Piloo Reporter (right) was one of India’s finest umpires © Getty Images
Piloo Reporter (right) was one of India’s finest umpires © Getty Images

Along with VK Ramaswamy, Piloo Reporter was the first neutral Test umpire since 1912. Unlike most men in white coats, Reporter stood out as a character, making him extremely lovable to players and fans alike. Abhishek Mukherjee met up with one of India’s finest umpires — also a man with razor-sharp memory. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

It has been ages since the ICC elite panel of umpires has had an Indian representative, which perhaps says a thing or two. This is in stark contrast with the 1980s, what with the presence of the likes of Swaroop Kishen, Madhav Gothoskar, Ram Babu Gupta, Dara Dotiwala, and VK Ramaswamy on the fray.

And then, there was Piloo Dara Reporter (“PD” to the cricket fraternity), one of those men who made watching cricket a delight. He was diligent, unwavering, accurate, and made watching cricket fun. His popularity among cricketers made some refer to him as the “Dickie Bird of India”, while his antics (Henry Blofeld described Reporter’s signalling of a boundary as “The Milkshake”, and Richard Hadlee said he was “signing his autograph on the shot”) would have brought a smile or two on the face of Billy Bowden fans.

There was no compromise on quality, either: Reporter and Ramaswamy who were recommended by Imran Khan as the first neutral umpires since 1912 for a home series between Pakistan and West Indies in 1986-87. Not only was Reporter near-infallible, he could also control proceedings and get a grip on cricketers the way few men in the white coat could.

Reporter stood in 14 Tests and 22 ODIs, including 7 matches in World Cup 1992. His love for umpiring was well-known: he had to retire at 65 according to the regulations set by BCCI, but umpired at various locations in club and office matches. Even as late as in his 75th year he stood in a match between judges (“I judged the judges”, he later joked).

It was a cold autumn afternoon when I reached his place in Thane. The 76-year old man himself walked down the stairs to meet me. His ramrod spine put my 37-year old frame to shame, and I struggled to keep up with him. He is more than twice your age, I told myself, so no “reporter meets Reporter” puns.

I sat down opposite him, and what followed was one of the most intriguing conversations I have had on the sport. Here are a few excerpts:

CricketCountry (CC): What prompted you to take up umpiring?

Piloo Reporter (PR): I had always wanted to become an umpire. As soon as I found an opportunity to stand as umpire I would go for it. Even if I played a match and my side was batting, I volunteered to become an umpire till four or five wickets fell. Later on I became an opening batsman; I played with full concentration, but as soon as I got out I went back to umpiring! In fact, even my opponents wanted me to officiate over matches. Umpiring was fun for me.

CC: So nobody motivated you to become an umpire?

PR: No, no. I was very happy doing what I was doing. However, Mr Ahmed Mamsa [who stood in 6 Tests] was an inspiration. We stood together in many domestic matches in the 1970s. The fact that Mr Mamsa was my inspiration is a bit odd, since he was the most reserved umpire you would come across.

CC: These days there are strict fitness regimes umpires need to undergo, but how did you prepare yourself before big matches? What kind of physical exercises did you do?

PR (smiles): I never exercised, and neither did I believe in diet restrictions. But I used to walk, and walk for miles. Till a few days back I used to walk home from Thane Station [which is a reasonable distance]. If you really need more exercise, I cannot think of anything more demanding than commuting from Thane to South Bombay by train on a regular basis.

CC: How did you keep your concentration going, day in and day out, especially during Tests? Did you do anything special to improve your concentration levels?

PR: My only addiction has been tea. The attendants knew of my affinity towards tea. In fact, I drank two full cups of steaming tea at tea-breaks (smiles). If you ask me, that was all that kept me going and helped to concentrate.

CC: Which was the first major cricket match for you?

PR: That was the Test at Brabourne Stadium against West Indies in 1948-49. They played two Tests on that tour on that ground. I went for the second. Unfortunately, I had to go to school on Day Five, so I missed the drama of the last day’s play when Vijay Hazare, Rusi Modi, and Dattu Phadkar scored all those runs and the umpire [Bapu Joshi] called off play before time and also miscounted the number of balls.

[On that day, chasing 361 India were 355 for 8. There was still a minute and a half left (which meant another over could be sneaked in), and a ball left in that over. Dattu Phadkar would definitely have gone for it the next over. There were multiple outcomes possible, but Joshi stole the show, not only by calling a five-ball over but also taking the bails off, leading to an anticlimax.]

