Almost 11 years ago, Janani Narayanan was discouraged from her quest to become a cricket umpire because of the lack of structure at the state and national level for women. A decade on, she has achieved a rare feat along with Vrinda Rathi with the duo named in the ICC Development Panel last week.
The 34-year-old Janani, a software engineer who hails from Chennai, cleared the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association state panel exam in 2015 and started officiating. Unlike men’s cricket, there were no established guidelines for women to pursue umpiring until a few years ago.
Janani tried to appear for exams in 2009 and 2012 but had to go home disappointed. “When I went to the TNCA in 2009 and asked for application forms, they were surprised and clueless,” she recollected. “They told me I was the first woman from the state to approach them for this purpose but they were not aware of the process. In 2015, the association had a system in place and I applied.”
In November 2018, Janani and Vrinda became the first set of Indian women umpires to officiate in the CK Nayudu Trophy — the BCCI’s U-23 competition for men. Since then, Janani has officiated in as many as 100 matches across formats in both the men’s and women’s category.
Treading into uncharted territory, she had her own challenges. With no background of playing the sport at any level, she had to overcome the doubts of people and prove to them that she could do the job. Secondly, because of the scarcity of women umpires, people were unsure if she would move up the ladder.
“There were a lot of ifs and buts because I haven’t played cricket and I’m a woman,” Janani explained.
“My main challenge was to prove them wrong. But gradually the perception changed with my performance. I also have to thank TNCA for creating a space to learn. When I first started, the committee had put me with experienced umpires to ease the pressure off me. In that way, I was also able to grow and overcome my feeling of nervousness.”
As far as the family goes, there was some initial hesitation because it was the road less taken and the monetary benefits — or the lack of it — attached to it. But passing the Level 2 umpiring exam of the BCCI in 2018 put an end to all their doubts. It was also the time when she quit her job with an IT company and focused entirely on umpiring.Having officiated in men’s and women’s matches at the age-group level, Janani feels there is a difference while covering these matches.
“Definitely. The pace of the game varies. Women’s matches are relatively slower. Some (umpires) take time to adjust to the pace. That apart, men appeal a lot and celebrate aggressively compared to women. And I feel I’m in my comfort zone in women’s matches,” said Janani, who also writes a blog on tennis.
After being inducted into the ICC development panel, she and Vrinda will be able to officiate at the international level and also in events like the U-19 World Cup, Women’s T20 World Cups and several ICC qualifying events.