V K Ramaswamy was one of the finest international umpires of his era, and easily among the best from the subcontinent. He also served with distinction on the ICC elite panel of umpires.
The highly erudite and respected official from Tamil Nadu is as famous for his profound knowledge of cricket and its finer points as also for having a cigarette in his hand with which he had given so many decisions during his glittering and almost spotless umpiring career.
Ramaswamy, who made his first-class umpiring debut in 1973, officiated in 26 Tests and 43 ODIs between 1983 and 2002. The BCCI has benefited a lot, after his retirement, from his vast experience. He is now one of its umpires' coaches, whose chief functions are to appraise and guide the men in white coats on a variety of things, including match-management.
Haresh Pandya was engaged in an exhaustive, freewheeling conversation with Ramaswamy recently.
How do you view the current umpiring standard in the country? Has it gone up or down?
I wouldn't say it has gone down. Indian umpiring has always been good. The only thing is the channelisation wasn't good in respect of identifying and then promoting the umpires to the top level. But now the BCCI has got liaison with Cricket Australia. They've already conducted a seminar and shown the vision and suggested the means. So we're sure the things will be put in a proper shape. Actually we needed a reshaping and it has been done from this year onwards. And that's why the BCCI has also appointed umpires' coaches. They help and guide the umpires on the field and also assess them. So all this input will go to the BCCI. And they'll have proper persons at proper places.
Is it necessary for umpires to have played first-class cricket?
It helps. It helps. But ultimately, whether you've played first-class cricket, Test cricket or club cricket, your attitude is very important. If you want to be successful as an umpire, you've got to go through the umpiring mill. But if you go through it, you've always that edge or advantage, having played first-class cricket. It would help you in handing out decisions in a better way.
But still the element of human error is always there, isn't it?
Yes, it'll always remain there. We make mistakes in life. And it isn't different on a cricket field either.
In the past, former players hardly or never came forward to take up umpiring. But now they do. What do you think could be the reason?
Yes, players didn't show any interest in taking up umpiring in the past. But they started coming forward for umpiring almost ten years back. Six Test cricketers were inducted into the panel. Unfortunately, the system wasn't quick enough for them to go up. So maybe in the middle they dropped out. Otherwise the system was already there. Now that there is going to be a proper machinery with one director being appointed, and Cricket Australia being involved, and the BCCI taking more interest, definitely the right persons will get right opportunities.
Do you think umpiring is still a thankless job?
Yes, it'll always remain a thankless job. When you take up umpiring, you do so with the understanding that it's a thankless job and you'll receive more brickbats than bouquets. In fact, I was talking to a commentator the other day. He said: 'Our job is to comment on the replays and especially on where the mistakes are being made.' I told him: "You never think about the good decisions given by the umpires. When good decisions are given, they aren't shown repeatedly."
Have the miracles of modern technology helped the umpires or put them under more pressure?
Technology does bring pressure on the umpires. But the umpire should be able to come out of it. Self-assessment is very easy. An umpire should always ask himself how far he is there, where he has to improve, what are the areas he has to work on, and so on.
But where does he have time to think about all this?
What I'm saying is that he has to make self-assessment in future -- at leisure when he is free -- and not during the match itself. In a particular match, whatever you may have done, good or bad, can always get back to you. Earlier, when technology wasn't there, it was only hearsay. You had to rely on what others said. But now you can see for yourself. You can find out your strong points, your weaknesses and you can always improve yourself.
The onfield umpires must invariably be under some sort of psychological pressure because of the action replays that all but they can see. Do you think so?
There is no psychological pressure on you because you know, when you go on the ground, that there're going to be the replays. You don't have these facilities. Howsoever good you are, you've to give split-second decisions. In fact, the competence level of the umpire is being reinforced. So where is the pressure?
I'll give you a small example. Earlier, you gave a close run-out decision against a batsman and he would tell you he had made the crease. Similarly, his bat or something else may have made connection with the ball, but he would tell you he didn't play anything and nothing touched the ball. It was always one person's word against the other person's. But now technology shows you whether you're right or wrong. It helps the umpire to justify his decisions and vindicate himself. This way technology helps the umpire rather than bringing psychological pressure on him.
Dickie Bird is on record saying that the "umpire is dead". Do you endorse his view?
No, the umpire will never die. There are certain decisions which even technology isn't able to make or judge perfectly. The LBW decision, for instance. Technology, too, can't give the LBW decision 100 percent perfect. Similarly, there are certain catches which the camera isn't able to pick up. Like humans, even technology has its limitations. If technology becomes too perfect, we may not have umpires at all. And I don't think such a situation is to come in near future in any case. So the umpire will never die.
Which particular decisions do you think should not be referred to technology? And which are the ones where technology should be used?
