One on one with Asoka de Silva

Published: Wednesday, July 2, 2003, 18:23 [IST]
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One on one with Asoka de Silva
In my recent tour to the beautiful island nation of Sri Lanka I was fortunate to have met among many lovely people a soft-spoken, mild mannered gentleman answering to the name of Asoka de Silva. Needs no introduction.

He is the no emotions involved, deadpan faced umpire bearing the brunt of the very aggressive and very competitive world of international cricket. Always under microscopic analysis and doing a thankless job, I always wondered whether these umpires ever enjoyed their chosen profession.

This is perhaps why I decided to meet Asoka and find out what goes on in his life and profession.

Asoka, like S Venkatraghavan and Peter Willey, is an international cricketer turned umpire. Now, that all three were bowlers is just a coincidence. They played for their country when the benefit of doubt was always in favour of the batsman and the bowler was made to toil hard and suffer. Even when a close decision was to go in favour of the bowler, the batsman threw tantrums and made spectators believe the umpire was wrong and the bowler did not deserve the wicket.

When they are donning the coats, technology is on hand to assist them make many a decision. Does this make their jobs easy? Lets find out.

One on one with Asoka de Silva

'I am fighting without a sword while the television technology arms the commentator and viewers with a top, side and all kinds of views along with slowmo (slow motion) replays with zoom-in facilities. The umpire has to rely totally on his naked eye and make on the spot decisions,' says Ashoka.

Mind you, when a decision is referred to the third umpire, it is never a spontaneous response. There are several replays from different angles and only then does the 'armed with technology' third umpire make a decision.

Like some umpires, most commentators are former cricketers. Asoka feels they should be very practical in airing their views on the television about any umpiring decision that is detected by 'technology' as wrong. Regarding the mat for the LBW decision which is used currently, he feels the precision with which the technician mounts the mat is crucial for accuracy.

In a Test match, it has to be correctly mounted on all 5 days - neither an inch higher or lower nor an inch to the side which can result in displaying an inaccurate line analysis. Technology and television are inevitable and highly essential he says and adds that though it mounts a lot of pressure on the umpire it also brings with it a lot of benefits. One thing for sure is that the players cannot escape by laying the blame on the umpire.

Asoka feels all umpires, being human, make mistakes. At the end of his career, if he has a ninety five per cent accuracy record he will be satisfied.

When asked what kind of preparation is required before an important game he said an analysis of the ground and pitch conditions, the teams involved and their track record and a picture of individual player profile in the mind is essential. He adds umpiring is akin to meditation with total focus on your subject.

He revealed that for an umpire the game begins the day prior to the match as the umpires take charge of the ground. Thus, the umpire is not hesitant to make a decision even if it is the very first ball of the game.

Being an international player gives him the added advantage of understanding the nuances of the game and helps better reading of the situation. He also states that there is no compassion involved and he is standing there to conduct the game in true spirit and has to make correct decisions fearlessly. He feels the lack of this fearless conviction is stopping many former players from taking up umpiring.

The players' code of conduct and disciplinary measures have greatly helped the umpires in the smooth conduct of the game. He did not want to name any team that he thinks is the most difficult to handle. Anytime he thinks the players are going out of bound he reminds the captain of the game's preamble.

Not only is Asoka de Silva a former player with 24 years of first class cricket behind him and an elite panel international umpire but also a curator and an eminent qualified cricket coach.

As a curator he is occupied with N C C - a picturesque lush green ground in the heart of Colombo city - where the Sri Lankan National Cricket Academy is located. He also conducts his Asoka de Silva 'School Of Cricket' at the same venue. He has eighty boys under him from age 7 years to 18 years. He has coached many prominent cricketers like Kaluwitharana, Russell Arnold and Sangakkara. He was the Sri Lankan 'A' team coach before the foreign coach came into vogue.

On the up and coming talent in Sri Lanka he feels left-arm spinner Ranjit Gamage and under-17 boy Mutalib are outstanding. He also feels Sri Lanka have a long way to go and should start preparing for the World Cup 2007.

Limited overs, he feels, is a game for the youngsters and Sri Lanka has to start looking for them. Though a tiny island, Sri Lanka has been able to produce some outstanding talent. For this Asoka compliments the Board for its excellent training, monitoring and follow up policy.

Also he stresses that the school timings are such that a child is free from 2 pm and has more than four hours at his disposal for training. Added to this is the nation's passion for cricket that drives them to work hard and achieve. A Sri Lankan cricketer is well aware that if he misses out one season it is difficult for him as the competition is very stiff.

Asked about his family, he informed that he is a proud father of three sports loving children. The second and third are twins. Wife enjoys a high post at Standard Chartered Bank. He is delighted that after a long time he had a three- month break which he wanted to spend with his family.

Before he got busy coaching a group of spinners he said his dream was a drug free world. May his dream come true!

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