Saturday, August 17, 2013

S Ravi set for Umpiring Test Debut

Ravi took up to umpiring at 19 to take care of his monthly expenses. 25years later, he is now in ICC’s Emerging Panel 1 with the potential to be on the Elite Panel
First Umpire from Tamil Nadu after Venkataraghavan to officiate in a Test Match

S Ravi, who began umpiring at the age of 19years in 1985, is all to make his Umpiring Test debut in October this year when he will officiate in the Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka Test Series, becoming the first umpire from Madras after S Venkataraghavan to officiate in a Test Match.

My first insights into Ravi date back to July of 1987 a period when he would finish his first division league match and come to the Somasundaram ground in T. Nagar for long hours of chat with his set of friends - those discussions would always include a debate on how he got out that day or how he bowled at the match. Those fiery conversations also included topics such as : ' Should great batsmen wear helmets' - Richards never wore one all his life would be one part of the argument for the evening. Those days he also played tennis ball cricket under the lights for Jolly CC.

I first saw him umpiring in 1989 in a college match between Vivekananda College and Pachaiyappas College at the Vivekananda College ground.  The thing that struck me that day was the serious way in which he went about his job.  No match was an ordinary match for him. He was just 23 then, but it was always a No- Nonsense approach to umpiring. During that phase he adopted an aggressive and authoritative style of umpiring. And come what may, he always stood by his decision and very rarely one could argue (and win) with him in those days.

A year later I was with him in Bangalore in a not so memorable match at the IISC ground. Captaining the YMCA TSR team against Chemplast in the Brijesh Patel conducted annual summer tournament, Ravi, normally a safe fielder, dropped a sitter at slip when Sadagopan Ramesh (still in his teens then) had just come to the crease. Ramesh went on to score a century securing victory for Chemplast. 

(Over 15years later, the two of us played together in a fifth division league match and he helped the team with a fighting unbeaten knock that secured victory for our team. Despite having got away from active league cricket, he showed his commitment and determination in this match, a quality that has kept him in good stead in umpiring as well)

2nd Youngest to pass the Umpiring examination in TN
Interestingly, Ravi who started playing 3rd division league cricket when he was in Class 8, wrote and passed the umpiring exam when he was just 19years old, not an age that one would normally associate with umpires in India, driven by the need to earn some money to meet his monthly expenses!!! He is also the 2nd youngest in Madras to pass the umpiring exam after R Radhakrishnan (who did so when he was just 18years).

That decision to get into umpiring in 1985 to earn a few bucks has paid rich dividends almost three decades later.

In India, in the 1980s and 90s, the conduct of Ranji examination used to take place almost only once a decade!!! And hence, though Ravi started umpiring from his teens, it was not until the end of the 1990s that he had the real opportunity to get through the Board exam.

As a player, through the 1980s, Ravi was a solid bat scoring over 500runs in 3out of the 6years of 1st division cricket. He was also a competent left arm spinner. However, destiny had it that he would achieve international success as an umpire than a player. Having got a secure bank job with RBI, Ravi's focus slowly began shifting from playing to umpiring.

Authoritative and Arrogant
The first half of the 1990s was spent umpiring first division and college matches. Throughout that period, Ravi’s strict and authoritative ‘rule book’ model and his strong knowledge of the laws of the game was often on display. Once in a league match involving India Cements, he refused a substitute after lunch for an injured Rahul Dravid (he was already playing for India at that time) on the grounds that the ball had not touched Dravid’s hands even once in the first session of play leaving Dravid furious for the rest of the match about Ravi's interpretation of the rule book (well over a decade later Ravi failed to give a leg side wide in an IPL match involving Rajasthan Royals infuriating Dravid once again).

In another match in the 1990s, Ravi suspended SBI’s wicket keeper batsman CK Venkatraman for abusing his umpiring colleague for an LBW decision that went against the SBI batsman, something that was rarely done in those days in the local league and almost never heard off against a batsman. SBI had to field with ten for the rest of the match, despite strong protests against Ravi's approach.

On these two occasions and many others involving on many occasions VB Chandrasekar, Ravi firmly stood by his decisions that largely marked the first phase of his umpiring career- authoritative decision making bordering on arrogance. It did not matter to him the greatness of the players involved in the game. For most part, he went by the rule book. 

Turning Point in his career
The turning point for Ravi came when he came into serious contact with R. Radhakrishnan (Board Umpire and the then Chairman of the TNCA Umpiring committee) in the 2nd half of the 90s. And that changed Ravi’s perspective of umpiring, one that was to mellow him down dramatically over the next decade.

It was Radha who inspired Ravi to take the next big leap in umpiring - from a league umpire in Madras to taking up the Board exam and getting into the next phase of umpiring.  It was from Radha that Ravi learnt the ‘match management’ skills that is so crucial for an umpire. Radha would spend hours with Ravi and soon became his mentor helping him come out in flying colours in the Board exam. From the initial interactions of those days, Radha was confident that Ravi had it in him to make it big in the international league.

Ranji Debut and Umpiring Mistake
Ravi umpired his first Ranji Trophy game (Saurashtra v Maharastra) in December 1999, a good 14years after becoming an umpire. It was a then existing system in India that did not assist good /exceptional umpires come up the grade faster.
The first morning of that game in Pune was an eventful one for Ravi- first he lifted his finger to send off Saurashtra captain Kotak caught behind when the ball had hit the batsman’s shoulder - the batsman almost refused to leave the crease. But before lunch, he had given an outstanding decision negativing a caught behind appeal that led the Maharashtra skipper Shantanu Sugwekar to give him a 1-1 verdict during the lunch break (both were not out!!).  However, his decisions caught the attention of the media and he was all over the place the next morning.

