Please tell us about yourself
Her demure presence amongst a bastion of male cricketers on the field is a surprising sight. Though menacing bowlers keep hollering around her for wickets at regular intervals, she remains unfazed, knowing that her word is final. For 20-year-old Revathi N, being one of the very few female umpires in Indian cricket is an achievement that only few can boast of.
Boundaries were pushed back and a glass ceiling was broken as Revathi Natarajan walked out on to the Indian Institute of Science’s Gymkhana Ground on Tuesday. The occasion was a KSCA divisional match and, despite being the only woman on field, Revathi was to play a significant role — she was one of the two on-field umpires for the day-long proceedings.
Revathi is the first woman umpire from Karnataka. Earlier this year, she appeared for, and cleared the BCCI’s Level I exam for umpires. A graduate in chemical engineering — she passed out from BMC Engineering College last year — Revathi could easily have chosen a white-collar job had she preferred it. Cricket, however, was her calling.
Before every match, she slips out from her trendy jeans and tees to a sparkling white shirt and neatly-ironed black trousers, a norm she has been religiously following for the last two years. Her interest in umpiring took form thanks to her father, Ramachandran Natrajan, a former cricketer and a serving umpire. “I always wanted to be a cricketer but then my dad pushed my brother more towards cricket and me towards umpiring. It took some time before I started liking it,” says Revathi.
But umpiring at such a young age? “Well, there’s nothing better than starting young,” Revathi grinned.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
“Cricket is a hobby and I chose a career in umpiring out of sheer passion and interest,” Revathi said.
“My dad has been a constant support in helping me learn the nuances of umpiring. One gets a whole new sense of responsibility that you have to handle 22 avid cricketers, aspiring to win, with your presence of mind and your knowledge of the game,” said Revathi, who is officiating at the KSCA girl’s inter-school tournament.
Although cricket runs in the family, it was still hard work convincing her folks at home, despite having the support of her father, a former divisional player and an umpire.
“Natarajan, my dad, was a cricketer and he later switched over to officiating in cricket matches. It was he who inspired me to take up umpiring as a profession. Initially there were objections from other family members, but now they are all proud and supportive of my work.”
There were the obvious obstacles which this youngster had to surmount. For example, while her younger brother was allowed to join a cricket academy, she was forced to stay indoors. But such biases failed to douse her spirit and after her graduation Revathi decided to dedicate herself to the task of making it big in the cricketing field.
Tell us about your journey
The going gets tough on a match day, tells Revathi, as she has to shuttle between BMS College of Engineering and the venues. “My college hardly knows that I’m an umpire. Bunking classes becomes a real pain as I would have lot of catching up to do. But then it’s fun, though I wonder what my college will have to say about this,” the third-year engineering student laughed.
The most tedious part, Revathi recollects, was to learn the BCCI rule book for umpires. “Memorising all those complex rules was really a gruelling process, but, thankfully my dad made things easier,” she said.
Of the 80-odd examinees, Revathi was among the handful that cleared the exams without a hitch.
“My first match was along with my dad at the Cottonian Shield tourney. I was really nervous and had a few minor bloopers but my dad helped calm my jitters,” she said.
So will her venture coax other girls to take up umpiring as a profession? “Well, it’s hard to say. It’s a somewhat a rough road, but not one that can’t be attempted.
“It’s kind of different to see a woman out there as one has to realise that not everyone is going to like you being there,” Revathi said. With a woman umpire around, the appeals tend to get excessive and the cricketers also resort to arguments. Revathi says it’s all about how you face it.
How has the experience been?
“I have officiated in 20 matches so far,” she said. “I see every match as a new experience and there is always something new to learn. Though I am surrounded by men, I hardly feel uncomfortable while discharging my duties. Sometimes when players do go out of control and shout, I take it all calmly. After all an umpire should always be cool.”
What are skills needed to be an umpire?
“A clear and composed mind can be a big asset in controlling heated arguments and appeals. Sometimes I may have made the same errors as any other umpire, but since I am a woman they may remember mine more. Luckily, nothing like that has happened to me till now,” Revathi added.
What are your future plans?
Revathi, however, claims that she still has a long way to go.
“You qualify to officiate in BCCI matches only after working in state-level matches and after clearing an exam. There are exams at three levels and I am happy to have passed the first level. I’m now waiting to clear the Level II exam. Once I clear the BCCI exam, I will be eligible to officiate in first class matches. My dream is to officiate international matches.”