Sunday, May 13, 2012

Madanagopal set for a big leap as an umpire

A combination of a strong work ethic that has been his trademark during his playing days, a passion for the game (that he has played for  over two decades) and a strong desire to uphold its values, a deep understanding of the rules of the game ( both in terms of the laws as well as the spirit of the game) and most importantly his ability to manage the game through his man-management strengths could see Madanagopal stay long on the international scene as an umpire, provided he receives the right kind of support and backing from the Board in the coming years.
Former Tamil Nadu Ranji Cricketer 37 year old J. Madanagopal is looking to achieve in ‘Umpiring’ what he could not as a player. His next cricketing ambition is to umpire at the highest level of the game while he continues to play cricket at the first division level in Chennai as well as mentor young cricketers.

His tryst with Umpiring began in a most unlikely of chats he had over the phone in what now seems to be a long time ago.

Way back in 2004, when he was playing a Ranji match, J. Madanagopal (Madan) got a surprise phone call from an old Vivekananda college team mate- Prabhu Balachandar (RBI). In the course of that conversation, the RBI player suggested to him to write the umpiring exam as Madan could spend the weekends in a useful way when he was away from playing the Ranji matches.

Taking the cue, Madanagopal gave it a shot and got through the examination with ease.

Over the next year, as he began to umpire some of the lower division matches, he realised that he had little knowledge on the finer aspects of umpiring. The turning point came when he attended a session taken by the then chairman of Umpires’ committee Mr. Radhakrishnan (Radha).

The passion with which Radha took those classes and the attention to detail immediately motivated Madan to take up umpiring lot more seriously than just the ‘weekend matches’.

At the end of that session, Madan decided that he would achieve in umpiring what he could possibly not during his playing days.

He quickly moved on to the next level passing through the BCCI conducted examination and made himself eligible to umpire matches that he had in years gone by played in ( Ranji Trophy).

In his very first year, umpiring a match involving Bengal, he impressed Sourav Ganguly with some bold decisions.
However, last season (2011-12), he umpired only a couple of Ranji matches. For a former Ranji player who seems to be committed to take up umpiring seriously,   opportunity to umpire just two matches in an entire Ranji season may not be the right kind of encouragement that one would expect from the Board though there seems to be an evaluation metric whereby the performance of all the umpires is monitored and the posting of matches seems to be based on that evaluation.

Madan has a fair knowledge of the game having played years of Ranji Trophy cricket, has been a good leader of men (having led his league team to the shield and helping his ‘young’ team members move up the ladder into the TN Ranji team), is quite articulate with good communication skills and seems to be a ‘learner’ of the game. 

He also has a strong work ethic and believes in following the ideals rather than taking short cuts to success.

Mr. Venkataraghavan, who heads the Board (Umpires Committee), refused to comment on Madanagopal and his future prospects citing reasons of being a Board Convener that does not allow him to comment on an individual umpire.

Talking over the phone from Calcutta just ahead of Chennai Super Kings' match against KKR, Mr. Kasi Viswanathan, Honorary Secretary, TNCA said, "Madanagopal was an excellent player both for Tamil Nadu and India Cements. As a player, he had a great attitude both on and off the field and that will stand him in good stead as an umpire. Madan is the best 'Cricketer turned Umpire' in the last 10-15years and he has the potential to reach the best in Umpiring. But it would be left to the Umpiring Committee of the BCCI to decide on how he is progressing as an umpire and provide opportunities accordingly."
One former cricketer sees him as an ideal coach to groom youngsters given both his knowledge of the game and his communication abilities.  Another cricketer points out that in 2decades of cricket he had not seen Madan dispute an umpiring decision even once, an indication of the respect he has had for the game as a sport and his regard for the umpires and the decisions they make.

For many young cricketers here in Chennai, Madan is one of the first names that spring to their mind even though there does not seem to be a direct connection between those cricketers and him- in terms of playing for the same club and the like. In all the conversations I had there was one common link- the fact that 
Madan would go out of the way to help out youngsters and guide them on their career. They are also of the view that his prime focus is on a strong work ethic.  

This work ethic is clearly evident when Madan is umpiring. Even when he is umpiring a fifth division match, he is seen at the ground at least 45minutes before the start of the match to perform the pre match duties of an umpire, never mind the fact that he is umpiring an inconsequential lower division match.

While he continues to play in the first division league in Madras, on the pretext of keeping himself fit ( though he has the option of not playing and thereby umpiring first division matches in the Chennai league), in the long run, Madan exhibits confidence that he will be able to  officiate at the highest level of the game.

Madanagopal is also one of the very few players from the Tamil Nadu Ranji team of the last 2-3decades who has taken up to Umpiring seriously ( though there has always been the talk of encouraging Former Ranji players to take up umpiring).

It would be interesting to watch as to how the TNCA as well as the BCCI provides support and encouragement for him to succeed in his endeavour. There have been instances of player turned coach, player turned selector and player turned administrator but very few successful examples of player turned umpire because this is one of the most difficult jobs in cricket and has almost always be seen as a thankless job.

On his part, it may be worth evaluating, this very year, the idea of umpiring first division cricket ( as against playing), matches that involve Ranji and Test players such as Badrinath, Dinesh Karthik Abhinav Mukund, Venugopal Rao and Piyush Chawla. For the moment, he seems to be letting got that opportunity in the interest of continuing to play local cricket.

But if he is serious about achieving national recognition in umpiring, it may be a sacrifice he will have to make sooner than later for he may have to spend a lot more time on the ground umpiring matches than playing or mentoring.
Madanagopal played over 25Ranji matches for Tamil Nadu scoring close to 2000runs. His elder brother Gokulakrishnan also played Ranji cricket and is currently the bowling coach of Tamil Nadu.


Anonymous said...

Lovely Prabhu we need people like him take care of at least the grass root level cricket...hope he doesn't get tangled in TNCA politics and BCCI politics...Wishing him Good Luck and looking forward to seeing him as a great coach and a able umpire...I am sure people like him will make people like me to come back and watch at least the local games....

Anonymous said...

lovely article on a great cricketer, person and of course now umpire!

Anonymous said...

Great story. Congrats and best wishes to Madan.

Anonymous said...

very nice.

didn't know he was the brother of gokul!

Anonymous said...

Excellent write up! About one of my favourite people in the cricketing circle! Very well written! Enjoyed reading it!

dinesh said...

Great story Prabhu. I remember J Madanagopal (& his brother Gokulakrishnan) from his Vivekananda days and I've watched him play a few matches in the USCA trophy (Is that the right name?) (RKM ground). I have lost touch with the domestic scene in chennai after I moved to the US. It's great to see people take the profession up with a lot of pride. Umpiring is a thankless job and only some one who has the game in his blood can do complete justice to the job. I wish Madanagpopal all success in his efforts.

Anonymous said...

Very well written article Prabhu

Hope the authorities do not mess with him

Unknown said...

Hey this is Johnson ur team mate those days