'Umpires are not soft targets, they're participants in the game'
Simon Taufel says the Indian umpires he works with have been making a lot of progress, but they are yet to earn the respect they deserve from players and the public
I cannot answer why we do not have anyone at the international level. There has been a lot of debate about that, but for me to explain the work we are doing in India I need to establish where we come from. Two years ago when I stopped umpiring, we looked at developing a structure of advancing umpiring globally. We have four umpiring coaches who work with the ICC. I look after India and have looked to establish a relationship with the country. We develop coaching plans and strategies and a consistent pathway of what is needed to succeed at the highest level and appreciate that the game is changing all the time. The latest technology and umpiring in different conditions is a part of it - like umpiring in hot conditions in Kolkata.
What has struck me about Indian umpires is their passion, enthusiasm, desire and hunger, their thirst for knowledge and their love of the game. We have tried to harness that and support them with better resources. We are encouraging them and guiding them about where they can improve and develop.
No, it's not. That is the challenge. In this part of the world, umpiring is always seen from a decision-making perspective, whereas in some other countries it is all about people skills. It is about how you handle pressure and respond to the players, the respect, trust and other soft skills. We are trying to redress the balance between the tremendous knowledge of laws that is present here and combine that with the soft skills. The only way you can do that is by engaging them and talking to people. That is why it has been great working with them in the background at the IPL. We can engage with them in post-match debriefs and the hotel rooms. We can talk about how to handle an error or a setback, how to deal with a player who is in your face, and how to deal with iconic players while being a good officiator.
"What is really encouraging and pleasing to see is how Indian umpires are fitting into umpiring systems around the world. They speak the same umpiring language. They speak the cricketing language"
The key is understanding [each other]. We can talk about different languages and cultures, but unless you understand me as a person and I understand you as a person, unless we know what things mean, we do not have effective communication. Unless we have understanding and acknowledgement and respect, we do not have effective communication. It might sound basic and fundamental, but if this is my designated country for me to work with, I need to understand India. I need to understand the culture, the biases. I need to understand some of the words, some of the meanings, because that will help me understand where these people are coming from. Human behaviour is a funny thing - if I stick out my hand, chances are that you are going to reciprocate. If I raise my voice, chances are you might raise your voice and get upset. So if I am looking for understanding and a particular behaviour from the people I work with, I need to try and demonstrate that initially.
They have responded tremendously genuinely. There is an element of Indian culture where sometimes people tell you what you want to hear. But what I am looking at is the genuine effort and understanding to do things for the right reasons. Not because I want it, not because the ICC wants it, but because it is the right thing to do. When we talk about consistency, when we talk about best practices, when we talk about effective teamwork, one of our strategies - not just in India but with all the top domestic umpires - is to reach an understanding about how we are going to work with each other. That could be from what words mean, what signals we give to each other on the field, how we prepare for a game, how we appreciate individual differences, what is expected when you do a match report, what is expected when you go in for a code-of-conduct of hearing, what is expected when you look at a suspect bowling action, how you carry yourself when you walk out of a hotel, how you arrive at a game, how you stick together as a team at events.
Yes, I do. We expect of our umpires that they have tremendous empathy for what the players go through. They put in lot of hours of training. They want to be successful. There is a lot of money involved in their contracts. And there is a lot of fame and fortune that they can attain if they are successful. We would love the players to appreciate and show equal empathy for the difficult nature of our job, appreciate that better umpires get it right, that we are human beings after all. We do it because we love it and because we want to add value. I am yet to come across an umpire who wants to give a bad decision or have a negative impact on the game. There is a lot of pride amongst our group.
What I would like to see more in India is players respecting how difficult umpiring is; maybe try it themselves. It would be great to see a Rahul Dravid or a Sachin Tendulkar donning a white coat.
Umpires come from a background of being forgotten about. In many countries umpires are the last group to be thought of, whether it is change rooms, provisions, support structures, catering, uniforms. The work we are trying to do in India is no different from some of the other parts of the world. We don't want to be treated better than the players. We want to be treated equally because we have an equal contribution to make to the game. When the umpires do well, they won't get noticed. When the umpires do something wrong, they stick out.
One of the areas they have changed is in their honesty. The first part of really developing as a human being or a cricket umpire is being honest with yourself about what you are doing well and what you could do better. There is a culture here in India where sometimes you get things because of who you know or because there is a way around the system. Now the umpires themselves have embraced honesty. They have embraced the value of integrity and being true to what they have got to do. And to make tough decisions because they are the right decisions to be made - whether it is a suspect bowling action, whether it is out or not out, whether it is starting a game or finishing a game.
"The goal is not to put an Indian umpire on the Elite Panel; that is a nice by-product. The goal here is to improve umpiring in this country, position ourselves, and deliver the best umpiring to people who play"
It is easy for me to evaluate as I come back every year and I see things from a fresh perspective. Indian umpires are now being chosen for world events and the playoffs of the IPL. When I joined the IPL in the second season , there were no Indian umpires in the playoffs. Here we are six years later, we have got the highest number of Indian umpires involved in the playoffs. The other night we had two Indian umpires on field in the Eliminator.
That is an unfair view. I genuinely believe that Indian umpiring is holding its own on the world stage. There is work to be done in all countries. But internationally we are making progress. Domestically we are making progress. Is the job finished? No. It is constant work in progress. Our challenge is to get the resources, tools and knowledge and experience, just like the players.
Our focus is to improve Indian domestic umpiring. We have produced four quality International Panel umpires. They are doing extremely well and one of them [S Ravi] officiated at Lord's in a Test match. It is his fifth Test match. He has been to a World Cup and put his name up for selection. The rest is up to the selectors. It is a team effort. It is not just about me. It is the work that all the umpiring coaches do.
I did say to Ravi on the first morning that when you leave the umpires room and walk downstairs into the Long Room, when the umpires enter that room, all the members part, they separate and give you access to the ground and they start to applaud spontaneously. Then the hairs on the back of your neck will rise. [I told him] I want to think about the fact that I'm going with you, your team-mates are going with you. It is a great honour and privilege.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75