CHENNAI: When Nitin Menon quit playing cricket in 2006, there were people who not only questioned his decision, but asked, “How can you give up so early?” Fifteen years later, on Monday, the soft-spoken Menon from Indore became only the third Indian to make it to the International Cricket Council’s Elite Panel of umpires.
Even before he takes the field after this promotion from the ICC’s International Panel (second rung), Nitin has already made history. At 36, he is the youngest ever to make it to the Elite Panel consisting of 12 umpires. S Ravi of Chennai was the last Indian on the Elite list and was dropped in 2019. Former India captain S Venkatraghavan was the first from the country on the Elite list.
The ICC, through a panel comprising its general manager Geoff Allardice, match referees Ranjan Madugalle and David Boon and former India player and commentator Sanjay Manjrekar, took the decision to promote Menon, who replaces England’s Nigel Llong.
Nitin stood in his maiden Test match in September 2019 — Afghanistan vs West Indies. He has officiated in 24 ODIs, 16 T20Is and three Tests, apart from ICC Women’s T20 and 50-over World Cups. His elevation to the highest level doesn’t come as a surprise, considering that he had been impressive whenever given an opportunity.
Son of former international umpire Narendra Menon, Nitin is a respected figure in the domestic circuit and feels this elevation reassured him that his decision to quit playing as a 22-year-old was right.
“I was not going anywhere with my cricket. So dad advised me to take up the umpire’s test (conducted by BCCI in 2006) and at 23, I thought it was not a bad option. Since I started early, I got the chance to officiate in a lot of domestic matches, which has been a huge experience for me,” Nitin told TNIE.
Nitin is also a beneficiary of the BCCI’s annual umpires conclave, where top international umpires from other countries are invited for workshops. For a system that produces top-quality players, it is rather strange that India hasn’t produced many umpires of international repute.
Nitin’s elevation could act as a catalyst for many and comes at a time when domestic umpires are under pressure. For instance, during the last IPL, even India captain Virat Kohli criticised the standard of umpiring.
Nitin says in recent times, this is changing. “Basically, the mentality had to be changed. We were only thinking about decision making. To officiate at the highest level, you have to take care of your attitude, body language and managing the game. More importantly, you need to know how to deal with big players. If you think your decision is right, you have to stand up to it and not succumb to their pressure. You got to treat everyone the same and decision making should be instinctive,” he said.
Having spotted his talent, the BCCI also ensured Nitin got enough exposure. He was sent to England, Australia and South Africa as part of an umpires exchange programme so that they become familiar to all conditions. “Over the years, even when I officiated in Ranji Trophy, I learned to believe in my own ability. It is important to be yourself and not copy an umpire you look up to,” added Nitin.
While a majority of Indian umpires are not exposed to DRS, Nitin happens to be among the fortunate ones who learned to officiate in a scenario-driven by technology. Though umpires have found it hard to deal with the evolving technology with each and every decision scrutinised, Nitin tends to see the positive side.
“Honestly, when I take the field, I don’t think about how many are watching or whether there is DRS to support. It is just the ball and bat. DRS is good for the game, because it is there for the right decision to be made and that is ultimate. It isn’t there to spot faults. If we make an error and it is corrected, you move on rather than dwelling on it. There is no harm in accepting the mistake you made. Umpiring is all about keeping it simple and not thinking too much. Just like a batsman, one ball at a time!”