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There was hardly any room for error when he was on the field. Off the field too umpire Simon Taufel was immaculate and precise with his answers when he was asked about his life after umpiring. Be it his camaraderie with players, his want to give a lot more to the gentleman’s game or professing his love for butter chicken and butter naan, we got stumped by the ump in this free flowing chat with IPLT20.com
You started off as a medium pacer in your playing days; how did umpiring come into the picture?
I stopped playing due to a back injury, and then I just went along to do an umpiring course. I wanted to earn some extra cash on a Saturday afternoon, and it went from my hobby to a part-time job. And how lucky am I!
Why did you call it quits when you were at your peak?
I chose to do something different. I thought I had done enough in umpiring and I wanted to help the sport in another way. I had exhausted myself as much as I could in the world of umpiring. So now I have taken on a performance and training role, which is really worthwhile. I was not giving up something; I just chose to do something else.
And how is your new role of an umpire performance and training manager?
I love it! I have been on the job for nearly a year and a half and I cannot believe how quickly it has gone by. We have only just scratched the surface and I am very lucky to be working with a great team of fellow coaches and other umpires.
With the game changing at such a rapid pace, how does an umpire keep himself in sync?
One of our big focuses is to keep pace with the game. Playing conditions will always keep changing, technology and third umpire tools will keep changing, and it is extremely difficult to manage up to seven or eight sets of playing conditions at a time with the different formats that you might be umpiring. Umpiring is not easy, and it was never designed to be easy. It is a part of the job.
Who has the tougher job – the on-field umpires or the third umpire?
I think being a third umpire is the toughest job. You have to manage the match, support the on-field umpires and work with various forms of technology with the expectation that you cannot get anything wrong. People forget the odd mistake on the field, but they do not forget a third umpire’s mistake.
Bowlers and batsmen have brought about a lot of innovation in their game. How challenging is it to be an umpire when you have spinners like Sunil Narine or an R Ashwin bowling at batsmen? Have you picked the doosra yourself?
It is very challenging. It is as challenging for the umpire as it is for the batsmen. If a batsman is struggling to hit the ball in the middle, it is challenging for the umpire to get his decisions right. But the point is I do not watch the ball out of the bowler’s hand. I watch the batsman. Also, a part of our programme is to go to the nets, look at players bowl and plan accordingly.
Do players or teams ask umpires for advice regarding certain nuances of their game? Any incident that you can recall?
Occasionally teams might ask you for advice. Mohammad Yousuf was one guy who would always come down the non-striker’s end and ask you, “Am I falling too much across.” I am actually surprised why many coaches do not ask the umpires what they thought about certain things, because they have got the best view.
How do you react when you see someone like a Chris Gayle hitting a ball towards you? Do umpires need protective gear?
(Laughs)It has been spoken about and I hope that day does not come. Some umpires have considered it though. You do need protective gear when you see guys like Chris Gayle, David Warner and Virender Sehwag bat the way they do. Cricket bats these days are so powerful that the first thought that comes to your mind is to get out of the way.
How difficult is it to give caught behind decisions or listen to faint edges in a jam-packed stadium?
Extremely difficult, and if I go back to that one-day series between India and Pakistan in 2004, it was tough to even hear someone standing beside you. The stadium was packed to capacity and it gets difficult to hear the players, leave alone your faint edges. I challenge any cricket lover to stand in the middle at Wankhede Stadium and try to make a caught behind decision.
What has been your funniest moment on the cricket field?
Watching Daryl Harper chase a dog out of the field. They were going around in circles and you could not understand who was chasing whom.
What was your first reaction when you saw Billy Bowden on the field doing his customary steps?
I went like, “GEE, WHAT IS THAT! Certainly not the way I was brought up.”
Do you follow any IPL team? Do you have a personal favorite?
Unfortunately, I do not have a passion for cricket the way I used to now that I am a match official. So you almost become more clinical in what you do and how you do it. You do not appreciate the skills of cricket; I just watch the umpires and stick to facts.
What is the best thing about umpiring?
The best thing about umpiring is the challenge, the job satisfaction and walking off the field at the end of the day after giving your best; also, being part of international cricket at the highest level and working with some great athletes. It is a great journey of self discovery, being able to compete at the highest level in different countries and you learn a lot about yourself.
A good leader strives to build a team of individuals who will readily line up in front of a raging truck for him. And every team longs for a leader who would take the first position in that line. How one follows can tell a great deal about how he would lead.
