LBW decision off last ball of 2019 IPL final was turning point in my career: Umpire Nitin Menon

Set to officiate for the record sixth time in the 2024 IPL final, the former MP cricketer is the lone Indian in the ICC Elite Panel of Umpires and will leave for the USA and Windies to officiate in his third T20 World Cup
Nitin Menon at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Hyderabad (Photo | Sri Loganathan Velmurugan)
Nitin Menon at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Hyderabad (Photo | Sri Loganathan Velmurugan)

HYDERABAD: Nitin Menon is the lone representative from the county in the ICC Elite Panel of Umpires. With the BCCI assigning him the responsibility to officiate in the 2024 IPL final, Menon, who hails from Indore, is on the verge of surpassing the record held by Australia's Simon Taufel. This will be his sixth consecutive IPL final, one more than Taufel. Menon has already officiated in two T20I World Cups and one ODI World Cup and is ready to officiate in the upcoming T20 World Cup in the USA and West Indies. He recently stood in his 100th IPL match between Gujarat and Bengaluru in Ahmedabad and is set to surpass S Venkataraghavan's record of 125 international matches as an on-field Indian umpire in the T20 World Cup.

Firoz Mirza, in an exclusive chat with the renowned umpire, got him the open up on topics like his best decisions, the life of an umpire and how technology is helping them evolve. Excerpts:

On your switch from domestic cricketer to umpire

When I was playing, till U-19 I was doing well. But when I went past that stage, the performances were not that good so I was dropped from the team. I was struggling to get a place in the Madhya Pradesh team. That time my father gave me advice that the BCCI was going to conduct examinations for umpires, so why don't you appear in it and have an alternative career. So I went ahead, took exams and cleared it. Actually, I found umpiring more challenging and more rewarding than playing cricket.

Nitin Menon at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Hyderabad (Photo | Sri Loganathan Velmurugan)
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On his thought process

I weighed all the pros and cons. It was not an easy decision as I had been playing cricket for 15 years. Suddenly you have to give up that. You have worked hard for 15 years and suddenly switching to another profession was not easy. Ultimately, I took the risk at 23. I took the risk and I can say that it has paid off.

On how he copes with his schedule

Like players, we have to travel a lot. But we are used to it now. When the domestic season starts, it's quite hectic. Because after games, you have to travel to different venues. But now we are used to that constant travelling. What I do is that once my game is finished, I actually don't go and watch live cricket again. Because once the game is over, it's done for me. The two-to-three-day gap that I get between games, I don't watch much cricket. That's my downtime, which helps me focus on the next game. So that break is something I cherish. I don't want to discuss or talk much about cricket during that time.

On his mental and physical fitness routines

During game time, when we stand for four to five days, 90 overs in a day, our fitness is automatically tested. Off the field, we hit the gym, do cardio and weight training, all those things. For mental fitness, I haven't done a lot of yoga or such activities, but for me, if I'm enjoying the game, then I'm automatically focused on it. I enjoy the game, and that keeps me mentally ready and prepared. As far as mental toughness or preparedness is concerned, I don't do anything extra. Enjoying the game keeps me positive and focused. I work out six days a week, alternating between cardio and weight training, especially focussing on lower body and core muscles. Standing six to seven hours requires strong legs and core. I keep Sundays free.

Nitin Menon at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Hyderabad (Photo | Sri Loganathan Velmurugan)
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When did you start doing physical exercises?

Since I was playing, I knew what to do and what not to do. There hasn't been a gap for me between playing and umpiring regarding fitness. My fitness schedule has always been ongoing.

On statistics, success rate of decisions and whether it puts you under pressure

When I walk onto the field, I don't think about getting decisions right or wrong. I focus on giving my best, and the results take care of themselves. So basically, I focus on my process and not the end result. Even if I make one or two errors in a game, it doesn't affect me too much. I understand it's part and parcel of my game. Being a human, I am bound to make errors. I focus more on the correct decisions I've made in various formats of the game. For me, that's the positive way of looking at things rather than focusing on errors I have committed. That makes me more aware and focused and keeps me motivated.