Well, line decisions are okay as far as technology is concerned. Stumping is okay. Run-out is okay. Hit-wicket, which occurs very rarely, is okay. And whether a catch is taken clearly or not can also be decided by taking help of the technology because the naked eye can't sometimes pick it up.
What need not be referred to technology is the LBW because it depends upon the correctness, it depends upon the positions of the cameras, and then on what angle is being taken and how you show that red-carpet or whatever they call it. These factors show that the LBW is totally ruled out.
As for the caught behind, snickometre will only show you a sound. But it won't show you it has gone off the bat. It's only a sound because at the time of passing the bat there is a sound. But this sound can be of anything else. I can give you a lot of instances when the ball didn't touch the bat but still the sound came. So technology can't be of any help in all cases of caught behind.
As far as the bat-pad appeal is concerned, unless technology is 100 percent full-proofs, you may get some decisions and you may not get some decisions correctly. So whatever is being referred to technology is good enough for me. I think these are the maximum things you can refer to the technology.
There are reasons why I'm against referring every decision to technology. It will take a lot of time. Whenever an umpire is in doubt, he would be expected to refer the matter to technology. Also, I doubt whether the technology is creative. It isn't easy to get out of doubts unless it's a case of the ball being blatant 5 feet outside the leg-stump, or 2 feet outside the off-stump. I'm not talking about close cases. So how many close cases can you refer to technology? How much time will it consume? And can the available technology feed immediately? So leave it to the human element.
Sunil Gavaskar once said: 'If you've played ten years of cricket, the decisions that have gone in your favour, and the ones that have gone against you, will be neutralised.'
I think this is a correct principle to adopt because when you enter the field you know there is a human element and there will always be a possibility of a mistake.
Are the post-match reports by the captains a boon or a bane for umpires?
They are neither a boon nor a curse for the umpires. Captains are always on the ground. The match referee, coaches and others sit outside the line. It's a bit difficult for them to assess the umpires. But our [umpires'] complaint is that the captains have to be perspective in their reports. If they are perspective, we aren't worried whether their reports are good or bad. See, you can't certainly give zero marks for the LBW. Then you don't justify why you've given zero marks. So we want objective, perspective reports from the captains. If that isn't forthcoming, then the BCCI will have to think of alternative measures. And I think they'll come out with that.
What do you think about the current umpiring standard at the international level?
As far as international standard is concerned, the mistake made by the media, the commentators or the general public is that they get carried away by the replays and then they assess the umpires, which isn't correct. As you've rightly said, the facilities of replays and other things aren't available to the onfield umpires while making a particular decision. And then you've got to assess an umpire the way in which mistakes are being committed, whether the mistakes are on a point of law or on a point of fact. If the mistakes are on a point of law, they aren't excusable. If they are committed on a point of fact, you've to see under what circumstances the decisions were given.
But mistakes can happen. I'm giving you just a small example. A fellow goes for a hook shot, his whole body is behind, and after he has finished the shot, the ball reaches the gloves of the wicketkeeper, which only the wicketkeeper can see. The umpire at the bowler's end can't see it. Even the bowler sometimes can't see it. But we've seen many times that the appeal comes from the close-in cordon. The bowler doesn't appeal. If the umpire doesn't get it right, you can't call it a deliberate mistake. It's a very, very genuine mistake. And it happens.
Even after seeing the replays twice or three times, how many people are able to tell on the fast motion whether the batsman is out or not? How many people are able to tell with certainty after the fist replay? How many people are able to tell after the second replay? The categorisation is always there.
But you do see the replays just because you want to comment. You see them to make sure, to be safe, to make comment and for the public to know. But give a thought to the umpire on the field. He is playing with the careers of the players, isn't he? So won't he think about all this before handing out a decision? Does he have all these facilities? That's why you've got to give the umpires that kind of leverage.
So if you look at the international standard, the umpiring is similar. The only thing is that certain umpires get exposed if they commit mistakes. If there are, say, three mistakes in a match by one umpire I'm not talking about a one-dayer but about a four-day game or a Test match we say he is a bad umpire. I wouldn't say that. If you've adjudged eighty appeals and if you get two or three wrong, your percentage is still very high. So I think you've to view that. In fact, I'm not worried about the media or the others. But the players, the administrators and the officials should realise this. And then it's easy to assess an umpire.
It is generally seen at the international level that usually the visiting batsmen tend to suffer a bit in terms of umpiring decisions even today when there are neutral or third-country umpires. The recent India-England series in England is a case in point. The Indians were not at all happy by many decisions that went against them. What are your impressions?