Over the next 7-8years, Ravi continued to umpire Board games but he had to wait until 2008 for the real break.

The launch of the IPL in 2008 got Ravi exposure for the first time with Elite international umpires. That season he was the fourth umpire in 7games. Later that season, he got an opportunity to umpire the first four matches of the Ranji season and broke into the top 30 umpires list in India, a gradation system that had just been introduced for the first time in India for domestic umpires. It was also the first time that Venkataraghavan sat one on one with Ravi to review his season’s performance and gave him a clean chit.

Within a couple of years after the gradation system, Ravi had shot up into the top 7umpires list. 

In 2009, Ravi made his first overseas trip to South Africa for IPL 2. He had good exposure there getting 5 onfield games.  A year later Ravi went to South Africa as part of the exchange programme, where he umpired two Super Sports games.He also went on an exchange programme to the UK to umpire county games there. As part of his moving up the league, Ravi also officiated in the U19 World Cup that was held last year in Australia. 

Bold Decisions continue
Ravi’s bold decision making skills that was a feature of his early umpiring years, were in full display in the IPL match involving KKR when he made the crucial end of match no ball call as a square leg umpire (for having only 3men inside the circle), a decision that made McCullum furious. Ravi stood by his decision, one that was later endorsed by everyone and appreciated all around.

It was also Ravi, who as the TV umpire gave Dhoni out on 99, another decision that showcased his fearless umpiring skills.

Ravi’s association with Simon Taufel          
In December 2012, ICC appointed Taufel as the mentor for the Indian umpires on the ICC panel. And that was a God sent gift for Ravi. If Radha was the first mentor for Ravi in the first phase of his life helping Ravi get national recognition, Taufel was to now play the role that could take Ravi into the highest pinnacle of umpiring. Over the last 9months, Taufel has been a great source of strength through constant interactions and motivational sessions that has helped transform Ravi’s mindset to equip him face the high pressures of international umpiring.

A constant learner
A thing that has remained constant in Ravi’s umpiring career has been his ability to learn from every game and to give every game its importance. Despite being into the ICC panel ( and he will soon be boarding a flight to the UK), Ravi was seen this week umpiring a first round of Buchi Babu Match at the IIT Chemplast ground in an endeavour to keep in touch with the game and to see each game as an opportunity to learn and improve, a quality that will stand him in good stead as he moves into his most important phase of his umpiring career over the next 12months.

Biggest moment in his cricketing career
While Ravi’s biggest moment yet in his cricketing career will come in a few months when he makes his international Test Debut in October this year, he has a more pressing immediate engagement coming up a fortnight from now. He will fly into England end of this month to officiate in the high profile one day series between England and Australia that will take place after the 5th test at Oval.

The next one year is crucial for Ravi. If he comes through the next one year unscathed, there is a good chance he will get into the next higher league and jump into the Elite Panel. If that happens, it will just be the icing on the cake for the man from 'Kodambakkam and Besant Nagar' who got into umpiring to meet his monthly expenses way back in 1985.


1979- Makes his debut for UFCC T Nagar in a league match

1984- First Division for YMA

1984-85- Qualifies as an umpire

1989 – Joins RBI (where he has been for the last 24years)

 1996- Has his first real lessons from his Umpiring Mentor Radhakrishnan

1996-97- Becomes a Board Umpire

1999-  Officiates in his first Ranji match

2008- Fourth Umpire in IPL - I matches

2011- International One day debut

2012- Umpires in his home ground (Chepauk) the India v Pak one dayer

Coming Up
September 2013 - England v Australia One Series in England

October 2013 - Test Debut in Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka series


SR said...

Best Wishes to Mr Ravi!! Hope to see him officiating in the Ashes near future!!

Anonymous said...

vividly remember ravi's progress as an UMP!

RECALL he bowled fastish left arm spinners,and on matting , on his day was quite the DEREK UNDEREWOOD kind!

steadfast,stonewaller as an opener too!

may be reckoned early that he did not quite have the fitness to aspire higher as a player in a political infested state,he chucked his hat in the ring to do the hard yards as an ump. at an early age..that he was RBI helped him, given he did not have to worry about job security etc etc..
having stood and excelled n the heat of many a sr. div encounter,he shaped his tough methods,and being a player himself,he knew the value of fitness too!

He could not have worked longer n a tough circuit,where tempers flared and tension reigned unabated!

good luck to ravi and kudos to you too prabhu for the effort to highlight the path of an un-glamourous aspirant to a real underrated,thankless role!


Anonymous said...

Interesting journey and a nice read.

Hope Mr Ravi becomes the role model for many aspiring TN umpires and improves the quality of umpiring in domestic games.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Prabhu...brings back memories of Somasundaram...infact you should write about Somasundaram grounds which had shaped up so many cricketers.

Early days were Reddy, Selvakumar, Venkatesh, (RBI Gang) followed by Nitin, Ganesh, Gautham and then Bharathan, Ramesh and Ravi.....Great days....cant beleive it has been 20 years...

Congrats Ravi and Thanks Prabhu


Anonymous said...

Great reading.
Very inspiring.

Please convey to Mr.Ravi my best wishes and my Prayers for his success.