On remembering any incorrect decisions

For me, as I said, all errors are the same. I don't keep my errors in my mind because they are part and parcel of the game and I don't have to worry much about it. I learn from them and move on. I focus on the good decisions I've made, which helps me stay positive for future games.

On a decision you are proud of

Two decisions come to mind. The first was in the 2019 IPL final when CSK needed two runs off the last ball against MI in Hyderabad. CSK didn't have any reviews left. So for me to get that LBW decision right off the last ball bowled by Lasith Malinga was very important because if by any chance I had committed an error at point of time, CSK would have thought they lost the final because of me. It was a career-changing decision for me. In 2019, I was not part of the elite panel. I was just on the international panel of umpires. BCCI trusted me and thought I could do a good job in the IPL final. So it was a big moment for me. I am happy I could repay the faith the BCCI and IPL put in me. So that is the one decision I cherish.

The second decision was during the last Ashes when I gave Steve Smith not out for a run-out. There was a lot of criticism from a part of the commentary team saying how can I give that not out. Probably they were unaware of the law but I was very convinced and assured as the third umpire that the decision I am arriving at was as per the law.

On the law

The law is about the complete removal of the bail. The bail should be removed from both ends, not just one end. In that scenario, only one end of the bail was removed when Steve Smith was outside the crease, but when both ends came off, he was inside the crease. There was confusion among some players and spectators that it was out since one part of the bail was up. It was a challenging and crucial decision as Smith is one of the best players in the world. At that time, the match was in the balance. So I am very proud that I was able to make that decision. Throughout the process of making that decision I was very composed and confident that yes 'I was going in the right direction'.

On the reputation of players and if that plays a role in the decision-making process

Honestly, it has not affected me till now. I am sure if you ask other umpires, they will also say no. They don't think whether a big star is batting or a big star is bowling. For us, it's bat and ball, we just watch the ball and try to make the right decision without thinking about the players involved. If we think along those lines, then we will put more pressure on us and that might not be a good sign for umpires as that could make us more prone to errors.

On the role of technology in aiding the process

I love technology. It is very helpful because when I see my decisions getting stamped by the technology, I know I am watching the game, I am watching the ball correctly. I am hearing everything correctly. So when technology backs my decision, I get that self-assurance. Also sometimes, when you make a decision, there is a little doubt. Did I get it right or wrong? So when technology backs it, I know I am thinking in the right way, my perception is correct. Let's say even if I get a decision wrong and technology corrects me, it only helps me to understand I have to get better to get the decision right next time. The technology is there to help us.

On tech positively impacting umpires

One advantage is that technology corrects errors we might make on the field. But because of the technology, that error gets corrected so there is no animosity between umpires and players especially when it is a crucial stage of the match. So I think technology is very important and when a team has DRS, they can challenge the umpire's decision and when it gets corrected, everything is back to normal. There is no bad blood between umpires and players.

On watching videos

Not regularly, but sometimes I do. We get immediate feedback on the field through replays on the big screen or we can ask the third umpire what the technology is saying about that decision. So, generally, we don't have to go and see videos of the decisions we have made. But if I feel the need to do that I do it sometimes.

On your form going into the World Cup

I feel that I am in a good headspace going into the T20 World Cup because IPL is a big platform, a challenging tournament with a lot of pressure. A lot of big players playing here so if you officiate here and get most of the decisions right, it gives you confidence that I am watching the ball well, hearing it well despite the capacity crowd.

On hearing sounds in a full, noisy stadium

Sometimes we can hear the sounds despite the noise but sometimes we cannot, so we cannot guess. So for us, it's important to gather the clues, such as sounds, players' reactions, and trusting our eyes and ears. All these factors come into the picture when we make specific decisions like caught behind or an inside edge especially when it is full inside.

On getting the work-life balance

I don't get enough time with my family, but I do get some time. My family understands my job, they understand my job requires me to travel a lot. That's a big advantage for me because my father was also an umpire and used to play for MP, he was also on the road for most of the time. So from there, it has transferred to me. So the family understands it's a part and parcel of my job.

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