CC: Talk us through your journey. How did you qualify for Kanga League?

PR (smiles): I used to work at the Maharashtra State Electricity Board when BCA [Bombay Cricket Association] put up an advertisement. They wanted new umpires. I was only 22, but I decided to apply. I went up to CCI [Cricket Club of India]. They told me all I needed were a working knowledge of English and the laws — they did not even ask about my experience! So I acquired a rulebook (for one rupee), and scored 69% in the test for cricket laws after a five-day preparation. Unfortunately, the pass-mark was 80%.

Then I was called up one day and asked, “Do you want to umpire?” I was so excited! It turned out that someone had actually pulled out of a match and they needed a standby. I did not have a white coat, so rushed to someone I knew. Fortunately, he had not one, but two coats, and gave one to me. Thus the goal of my life, my ambition, everything was fulfilled. The next year I sat for the tests again. This time I passed! I was paid five rupees per match including everything. These days they get Rs 1,200 a match!

I remember one match where Dadar Union was playing. They were a very strong side those days. Madhav Mantri was their captain, and they also had the likes of Naren Tamhane, Ramnath Kenny, and Vithal Patil in their line-up. I was new to the circuit. Those days the rule said that in case of rain you had to start the match by 2.30; we inspected and started the match at 2 PM. The last pair of the opposition had to bat the last 15 minutes; they kept on appealing, but none of them were legitimate, and I could not give out. Mantri looked angry on the field, but once the match was over he found me and said: “Thank you very much! Keep it up! Very well done!” And I had heard he was a very tough guy and always called a spade a spade!

CC: But you continued with your day job.

PR: Yes. There is a story about my marriage, though. A girl and her family were coming to see us one day. They wanted to leave early in daylight for the sake of safety. Unfortunately, I was officiating in a match that day, so I was caught in double minds. Fortunately for me, the date got postponed, and we met. We are still married.

CC: Then Ranji Trophy happened.

PR: This is an interesting story. There was a conference of 20 umpires in Calcutta. I was sharing a room with [Ram] Punjabi. It turned out that all of them — Swaroop Kishen, Dotiwala — had failed. The pass marks were 90. I was one of the two who had passed the test. In fact, I topped the exam, and guess what? It was also Parsee New Year!

I was past thirty when I officiated in my first Ranji Trophy match, though I had to pass a round of medical tests. Those days the junior umpires were usually given one match a season (that too the zonal matches, not the knock-outs), but along with the match between Bombay and Gujarat I also got to officiate in the match between Bengal and Bihar at Eden Gardens in my first season!

I got to know after the match the visiting captain [Nari Contractor] had enquired about me. He could not believe it was my first match; I had been so confident he had apparently thought I was in my tenth match, or more.

Piloo Reporter
Even at 75, Piloo Reporter remains as energetic as ever. Photo courtesy: Abhishek Mukherjee

CC: Then international matches happened.

PR: Yes. My first international match was a historic one. It was the first day-night match ODI on Indian soil. In fact, I was the only person to stand in the first two floodlit ODIs in India — against Australia in 1984-85 and against South Africa in 1991-92. My first Test came just after the first ODI, against England at Delhi, but on a different ground [Kotla]. My match fee was Rs 3,500.

During my first Test there was a slight hold-up. Mike Gatting was standing close to me, and asked me whether this was my first Test as umpire. I immediately responded that it indeed was, and hoped that it was not the last.

CC: You and VK Ramaswamy were the first neutral umpires since 1912. You were recommended by Imran Khan, despite the arch rivalry between the two countries. You had won many a heart in Pakistan. What was that like?

PR: In fact, we missed the first Test of the series, because Rajiv Gandhi [then also in charge of external affairs] was out of country at that time. Then BCCI called me one day. Obviously there were no mobile phones in India at that time. I was officiating at Shivaji Park Gymkhana; my wife called up the Gymkhana and informed me.

I called BCCI immediately. “Do you have a passport?” they asked. When I said I did not, I was asked to obtain one expeditiously. I was helped in the procedure, of course, and the passport was acquired in two days flat.

We were treated royally in Pakistan. The people were unbelievably warm to us. Whenever we tried to buy anything they refused to take money, since we were already known as “Indian umpires” out there. There were a few words against neutral umpires in the newspapers, mostly from Pakistani umpires like Shakoor Rana, but barring that everything was fine. We were still a bit circumspect, but after an incident at Lahore, we eased in.