Here’s a little story. Before he was about to make his captaincy debut for India, in the 2010 home ODI series against New Zealand, Gautam Gambhir was asked if he would continue to field at the perilous forward short-leg position – at which he took many a blow to his knees – even when he is the captain. Gambhir smiled and said, “Yes, I will”. Sure enough, he did. Not only for India but also for his IPL franchise, Kolkata Knight Riders. It were small yet significant things like this that should be credited for KKR’s surge to the IPL title in 2012. Gambhir led by an example and his team followed.
Now, as he prepares to lead them in another season of IPL, Gambhir is pretty pleased with the squad that KKR have formed in the 2014 Player Auction.
In an interview with iplt20.com, the KKR captain spoke about the new buys of the franchise and gave an insight into his leadership methods.
What is your overall take on the players procured by KKR in the auction?
I’m very happy with what we have got. I believe that when you select a player, you do it knowing that he can win you matches. Therefore, I believe that all 21 players we have picked are match-winners. I did seek a few players in particular and have got most of them. I would not like to name them here but overall I am quite pleased with the squad we have.
In the last couple of years we have seen that slow bowling has been KKR’s strength. Was it an agenda to get some genuine quickies in Morne Morkel, Pat Cummins and Umesh Yadav?
We have had quality pacers like Brett Lee, Marchant de Lange, James Pattinson and Ryan McLaren in our ranks in the past. Since we play most of our matches at Eden Gardens, where the wicket is slow and low, we generally field a spin-heavy attack. That must have given people the perception that we rely a bit too much on the slower bowlers.
Was the strengthening of pace department done also keeping in mind that IPL may move overseas this year?
I am a firm believer that it’s the bowlers who win you matches, no matter the format. As a captain, I am a big fan of having raw pace at my disposal because when you are quick through the air, the surface becomes irrelevant. Yes, at the back of my mind, I was thinking on the lines of having an appropriate pace attack in case the tournament moves to South Africa. However, now that we are playing in the UAE and India, we still have all bases covered.
Wrist spinners are often at the receiving end in T20 cricket. What was the reason behind investing so much on Piyush Chawla?
Wrist spinners are wicket-takers and we thought it would be good to have one. Also, until the last year we had young spinners like Sarabjeet Ladda and Iqbal Abdullah but this time we wanted a more experienced hand. Besides, Piyush can also give us some handy runs down the order.
Do you reckon that the 2014 auction has created a sort of level playing field for all franchises?
That’s right. This auction seems to have worked for every franchise, whether they wished to retain the core group of players – like MI and CSK did – or decided to form a team from the scratch, like DD. There was an equal opportunity for all teams to pick players of their choice.
How important was it for you to get Yuvraj Singh in your team? His bid price went up by Rs. 4 crore after KKR started bidding for him.
Yuvi is a match-winner, a once in a lifetime player. We wanted him badly as he could have been a real game-changer for us. I met him after the auction and told him he should thank KKR for those extra 4 crore he got after aggressive bidding from us. But yes, with Yuvraj in their ranks joining the likes of Virat Kohli – who has been batting like a dream –, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, RCB are now a real batting powerhouse
Now let’s talk about your captaincy. We have seen you invest a lot of time in the nets with youngsters during IPL. Is it your way of giving something back to the game?
I believe that being a leader off the field is as important as being a captain on it. Off the field leadership includes aligning a player to the ideology of the team, helping him ease into the group and dispel any doubts he might have by having a heart-to-heart chat with the player. This is what I try to do while speaking with youngsters during practice sessions. Besides, I have had a career filled with highs and lows and I believe I can help the younger players by sharing my experiences with them. If he is going through a tough situation that I have faced earlier, it might help him to know how I dealt with it.
You always emphasize on team over individuals but there is no denying of the fact that individuals make the team. How important is defining roles so the team works in cohesion?
It is very important, especially so in a tournament like the IPL where a dressing room consists of people from varied cricketing cultures. As a player it becomes easier for you to contribute when you know exactly what the team expects from you. I am a great believer in team cultures and I think defining the specific roles provides a good base for having a positive team environment. At KKR we stress on individual leadership and encourage players to not only lead themselves but also small groups within the team. I believe that every system is judged by the legacy of the leaders it creates.
You are not very good in hiding your emotions on the field. Is that something you want to change or will we always see an expressive Gautam on the field?
Yes, I tend to be pretty candid about my feelings both on and off the field. That’s how I have always lived my life – I say things like I see them and feel about them. The second thing is, I want to win at all costs and that, at times, leads to heated situations on the field. My methods of leading a team are pretty straightforward. Rather than beating about the bush, I like to explicitly state exactly what I expect from my players. For instance, while leading Delhi in this year’s Ranji Trophy, I made it very clear to the batsmen that since we were playing most matches on green-tops, the onus would be on us to lay platforms for the bowlers. I don’t look for individual goals or brilliance but rather try to create a situation where the team benefits from every individual’s actions.