Despite being the butt of many a joke, the good-humoured Swaroop Kishen took everything in his stride; his authoritative presence ensured, he was in control out there    Getty Images
He was the butt of many a joke, but Swaroop Kishen (accumulating more calories here) took everything in his stride; his authoritative presence ensured he was in control out there Getty Images

Swaroop Kishen Reu, born July 13, 1930, was one of the finest umpires India had produced in the pre-technology era. A giant in every sense of the word, Swaroop Kishen stood in 17 Tests and 6 ODIs, and was universally respected in the cricket fraternity. Abhishek Mukherjee pays tribute to the eventful career of the Kashmiri Pandit who once shared the record for officiating in most Tests on Indian soil.

You could not miss Swaroop Kishen on a cricket ground, and it was not only because of his humongous bulk. Competent, authoritative ( he once put Imran Khan in his place , wrote Wisden), and usually correct, he was a familiar face whenever a Test was played on Indian soil.

His bulk, almost certainly greater than David Shepherd s in a later era, made him one of the most recognised personalities of contemporary cricket. Harry Pearson wrote that Swaroop Kishen was so wide he could easily have doubled as a sightscreen .

The newspapers, obviously, had field days with puns. Words like heavyweight , adding weight to it and throwing his weight around became popular while referring to him. Not that he minded, for he could take the odd joke or two, even if they were aimed at his rotund appearance.

When Teresa McLean wrote The Men in White Coats in 1987, the dust-jacket carried a rear view of Swaroop Kishen. Wisden wrote that his huge girth lending him a Sydney Greenstreet profile . His immensity, combined with the unmistakably coloured lips thanks to hours of chewing tobacco, was difficult to miss.

And yet, it was not always about umpiring or his sheer presence. Few have had careers so eventful. Almost every single one of his 23 international matches (17 Tests and 6 ODIs) had an event of some sort, thus making his international career one of the most curious ones.

Civil unrest on debut

Swaroop Kishen debuted at Chinnaswamy in 1978-79 when Alvin Kallicharran s men toured India. It was an intensely fought battle in which fortune swung every now and then, and the scene was set for an intense fifth day, with West Indies 266 ahead with 2 wickets in hand.

Then Indira Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister, was arrested and expelled from the Parliament, leading to civil unrest. The fifth day s play was called off.

Too soft, perhaps

The next opportunity came a month later. Set to chase 125, India were reduced to 17 for 3 and then 84 for 6 before Kapil Dev saw them through. The West Indian fast bowlers, Sylvester Clarke, Norbert Phillip, and Vanburn Holder bounced throughout the match, while Kapil and Karsan Ghavri were not exactly reluctant to hit back.

Neither Swaroop Kishen nor debutant Jiban Ghosh intervened, and both received criticism from the media.

Bizarre denial

All seemed right when Kim Hughes Australians came to India the following winter. Swaroop Kishen stood in a high-scoring Test in Madras. Then came the Calcutta Test.

India were 1-0 up going into the 5th match of a 6-Test series. Hughes set India 247 in 255 minutes, and Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan got off to a solid start, adding 52 in 73 minutes. Even after Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, and Gundappa Viswanath fell in quick succession, Yashpal Sharma added 53 with Chauhan.

But once Chauhan fell, Yashpal and Narasimha Rao curiously shut shop. The last 75 minutes curiously saw only 77 being added. Given that India batted deep, the reluctance on a pitch that offered scant turn was perhaps a bit odd.

Apian invasion

Swaroop Kishen s next Test was in Bangalore, against Pakistan, and there was a bee invasion, forcing the cricketers and his colleague Madhav Gothoskar to fling themselves to the ground.

Wisden mentioned that Swaroop, his fellow umpire and the players had to throw themselves to the ground when swarms of bees raided the stadium.

Controversies and a record crowd

Swaroop Kishen had the misfortune of standing in 3 Tests in the excruciatingly boring 1981-82 series between England and India. The hosts won the first Test at Bombay before reducing the rest of the series to a yawnathon, ensuring draws in every single of the remaining 5 Tests.

India won the Bombay Test thanks to a fifty from Gavaskar and five-fors from Kapil, Madan Lal, and Dilip Doshi. However, the British media were not impressed by the umpiring of Swaroop Kishen and KB Ramaswami.

David Gower s first-innings run out had triggered the temper. Two very close leg-before decisions in the second innings of David Gower and Keith Fletcher opened the floodgates. The media referred to the slight-figured Ramaswami and the generously built Swaroop Kishen as The Little and Large Show .

Despite that, Calcutta provided an exceptional turnover. The crowd of 394,000 was a world record at that time.

The day Gavaskar sat still

Controversy came the way of Swaroop Kishen and Gothoskar in the Bangalore Test of 1983-84 against Pakistan. Once again, it was a drab affair, with the third innings starting on the last afternoon.

