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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
It’s no surprise for people involved with cricket in the USA to be familiar with the many current and former international stars who grace cricket fields around the country. Aside from those who are part of the USA national team like former India U-19 player Sushil Nadkarni and former West Indies Test spinner Neil McGarrell, numerous players participate in regional tournaments such as Pakistan wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, former Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar and former West Indies fast bowlers Franklyn Rose, Mervyn Dillon and Jermaine Lawson.
However, most people might not be aware of the umpires who are representing the USA on the international stage. New York resident Steve Kalloo has served as a standing umpire with distinction at several ICC Americas during the last decade. Florida’s Sylvan Taylor stood this year at the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 in Florida as well as ICC World Cricket League Division Three in Bermuda.
One umpire in the USA that has a bigger distinction than the rest though and that man is Sameer Bandekar. The Mumbai native worked as a third umpire in Tests and made his ODI debut as an umpire in 2002 during a match in Guwahati between India and Zimbabwe. From 1992 through 2011, he umpired 60 first-class and 25 List A games in Indian domestic cricket, as well as numerous assignments at both international and domestic level as a reserve umpire including the 2010 IPL Final, before moving with his family to Dallas, Texas primarily so that his two daughters would have better educational opportunities.
Shortly after arriving in the USA, the 48-year-old Bandekar got involved umpiring matches in the North Texas Cricket Association and submitted his resume to the ICC Americas office. In 2012, he was announced as one of two ICC Americas representatives, along with Courtney Young of the Cayman Islands, on the ICC’s Associate & Affiliate International Umpires Panel.
“My dad was an umpire…. It’s in the family,” Bandekar said when asked how he got interested in the officiating part of cricket. Bandekar playing university cricket in Mumbai, but soon realized he wasn’t going to progress through to Ranji Trophy competitions as a player yet still wanted to find a way to engage with the game at a high level.
“I wanted to watch the stars very closely and that’s the only position from which I can watch them playing, bowling, fielding very closely,” Bandekar said. “I appeared for the exams. I cleared and the interest went on and I took up umpiring that way.”
Bandekar stood in his first Ranji Trophy match at age 28, umpiring in a contest between Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. After working his way through the domestic umpiring ranks, Bandekar eventually got several opportunities to serve as a reserve umpire and as a third or television umpire in international matches held in India.
Hardcore trivia buffs will know that Bandekar has a special connection to two matches in particular. He was the reserve umpire for Anil Kumble’s final Test match, a draw at Delhi from October 29-November 2, 2008. He also played a notable role as the television umpire in India’s historic 171-run Test victory over Australia at Kolkata in 2001 after India was forced to follow-on.
“The Harbhajan hat-trick was given by me,” Bandekar said. “It was a great honor to be part of that Test match. That Test match was a unique Test match. It was out of the world. These games happen once in a century. The first innings, we thought that game would be over in three days, but that whole [fourth] day they carried on batting, Dravid and Laxman. After the game, we all had dinner together and everyone was surprised about the game, but during the match there was no time to talk.”
In addition to the lone men’s ODI he stood for in 2002, Bandekar also stood in four women’s ODIs – one at the 1997 Women’s World Cup and three matches between England and India in 2010. The last match he worked as a standing umpire in India was a Duleep Trophy semifinal between South Zone and Central Zone from January 26-29, 2011. After arriving in the USA, he was fast-tracked by ICC Americas and stood in his first tournament match at the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament in July 2011.
Image (right) - Sameer Bandekar stands with the team sheets after completing the coin toss at a match in March at the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament in Florida. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
“I forwarded my resume to the ICC Americas Region when Mr. Martin Vieira was there,” Bandekar said. “He called and asked if I was available. ‘We will not pay as handsomely as you were paid in India for first-class games, but are you interested?’ That’s where it started.”
In 2012, he traveled to Malaysia to umpire at ICC World Cricket League Division Four before being tabbed for the ICC Associate & Affiliate International Umpires Panel at the end of the year. Most recently, Bandekar traveled to Canada in August to stand in the four-day Intercontinental Cup match between the UAE and Canada as well as the two World Cricket League Championship matches hosted by Canada against the UAE.
Bandekar says has a positive outlook about the standard of cricket he encounters as an umpire locally in Dallas and in the regional tournaments he’s officiated in.
“Things are improving,” Bandekar said. “You have to adjust. It will take a couple of more years but things are improving. The standard is good. There are boys who are regularly playing cricket. If you compare Test standard to this standard, definitely there is a difference. The standard is not that bad. The standard is good. Only a final touch is required.”
He also says he’d like to play a role in helping to educate umpires locally to raise the standard of officiating. Often times, umpires have strong knowledge of the laws and do well in written tests but can be shaky in match situations when it comes to applying them.
“To implement [laws] on the field is totally different,” Bandekar said. “Everything counts. Your body language, your signaling, acknowledgement from scorers.”
Bandekar is a former faculty member of the BCCI’s Umpires Training Academy in Nagpur and feels that more can be done administratively at a local and national level to produce better umpires. First and foremost though, Bandekar says people should take on the role if they have fun doing it rather than seeing it as a nuisance or a chore.
“I enjoy it. If you do anything, you should enjoy it. I enjoyed my umpiring from the beginning, even if it was a local game.”