Express News Service
CHENNAI: Four years ago, Mahendra (name changed) was busy with a 9 to 5 job. The money he earned was good enough to run his family of three in one of India’s big metropolitan cities. He also happened to be a respected umpire in the Indian domestic circuit. In 2019 — a season after the number of participating teams in domestic circuit swelled to 38 teams — his employer gave him two options: leave the company or quit umpiring.
Mahendra picked his passion: umpiring. It also kept him in the game, something he had followed since his childhood. There was no professional contract, but Mahendra, by virtue of being a Grade A umpire – the highest category – would on an average take home between Rs 18-20 lakhs a season, which began in September and ended in March.
Then the pandemic happened. Domestic matches came to a halt. When the curtailed 2020/21 domestic season sans Ranji Trophy began in January and ended in March, he could officiate only around seven-and-a-half match days. “I got Rs 2,40,000 as Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s count only as half-a-day. Previous two seasons I got around Rs 18 lakh, but now this is all that I got. My family is now questioning my 2019 decision. I have to pay for my child’s education. Don’t forget the times we live in. I’m praying nobody in my family gets Covid because I will be ruined,” Mahendra said.
The story is similar for around 300 umpires and referees. While 20 Grade A umpires get Rs 40,000 per day for matches, others in Grade B, C and D and match referees get Rs 30,000 per day. Mahendra isn’t the only one who made this choice. Scores have left regular jobs to take up umpiring.
“When the number of teams increased to 38, the number of matches across age-groups for both genders was more than 2,000. The BCCI needed us. And though we were not given contracts, we gave up our jobs for umpiring. Last season, the BCCI couldn’t hold matches. We were not wanted anymore. Since we are not part of payrolls, we don’t get any money from BCCI,” says another umpire from the west zone.
Last week, the umpires, in a private WhatsApp group, even contemplated writing a letter to the BCCI, seeking compensation. Since the players were not compensated, they decided against it. Some were against the letter because they didn’t want to antagonise BCCI. “When KVP Rao (former general manager) was around, we knew who to approach. But now, we don’t know who to communicate with,” says an umpire with over 10 years of experience.
This newspaper is in possession of letters written by scorers and video analysts, who like umpires, too are lost. Scorers’ assignments are only local. Since only Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Indore, Surat, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi hosted matches, the rest of the scorers in the country have not received any pay. Each scorer gets Rs 10,000 per day and are assigned nearly 30 matches a season. One of the scorers, hailing from a town in southern India, has been going door-to-door to sell bangles.
“Had no choice but to sell bangles, because I’d to run my family. I planned to set up a shop, but where will I get the money? So selling bangles in the town kept my family afloat,” says the scorer, whose father is now admitted in a hospital. “I have borrowed from friends to pay the bills. Since the situation is tough, I can’t ask help,” he says.
Those match officials and umpires who have a job with state-run organisations are the only ones spared. They feel for their colleagues. “When BCCI needed them, they left their jobs and came because private companies didn’t sanction leaves. We are talking about 40-50 days. Last year, the BCCI didn’t need them so it left them in the lurch. Now if the season resumes and if the umpires turn their back and take up other jobs, where will the BCCI go?” asks a Grade A umpire with international experience.