Gavaskar raced to 84 by the 14th mandatory over. Then, as the clock ticked past scheduled time and the cut-off of 77 overs for the day had been met, Zaheer Abbas led his side out without even informing the umpires.

But Gavaskar would have none of it, for there was a hundred up for grabs. He sat down next to the pitch with his partner Anshuman Gaekwad, refusing to budge. One of the Board officials asked us to tell Gavaskar to retire from Test cricket if he had to scrounge for his Test centuries in this manner, wrote Gothoskar much later.

Swaroop Kishen and Gothoskar were eventually forced to issue Zaheer a warning: if Pakistan did not return, they would have to forfeit the match.

So they returned, Gavaskar got his hundred, and that was that.

Handling the ball

Swaroop Kishen stood in 12 Tests before witnessing an Indian defeat in the 13th, at Kanpur in 1983-84. On that occasion, Malcolm Marshall first scored 92, and then ran through the Indian line-up with 4 for 19 and 4 for 47 in two astonishing spells of fast bowling.

The most iconic moment of the match was Gavaskar s bat being knocked out of his hands by Marshall.

He stood in 3 more Tests that series: while at Calcutta he saw India being bowled out for 241 and 90, he also witnessed Gavaskar register 236 not out at Madras, setting a new Indian record and going past Don Bradman s world record of 29 centuries.

In between these two, he gave Desmond Haynes out handling the ball at Bombay. In fact, when Kapil appealed, Gothoskar, standing at bowler s end, asked Kapil whether he wanted to withdraw the appeal. He refused, and much to the chagrin of Gothoskar, Swaroop Kishen backed Kapil s act.

In Runs n Ruins, a book on the twin home series of Pakistan and West Indies mentioned above, Gavaskar called Swaroop Kishen and Gothoskar the two best Indian umpires.

Gavaskar would again shower praise on him when he wrote the foreword to Gothoskar s The Burning Finger: If only Mr Swaroop Kishan [sic] had been the umpire in my last Test innings, perhaps the story of that Test would have been different.

Gavaskar was indeed controversially given out caught by Rizwan-uz-Zaman at slip, probably off his pad, off Iqbal Qasim, for 96. India lost the Test by 16 runs, and with it, the series.

Rounding up

Four months after the Madras Test, he stood at Sharjah in an ODI between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with Dickie Bird. The match was significant in more ways than one: not only was it the first match on Sharjah Cricket Ground, it was also the first ever Asia Cup match.

When he stood in his final Test, against England at Bombay that winter, he equalled the Indian record of 17th Test, a feat he shared with B Satyaji Rao. However, his 6 ODIs gave him the edge.

He stood in 74 First-Class matches in all, between 1968-69 and 1984-85. The Bombay Test against England was his last appearance. The previous season he had also officiated in a Women s Test, between India Women and Australia Women at Delhi.

In 1986, Swaroop Kishen became the first umpire to be honoured with the Padma Shri.

The man

Swaroop Kishen was born in a family of Kashmiri Pandits of Srinagar, to Tej Kishen Reu and Dulari Zadu. The family moved to Delhi after Tej Kishen got a job for Indian Railways. They settled down at 1835 Mohalla Imli, Chowk Mubarak Shah, near Bazaar Sita Ram.

They had three sons, Gyan Nath, Swaroop Kishen, and Iqbal Kishen. While Gyan Nath worked in the Delhi Post & Telegraph Department, Iqbal Kishen deserves special mention. He first worked for Indian Railways before becoming a kul purohit (family priest) for high-profile Indian families.

In 1996, Iqbal Kishen solemnised the wedding act between Robert Vadra and Indira Gandhi s granddaughter Priyanka (oh, the irony!). He was linked to All India Kashmiri Samaj, and was very close to Justice Pratap Narain Bakshi, their founder President. He was also instrumental in training Pandit Jeevan Dar of Allahabad.

Swaroop Kishen took to cricket from an early age, keeping wickets at Delhi University. He became a lawyer, and worked at the Accountant General of India. He retired as Accounts Officer.

He cycled to work, which was a spectacle to behold: Wisden commented that a cycling Swaroop Kishen resembled folds of flesh raping the bicycle.

He had married Sunita Handoo in 1960; the pair had three sons, Sanjeev, Sunil, and Susheel. Expectedly a food connoisseur, he was also an excellent cook, specialising in Kashmiri cuisine. Soft-spoken and blessed with an excellent sense of humour, he led a tranquil retired life in Delhi.

Swaroop Kishen Reu died of cancer on November 21, 1992, in Delhi. He was 62. Indian Test Cricket has lost a lot of weight. Last month, Swaroop Kishen, the heavyweight, all-rounder umpire who has supervised the maximum number of Test matches, bowed beneath the weight of his 55 years, wrote India Today in his obituary.

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