“Piloo was popular not only with the players, but also with the spectators for his unique way of signalling a boundary. He was one of the characters of the game and an extremely hardworking umpire.”
This is what batting legend Sunil Gavaskar wrote in the foreword to umpire Piloo Reporter’s autobiography, An Umpire Remembers. Reporter, who turns 75 today, hung his boots about a decade ago, but his passion for umpiring remains undiminished. Therefore it isn’t surprising to see the septuagenarian still making his way to various grounds to officiate games.
Sure, these matches don’t come under the Mumbai Cricket Association’s or Board of Control for Cricket in India’s umbrella, but that hardly bothers Reporter who shows the same enthusiasm for these ‘inter-department’ and ‘inter-office’ games as he did for the international and domestic fixtures which he handled in his long and illustrious career.
“I never looked at umpiring as a profession. It’s a passion that I cultivated as a youngster. I am still fascinated by it,” Reporter told MiD DAY yesterday on the eve of his landmark birthday. The memory of officiating his first Kanga League match in 1961 is still crystal clear in Reporter’s mind and so are the other encounters that followed over a span of four decades. “People talk about players preparing for matches in their own way.
Umpires too follow their own routine. And because I enjoyed myself so much, it’s not difficult to recall memorable incidents,” he says with a hearty
laugh. Among the many honours that came Reporter’s way, the one that stands out is where he along with VK Ramaswamy became the first neutral umpire to officiate in two Tests involving Pakistan and West Indies in 1986-87.
Prior to that, neutral umpires were involved in a game way back in 1912. “Before we made history, it had become routine for players of both teams to blame umpires for their defeat. There was a severe trust deficit, owing to which the experiment with neutral umpires was carried out.
Today, every Test has neutral umpires, so in a way, we were torchbearers to this development. But, I must say that people of Pakistan appreciated our efforts and also cheered for us in Karachi!” recalls Reporter.
Reporter was very popular with the way he signalled a four during the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The television commentators loved the way Reporter gesticulated as if he was signing his name in the air.
Though firm, he enjoyed a good relationship with stars like Richard Hadlee, Viv Richards, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad. In 1997, Richards even agreed to play in his benefit tie at Valsad, but unfortunately the game was washed out.
Cricket has experienced a veritable technological invasion since Reporter last officiated in an international game way back in 1993, but he is not a wee bit surprised. “I remember participating in a seminar at Mumbai in 1994 where I vouched for the increasing role of the third umpire. Through my experiences, I had come to the conclusion that technology could help the on-field umpires a great deal, so I backed it.”
Technology has indeed helped umpires, but it has also subjected them to a great deal of pressure. After all, their every move is open to scrutiny, something which was not the case before. Reporter feels the only solution to this problem is that umpires should be able to admit their mistakes.
“As far as I am concerned, there is nothing to be ashamed about. If a batsman can get out playing a bad shot, or a fielder can drop a sitter, umpires too should be given that little bit of space. After all, they are human beings too. But, they should make the best use of technology and be courageous enough to admit their mistakes.”
A major area of concern for the current crop of Indian umpires these days is that despite BCCI’s muscle and money power in world cricket, the International Cricket Council has refused to give any of them a seat in the Elite Panel. And although the scenario worries Reporter, he is not willing to hazard a guess as to where they are falling short.
“From what I have seen, we have talented umpires. So this issue is best left to the ICC to handle.” Umpiring today has become a full-time profession, unlike during Reporter’s heyday when he officiated in 14 Tests and 22 one-day internationals in a span of nine years between 1984-93. But there’s not the slightest trace of regret in his voice when asked if he would have preferred umpiring now.
“I would like to put it this way: There was a time when Indian film stars earned Rs 200 per day. Then, they began earning in thousands and now make crores. But does it make the contribution of the stars who earned Rs 200 any less worthy? I think not. Similarly, the number of games that are played today is enormous. There were not many opportunities then. But that’s how it was and I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Enough pointers for all those keen on enjoying a mighty successful career and moving on with the times!