Here comes another cricket tournament on the sub-continental radar, and let's face it, India will be all over the place. Apart from MS Dhoni and his boys in blue (in a cool new jersey now) riding in as one of the favourites to lift the trophy, nothing for a television viewer or a traveler will suggest that one is not in India, leave apart being too far from it.
Well, how different is Sri Lanka from India after all. Certainly not much (even if certain politicians think so) when it comes to the way we look, the way we cook - and that applies to both people and the pitches. And the passion for cricket, too, is the same.
And how can you possibly miss the galaxy of ads - from the top motorbike producers to paint makers, from telecom service providers to banks supporting the event, the Indian touch will be evident everywhere.
Then there will be the commentators' battery, again quite expectedly full of Indians. What more, reportedly, even Rahul Dravid may be seen in the box talking on this exciting format of cricket for the first time after retirement.
This scribe hasn't had the privilege of visiting the island nation, but has been told that there is no dearth of Indian food too, especially when such an event is in town.
But amidst all this Indian-ness that will flood the island nation over the 20-day gala, there will be one area, that too possibly the most vital one in cricket, after the players themselves, that'll have no Indian touch to it - the umpires' club. Not a single Indian name features among the men who'll take charge of the proceedings of the World T20.
Isn't that strange now? And this is not because no one has made the cut for the big tournament. But, the supposed seat of power in world cricket, India, doesn't have a single representative in ICC's Elite Panel of umpires. The last Indian to be in that list was S Venkatraghavan, that too way back in 2004.
India is often said to be arm-twisting the governing body's way of functioning due to its financial powers as a cricketing nation. On the other hand, India has time-and-again complained of being at the receiving end of another lobby within ICC, dominated primarily by England or Australia. But what about not having any umpire at the highest level when its team is among the top ones, not only in terms of financial power, but also on the basis of its performances? The selection can't also be blamed for partiality as Venkatraghavan is himself a part of it.
Why the void?
So, what is the reason behind such a void? Don't we have people with the right capabilities (well, at least the selection panel thinks so)? Or is it that in order to make our cricket team - and each member of it, the most marketable thing in India, nurturing umpires have taken a backseat. Or, was it ever a priority?
Well, that can't be said entirely. One is aware of BCCI getting together with Australia and South Africa's cricket boards over the past years to groom its umpires. Both these countries, especially Australia, have always produced top-rated umpires. Though India have had quite a few issues, and quite justifiably that too, with some of them in the past, their training methods are nonetheless admirable.
The country also has a training setup in Nagpur to groom umpires. Domestic matches are also being televised nowadays, giving an opportunity for local umpires to come to the fore, as well be scrutinized and rectified. Domestic umpires are even sent to other cricketing nations in order to get accustomed to various conditions and ways of umpiring.
So why is this dearth of men at the highest level? India coming down by one ranking point draws heavy criticism and so does Suresh Raina's dancing in front of short-pitched deliveries. Lack of quality pacers was a concern even till some time ago and Unmukt Chand's college matters today bothers cricketers. But isn't producing umpires fit to be even considered to be in the top league as good as a responsibility as it is to see that these under-19 boys actually go on to play a part in India cricketing future?
Perks to pursue
Simon Taufel has changed the perception that a pot-belly is a prerequisite, and Billy Bowden shows that it's not only the players who can have fun in the middle. A considerable pay-revision by ICC some time ago was thought to be a motivation for more former players and youngsters to take up umpiring seriously. But clearly that doesn't seem to have been the case.
Whatever may be reason, it surely isn't a good feeling not to have any Indian representative in the umpires group of such a high profile event. Remember, it's cricket. It's like not having someone from Ghana at a world coffee convention. And if we are of the opinion that "what's the fuss about not having an Indian umpire in the World T20", well, then it clearly answers 'why we actually don't have any'.
The 12 ICC Elite Panel umpires who'll preside over the World T20 are:
Billy Bowden, Aleem Dar, Steve Davis, Kumar Dharmasena, Marais Erasmus, Ian Gould, Tony Hill, Richard Kettleborough, Nigel Llong, Asad Rauf, Simon Taufel and Rod Tucker, along with Bruce Oxenford of the Emirates International Panel of ICC Umpires.