I was standing at square-leg, and suddenly there was this huge cry in a female voice, “Mohsin Khan, you naughty boy, what did you do to Reena Roy?” which was reciprocated by a substantial female chanting. Mohsin was not even batting at that point of time. I turned back at the source, and immediately the chorus changed: “Bambai se aaya umpire, umpire ko salaam karo” [“the umpires have come from Bombay, please salute them”]. When I did not turn, they kept on chanting “Palat, palat” [“Turn, turn”] till I obliged.

CC: So the tour was a successful one.

PR: Oh yes. Do you know what happened? Ramaswamy and I were having lunch at the ground one day when news came that someone wanted to meet us. It turned out to be Shakoor Rana: would you believe it? “I know I have said a lot of things, but once you’re here, you are my guest,” he said, and took us around the city in his car for the next few days. He was an excellent host.

CC: You had a reputation for handling players, even legends, on the field when things got out of hand. Can you name a few?

PR: I remember this Test at Wankhede in 1987-88, when there was an issue when the West Indians appealed incessantly towards the end. Situations turned ugly when a wicket was not given, and it took me effort to cool Courtney Walsh down. However, Viv Richards was not happy.

[Trailing by 56, India were 132 for 7 when Arshad Ayub joined Dilip Vengsarkar. They batted for 68 minutes before Courtney Walsh mopped up the tail, but there was not enough time for West Indies to chase the target down.]

Things turned murky in the next Test at Eden Gardens, my favourite ground. Viv was unhappy over another incident. There was a hold-up, and eventually Ram Babu Gupta and I realised the only way out was to talk to him — something not many people liked to do when Viv was in an angry mood. When he saw me approaching, he stood with his back to me.

I asked, “What are you doing? Don’t they call you King?”

He was a bit surprised. He turned to me and said, “Hey maan, I am not of royal descent.”

I suggested, “But you can always act like one!”

That helped melt the ice. The series carried on without further incident, and whenever we have met, Viv has given me a bear hug.

There was another incident in Sharjah [in 1990-91] during a match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Pakistan were bowled out cheaply, but were trying to make a match out of it. They went all out, and both Ramaswamy and I had to call wide when they strayed [26 wides were called in all].

Imran was not happy and uttered a few not-too-polite words. I was not amused. I told him, “I did not come all the way from India to listen to all this. I will talk to your manager,” and started leaving the ground. It was Javed Miandad who stopped me from leaving; Imran apologised, and the match went on.

CC: Not all umpires have signature styles, but you had a distinct style of signalling a boundary — one that had been referred as Milkshake by Henry Blofeld. How did you develop that?

PR: Oh, that. I always wanted to do something different, so I decided to do the four-signal very fast. It was quick and effective. Other than that Blofeld comment, Richard Hadlee said that I signed my autograph on the four!

CC: You were a strong advocate against chucking. Your calling of Suresh Luthra are well-known. How do you think this can be resolved?

PR: I think the bowlers should be warned at a younger age. When we eventually see them they are mostly past the age of being corrected. Look at Saeed Ajmal; it is unfair that nobody said anything when he grew up, then suddenly one day, at 35, he realised he was facing ban. That is not fair.

CC: This is an intriguing question [for us mortals]. If someone of the pace of Malcolm Marshall, Patrick Patterson, or Allan Donald is bowling, how do you check for the front foot as well as what happened after the ball was released?

PR: It is indeed difficult. The first few balls were very difficult, but after that I looked at the foot with the corner of the eye. The position of the front foot became almost implanted in my brain after that, so whenever there was the slightest deviation from that it registered. It was difficult, but with practice you achieve that.

CC: There have been substantial technological improvements to assist umpires since 1992. In fact, they have advanced so much that the minutest umpiring errors are being spotted these days. Do you think umpires feel insecure because of this?

PR: If I was out there, I would take it as a challenge! So what if I am scrutinised? Why will I ever make an error? But then, I always referred to the third umpire whenever I had a doubt in my mind since the concept started. There have been seminars on Doordarshan when I had lauded the innovation when others were too conservative. Look at the advancements they have made now with all this technology! Today’s generation would not even believe that there was a time when there was no third umpire. Why not try out the best technology when you have it at your disposal?

CC: Any regrets?

PR: No, none at all. Given a chance I would want to be an umpire again.

***

It took me some time to realise that hours had passed, and I must have overstayed my visit. I repeatedly asked him not to, but he insisted he saw me off, down the stairs, out of the gate of the complex, on the road, to the main crossing… does he ever tire, this man?

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)