No, I don't agree. Complaints will always be there. If there is a mistake, you look for your motive. But to me, an umpire is always neutral, whether he is umpiring here, there or anywhere else. If he commits a mistake, it's a mistake which is genuinely done. I don't want to attribute motives because of this percentage -- with the local players, umpires or the initiators. Earlier they used to complain that the visitors were given a lot of favourable decisions -- about seventy to eighty percent. See, it's always a double-edged weapon. You can go on complaining. But I don't want to comment. To me, the umpire is always neutral irrespective of his region or nationality. And he'll always remain neutral.
Did you ever foresee that there would be neutral or third-country umpires in cricket to assist?
As you know, I was the first to go to Pakistan to officiate as a neutral umpire. The trend started twenty years back. But we never foresaw or visualised the neutral or third-country umpires. We never thought the ICC would take over the umpiring aspect. But now I think it is good. The highest body has been taking care of the umpires, which is the need of the hour. We [umpires] also want somebody to look after our interests.
Right now there is not a single Indian umpire on the ICC elite panel. What does this signify?
We've one Indian umpire on the ICC panel for One-Day Internationals, but not on the elite panel. I don't know whether you know it or not, but the system to be on the ICC elite panel isn't in the respective boards' hands. It's purely in the hands of the ICC, which assesses your performance in the ODIs that you do here or abroad. Based on reports and all, you are promoted to the elite panel. Therefore the first idea of the BCCI should be to encourage competent persons and then expect them to do better; and then assess and review their performance.
But does it mean there are no world-class umpires in the country since there is not a single Indian on the ICC elite panel?
See, the problem here is that the ICC needs certain number of umpires on the elite panel. It gives contracts and retainers and all that. So it keeps a benchmark of certain percentage. It's like IIT, engineering or medical admission, where you've got cut-off marks. You are brilliant but you don't get a seat. It can happen to anybody. This is the system. Our idea is, if you are 92 percent good, and if your benchmark is 94 percent, you've to raise 2 percent more to become eligible to come into that category.
So it's a misconception that our umpires are bad. They are not bad. They may not reach a level which is required for obvious reasons. That may not be the current benchmark. But that is the mark. However, you can see that even there can be mistakes.
Do we really need the match referee when we have two umpires in the field with enough powers?
The match referee's job isn't just limited to the umpiring. He is the overseer for every other aspect of the game. There are other duties for him to perform. He is the overall in-charge of both the teams. Whenever there is a grey area, he can interpret in the best interest of the game. He assesses the umpires' performance, too, besides doing other duties. So it's always good to have the match referee.
Which, in your objective opinion, is more difficult for an umpire, Test cricket, one-day cricket or Twenty20?
Well, it's my personal opinion that it's easy to do one-day and Twenty20 matches but more difficult to do multiple number of days' games, including Tests. The true techniques of the batsmen and bowlers are decided in the longer version of the game. Similarly, the competence or otherwise of an umpire can be judged effectively in the five-day and four-day formats only because he has to give various decisions. Certain decisions, because you don't have time, won't come at all in a one-dayer, where you don't have to worry. And the people aren't worried about the runs going, negative tactics, and so on. All these things can't be done there [in the longer duration matches]. So the umpire's involvement is very, very limited. The only thing is he has to be physically fit, mentally alert.
Which has been your finest moment as an umpire?
Well, I never said I had bad moments because if there had been a mistake, there had been a mistake. The very nature of our job is such. But I always rate two Tests, both India versus Pakistan, at Bangalore in 1987 and Chennai in 1999 respectively. They were very close Tests and by a sheer coincidence India lost both of them by 12 runs. We could have won both of them. So they were always the finest moments, and also the top moments. For me as an umpire, Bangalore 1987 was very tough, Chennai 1999 was normal.
In 1987, the relationship between the two countries and their players wasn't good. The pitch was very bad. There was no match referee then. So all that contributed. But 1999 was totally a reversal. The relations between India and Pakistan were good. They were better between the players, too. There was technology and every other good thing. Though the result was the same, the experience was totally different. And that's why I single out these two particular Tests.
Did you ever have any bad experience during your umpiring career?
The worst experience was in the Duleep Trophy final between North Zone and West Zone at Jamshedpur in 1990-91, when Rashid Patel and the late Raman Lamba were involved in that infamous on-the-field fracas.
Did you ever receive abuses or verbal threats from individual players?
No, never. Dissent, fair enough. Disappointment, fine. Dissent and disappointment were always there but no personal abuses.
Who is the best umpire that you have ever seen?
Everybody is the best umpire in his own right. I don't single out any one in particular. At the moment I feel Simon Taufel is really good, not only because of his performance but also because of his commitment towards the game. Every era has had its own good umpires. We had Swaroop Kishen. We had Madhav Ghotaskar. Dickie Bird had been doing well. Tony Crafter from Australia was also good.