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Former international umpire Simon Taufel during an interview in Dubai on Tuesday. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Umpires get the best seat on the ground other than the non-striker, but that comes at a huge price. The men in black and white could become targets in modern-day cricket when the ball turns into a missile with the power generated by the hi-tech bats.

“I feared for my life when Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle and David Warner were batting,” former international umpire Simon Taufel told Gulf News during an exclusive chat after launching the ICC Academy Umpire Accreditation Programme at the Dubai International Stadium on Tuesday.

“Nine times out of 10 you can see the ball coming and you can move, but the real danger is the one that gets deflected off the bowler,” the Australian five-time ICC Umpire of the Year said while speaking on a wide-range of topics, including the umpiring course for the beginners and the Level 1 aspirants.

Embarrassing incident

In the 87 Tests, 221 One Day Internationals and 42 Twenty20 Internationals he has officiated, Taufel remembers the only time he was hit by a shot, that too when he was at square leg. Recounting the embarrassing incident, the 51-year-old said: “Andrew Strauss played a pull shot and I am thinking it’s going to miss, but it hit me in the middle of my chest. I felt very embarrassed as I cost Straussy four runs,” he said. What followed was even worse. “At the end of the over, Shaun Pollock comes to me after bowling and put his South African cap on my head and said welcome to my team.”

Umpires and umpiring decisions have been the talking point for several decades and it has only gotten louder with the introduction of the technology. Taufel, however, firmly believes that human error is part and parcel of the game and doesn’t want it to be replaced by technology any further.

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Simon Taufel holds the ICC Umpire of the Year award in Dubai in 2008. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

“It depends on how you look at the use of technology. If we look at the positives, technology shows how many good things the umpires do. If on an average you have over 90 per cent correct, then that’s’ a good number. When we look at the DRS, the players get it right about 25 per cent. Who is the better umpire — the player of the umpire? Technology can show what the umpiring is, so my view is technology should not replace the umpire, but should be a support to the umpire. I want the umpires call to stay.”

And one of the reasons to get the percentage high is through proper training for the umpires, which is what he is aiming to do with the online course. The Australian also feels every player should have done a umpiring course if he aims to play out his professional career strategically.

“Umpires are craving for new resources and support. They want to know how they can start the umpiring journey and if they have already, they want to know how they can improve their skills and start something in representative umpiring. And this course is a good way to start their journey or improve their skills,” he said, adding that cricket is a human game and umpires will always make mistakes.

Then how can you minimise those errors? “This is an art, not a science. The best way to improve your decision-making percentage and improve your performance is by constant improvement. Try to make every game your best game. Use your self-assessment and feedback from the last game and take that forward into this game. Always use the mistakes as a learning opportunity to get better one game at a time,” Taufel added. He also felt that a constructive feedback from the captains will help towards that in a great way.

Constructive feedback is necessary

“We learn from our mistakes more than we do from our successes. The best captain I got a feedback from is Mark Taylor, because his feedback was constructive. What did I do well, where I was falling down and so on. Lots of captains will tell that you missed two LBWs and three caught behinds. That’s not helpful feedback. That’s an aspect through one’s lens.”

Taufel, who had a decorated career when he won the top award for the umpires five times, says one of the reasons for his success is to approach the game emotionally detached from the game.

“I didn’t worry too much if Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara or Ricky Ponting is at the other end, or Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath or Muttiah Muralitharan bowling from my end. For me, it is about doing my job to the best of my abilities. I want to offer my best service to the players. That’s my style. So I don’t want to get into any fan-boy moments with legends of the game,” he said of his success formula.

But Taufel still had his fan-boy moment. “There was one moment in the IPL, which I remember in Mumbai. I stood back and saw Sachin Tendulkar coming out with Ricky Ponting to open the innings. You just stand and think how good it is with the whole stadium full of crowd. You have to respect that moment, I had to snap back. Though I have the best seat in the stadium, they expect me to do my job.”

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Ziyaad Parker, Simon Taufel and Salman Hanif during the launch of the ICC Academy Umpire Accreditation Programme at the Dubai International Stadium on Tuesday. Image Credit: Supplied

Jogging down memory lane, Taufel still remembers some of the best knocks by Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar. However, the numerous errors still haunt him.

“When India played Sri Lanka in Hobart, Virat Kohli, early in his career, scored 130 something. Every ball he hit was in the middle of the bat. It was a chanceless innings and you just marvel about the innings and you feel something special about this particular player,” Taufel said.

Chasing 321 in 50 overs in the Commonwealth Bank Series, Kohli led the run-chase with an unbeaten 133 to guide India to the target in 36.4 overs in February 2012.

Battle scars

Similarly, he saw two different Tendulkar on two days. “In Hamilton against New Zealand, Sachin came in late in the day and looked terrible. The following morning, he comes out and blasts a hundred and looked a completely different batter. Every shot in the middle. When I asked him ‘What was the difference? he said ‘I just changed my bat’.”

After the happy memories, Taufel revealed how deeply he is hurt when he spoke about the wrong decisions.

“The other memories that stick in my mind are all my mistakes, like battle scars. I remember all of my big mistakes, like early in my career when I gave Darren Ganga out incorrectly to McGrath at SCG. I couldn’t understand how I missed the inside edge. I have given Sachin out a couple of times incorrectly and some of the bowling decisions wrong resulting in batsmen going on to score hundreds,” Taufel concluded.

Effective and efficient decision makers

Salman Hanif, Head of Cricket Business ICC Academy, said on the umpiring course: “We, at the ICC Academy as the global centre of excellence with world-class facilities and infrastructure, remain cognizant that programmes offered align with our core values, and in this instance to develop effective and efficient decision makers that manage and oversee the game. After many long months of planning and analysing, our team is excited to bring the ‘ICC Academy Umpire Accreditation Program’ to fruition.”

Mubashshir Usmani, General Secretary Emirates Cricket Board, said: “Emirates Cricket is encouraged by the steps and commitment taken by the ICC Academy and Simon in devising this programme, which will create a stronger, more competent group that officiate the game, (and) we wish them every success in ensuring the role of the umpire is upheld to the highest standards available.”