Please tell us about yourself

Twenty-nine-year-old Vrinda Rathi is not offended when teenage boys sometimes call her ‘Sir’. It’s not a comment on her short hair or her gender-blurring camouflage of black pants and white-full-sleeved T-shirt but, quite simply, a matter of habit.

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Women umpires are a rare presence on Mumbai’s testosterone-heavy maidans, so such slips of the tongue are inevitable. When they happen, Rathi maintains the same stoic calm that she does in the face of shrill appealing. Her umpire personality is less Billy Bowden and more Kumar Dharmasena but, for someone who likes to be the least visible person on the field, the spotlight is about to get harsher than Mumbai’s October sun.

Major sporting events are spectacles, and the role of an umpire is to ensure that the play happens within the laws of the game. This is precisely the outlook of 29-year-old Mumbai-based Vrinda Rathi, one of India’s first women umpires, who is now eligible to officiate cricket matches at the national level. It’s all about being a “facilitator of play” instead of a mere “mechanical enforcer of rules”, as she recently told The Times of India.

For the Navi Mumbai-based fitness coach who spends her weekends umpiring in the city’s dusty maidans officiating Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) matches, this is an opportunity of a lifetime.

Recently, she cleared the BCCI’s Level-2 Umpiring Exam, thus becoming eligible for umpiring in international women’s cricket and junior boys’ matches.

What did you study?

Last month, Rathi—a Navi-Mumbai-based fitness coach whose weekends disappear in a hot blur of scoring and umpiring for local cricket matches—cleared BCCI’s Level 2 umpiring exam which, along with Chennai’s N Janani, makes her one of India’s first women umpires who can officiate matches at the national level. Apart from well-intentioned ribbing from her uncles who are conspiring to “fix matches” and “travel for free”, this success brings Rathi—who has been officiating Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) matches since 2013—the chance to umpire in women’s cricket matches and junior boys’ matches across India. The jump in her pay is of the kind that makes years of bladder control on the job seem worth it. “It’s a substantial raise,” says Rathi, who measures her words with the zeal of a score-keeper. “But with that comes great responsibility to prove your worth.”

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

It was a short stint as a scorer in the 2013 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, where she saw Kathy Cross, an international umpire who retired from the game earlier this year. At the time she was a scorer affiliated with the BCCI. After the World Cup, she underwent training and appeared for local and state-level umpiring exams.

What are the skills needed to become an Umpire?

“Umpiring requires you to hone your skills under the scorching sun. The job calls for both physical endurance and mental toughness. More than body language, communication and interpersonal skills, it’s astute decision-making that defines a good umpire,” says Rathi, in a conversation with The Times of India.

After passing her Level-2 exams, she will look to officiate at least 60 match days on an average, from September to April every season.

Although it isn’t necessary for an international umpire to have played the game at a professional level, she does have four years of experience playing for Mumbai University as a medium pacer.

Clearing the BCCI exam, which entailed written exams, a test of theoretical knowledge, alongside viva and practical tests, was a long two-year process for Rathi.

Once again, as any profession women enter for the first time, there were unfounded fears of her ability to officiate matches.

“When everyone around knows that you mean business at the centre of the field, your gender does not matter,” said Rathi, a commerce graduate, to the publication. Over time, however, she won the confidence of her other male “stakeholders”. Chennai’s N Janani is the other international woman umpire from India.

Your thoughts as a woman umpire?

Moreover, Rathi believes that women are better suited to become umpires with their ability to remain patient over a prolonged period and what she calls “lack of rigidity”.

“Ego is something an umpire cannot afford,” she says. “Boys also control their aggression in [the] presence of women umpires.” As the sport grows more inclusive by the year, she believes that women’s cricket will reach the heights of the men’s game.

For Rathi ‘Madam’, her debut in an under-16 match between Mumbai and Puducherry will hopefully be a stepping stone towards many and bigger occasions.