwaite, the current West Indies captains, at Barbados Community College. Reifer went to high school with Holder, who is a dear friend. Kraigg Braithwaite, Shane Dowrich, Roston Chase, Jomel Warrican and Shai Hope are peers. Reifer made his first-division club debut in the same match as England allrounder Chris Jordan.
In 2008, at 18, Reifer found himself at a fork in the road. "It was a period of uncertainty in terms of my cricket," he remembers. "I finally had to make a decision about going to university overseas or staying back in Barbados." He decided to give himself a year before making up his mind.
His father, a first-class and club cricketer in Barbados, was a member of the umpiring association. Reifer went along one day and met Vincent Bullen, a former first-class umpire. "He showed me the umpiring pathway. He also showed me a document released by the ICC talking about the potential of umpiring and how far one could go at the international level if you are good enough."
Reifer's first match as an umpire was an U-15 game, when he was still 18. "At the time, umpires used to wear the shirt-jacks [long white coats]. I actually used my dad's shirt-jack - three times the size of me, a complete misfit," he says. "People wanted to know who was this little boy coming to umpire. It was not common to see a youngster stand as umpire in Barbados."
Progress was swift. By 2012, Reifer was standing in the Caribbean T20 competition. He was nervous and took his dad along with him to Trinidad for support. One of the five matches he stood in in that tournament featured his uncle Floyd and cousin Raymond.
"Raymond was bowling, Floyd was at first slip, I was umpiring, and my dad was in the stand." It was the first time Reifer was standing in a televised game. "It was a bit nerve-wracking, but I stood calm. I stood in the moment."
That temperament, and his diligent study of the Laws helped him make it to the Caribbean regional panel of umpires. Incidentally he was also the youngest umpire to stand in a first-class match.
Like players watch videos to analyse their and others' techniques, Reifer too spends time studying the habits of and calls made by the likes of Taufel, Aleem Dar and Richard Kettleborough.
What does he think are the attributes you need to make it to the Elite Panel and stay there? "You need to have very strong leadership attributes, a strong character and personality. You need to have good mental strength and also be very focused, because you are constantly under public scrutiny.
"The younger you are, the fitter you are, the stronger and sharper your senses should be. Not to say you will be a better decision-maker or a better umpire, because there are a lot of different facets to umpiring, but when it comes to the sensory elements, you will have an advantage."
The image you come away with is of an orderly man. "I prepare for every single match I do as though it is an international match. Mentally I prepare from the day before.
"Everything that I have done thus far in life has prepared me for cricket umpiring," he says. To that extent, he is a departure from the stereotype of the party-loving, extroverted young Caribbean male. "[Being] from the Caribbean, you would normally [think of me as being] an outgoing guy who likes to go out and enjoy himself. I am that kind of person as well, but umpiring requires you to give up so much of your weekends. I have been sacrificing time away from parties, from fun activities, to focus on umpiring."
Reifer, who also holds a Canadian passport, signed up for a Bachelors in Marketing with Concordia University in Montreal and received his degree when he was 24. He juggled umpiring and education, doing one semester instead of two annually. He then interned at the WICB's headquarters in Antigua in the marketing and event management department. He is also an entrepreneur and runs a sports retail store - Barbados Cricket Supplies.
Reifer is part of a group of young international match officials who have witnessed a sea change in their profession in the last decade. Technology has been the catalyst behind many changes, subtle and overt, that affect the umpire's decision-making. "You have to be adaptable, be able to adjust and learn quickly," he says.
In addition to staying up to date with the reading materials and resources made available by the ICC, Reifer has an umpire's coach to keep him on his toes - David Levens, in Australia. "We have constant Skype calls, talking about umpiring, going through various scenarios. It is about educating yourself."
Reifer's first job in international cricket was as a television umpire, in the first T20I in Florida. "I was well prepared. With India playing, it was a non-DRS series. So it was basically about what I was doing from the time I stood in the first-class panel." He was coming in fresh off a stint in the Caribbean Premier League, where he had been a television umpire in six games.
Under the Umpires Exchange Programme, Reifer officiated in England in 2013, followed a year later by Bangladesh. He is now looking forward to getting DRS-certified, following the pathway set by the ICC.
His ultimate goal is to be on the Elite Panel, but he is in no hurry, looking to test himself thoroughly at the lower levels before progressing to the highest. "Members of the Elite Panel always stress the importance of being patient, working hard and doing the things that you are accustomed to doing at lower levels of cricket and not letting the moment get the better of you, not thinking too far ahead or behind," he says.
"I am hoping with some good performances I can progress quickly, but really and truly I am just happy to be where I am at this point."