Major sporting events are spectacles, and the role of an umpire is to ensure that the play happens within the laws of the game. This is precisely the outlook of 29-year-old Mumbai-based Vrinda Rathi, one of India’s first women umpires, who is now eligible to officiate cricket matches at the national level. It’s all about being a “facilitator of play” instead of a mere “mechanical enforcer of rules”, as she recently told The Times of India.
For the Navi Mumbai-based fitness coach who spends her weekends umpiring in the city’s dusty maidans officiating Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) matches, this is an opportunity of a lifetime.
Recently, she cleared the BCCI’s Level-2 Umpiring Exam, thus becoming eligible for umpiring in international women’s cricket and junior boys’ matches.
What drew this cricket enthusiast to the unforgiving life of an umpire?
It was a short stint as a scorer in the 2013 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, where she saw Kathy Cross, an international umpire who retired from the game earlier this year. At the time she was a scorer affiliated with the BCCI. After the World Cup, she underwent training and appeared for local and state-level umpiring exams.
“Umpiring requires you to hone your skills under the scorching sun. The job calls for both physical endurance and mental toughness. More than body language, communication and interpersonal skills, it’s astute decision-making that defines a good umpire,” says Rathi, in a conversation with The Times of India.
After passing her Level-2 exams, she will look to officiate at least 60 match days on an average, from September to April every season.
Although it isn’t necessary for an international umpire to have played the game at a professional level, she does have four years of experience playing for Mumbai University as a medium pacer.
Clearing the BCCI exam, which entailed written exams, a test of theoretical knowledge, alongside viva and practical tests, was a long two-year process for Rathi.
Once again, as any profession women enter for the first time, there were unfounded fears of her ability to officiate matches.
“When everyone around knows that you mean business at the centre of the field, your gender does not matter,” said Rathi, a commerce graduate, to the publication. Over time, however, she won the confidence of her other male “stakeholders”. Chennai’s N Janani is the other international woman umpire from India.
Moreover, Rathi believes that women are better suited to become umpires with their ability to remain patient over a prolonged period and what she calls “lack of rigidity”.
“Ego is something an umpire cannot afford,” she says. “Boys also control their aggression in [the] presence of women umpires.” As the sport grows more inclusive by the year, she believes that women’s cricket will reach the heights of the men’s game.
For Rathi ‘Madam’, her debut in an under-16 match between Mumbai and Puducherry will hopefully be a stepping stone towards many and bigger occasions.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)