Technology shouldn’t be to replace umpires: Simon Taufel
“In that moment when we are in the van and bullets are hitting our vehicle and people are dying in it, the side of the door opens. We are on the ground and we can’t see what is going on and we don’t want to put our head up for fear of getting shot.” Simon Taufel relived those moments from 2009 in Lahore when he was crouched in foetal position on the floor of the match officials’ van as it and the Sri Lanka team bus were sprayed by bullets. Then, Taufel said what he drew from the experience.
“When the van door opened, he (umpire Steve Davis) thought they are coming to kill us. I thought they are coming to save us,” says the five-time winner of the best umpire’s award given by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
“We can see the same event and we think differently and that doesn’t make either right or wrong. We need to respect the other person’s point of view, be more accepting of that and somehow come to an agreement,” says Taufel.
That and other transferrable soft skills—as Taufel calls them—is what his book, ‘Finding The Gaps’, which he is touring India with, is about. Given his day job from 1999 to 2012 when he retired from international duties—umpiring now is about standing at the Bradman Oval in Bowral, Australia; and on October 26 he supervised from both ends—Taufel is equipped to talk about pressure. And one of his ways of dealing was to put it back on the player.
“If you have got a bowler who is getting close to the frontline all the time, Shaun Pollock was a classic example. I would say, ‘Shaun, if you take a wicket now, I am going upstairs (to the third umpire).
“I would tell him to keep me out of the game as I don’t want to call for no-ball. That is putting the pressure back on the player,” he says.
“I would also tell players there is a match referee upstairs looking to take 50% of you (in match fees). That this is your first and final call for a waist-high no-ball. If you do that again, you are out, don’t put me in that situation. That is proactive umpiring. Effective leadership is about solving problems before they happen.”
Taufel, 48, says there is a need to be on guard against technology because “it has the potential to breed mediocrity.”
A match official’s job is to make decisions, “and they need strong technique to get into positions to make them. Technology should be there as a safety net not to replace those skills.”
His preparations for games centred on checklists. “I learnt from pilots, they are very much checklist driven. I had a checklist for about everything: local game or international game because that would include medication, passport and visa. I had a ground inspection checklist, a match day checklist which included my match day goals listing things that I wanted to work on. And when I left the umpires room, I had a checklist at the bottom of which were three things: cap, counter (to keep track of deliveries per over) and courage. They were things I always took to the field with me.”
Another constant companion was feedback—from players, the match referee and umpires. Taufel says not always were people as honest as they could have been. “But it is fair to say that one of things I learnt throughout my career was about handling mistakes and handling brutal honesty better. If I had my career over again, what I would do is actually talk more about my mistakes in a group environment rather than take them back to my hotel room and deal with it myself,” says Taufel who was a match referee in the last Caribbean Premier League.
The umpires are the third team and expectations on them are higher than the players, says Taufel, adding that he finds it interesting that India, with its population and participation in cricket, does not have a representative in the ICC Elite Panel. “Every element of the game needs investment, not just the players. If you look to every full member country and you looked at how many umpire coaches they had and looked at resources and management related to officiating and you compared that with a first-class team, you might be surprised to look at the imbalance between the investment in the performance development of that first-class team compared to a national officiating structure,” he says.
But how do Australia, where Taufel is from, have three representatives in the Elite Panel? “They invest more. In Australia, you have a dedicated national umpiring coach, a dedicated training manager, a full time manager, full-time logistics people. Then, you have a transparent system of selection, transparent system of assessment. So you give yourself a very good chance,” says Taufel. The Elite Panel has 12 umpires including four from England and one each from Pakistan, West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.