K.T. FRANCIS: THE DOYEN

What kind of relationship do umpires have with players now compared to before?
There is always bound to be some friction between players and the administration. Now it has become more than a game, it is a business. More than the entertainment, it is a business. The players now also want their pound of flesh. But in this I feel the players have a right to ask for it because they bring the money. How much money comes in will depend on how well they perform and if they perform badly then no country will want to play them and people will not come to see the teams play. Sri Lanka now gets a crowd because they are playing well. Otherwise in the earlier days, the crowd never came to watch them play. Players have a right to ask for certain things but they mustn’t overdo it.

Do you think players themselves have a complete knowledge of the rules?
No, never. Most of the players don’t have and they don’t know also. They should be educated. Even the Test players aren’t aware of the intricacies and how to interpret the laws. There were instances where players didn’t know the laws and in the West Indies once Dean Jones was bowled off a no-ball and he walked off not hearing the no-ball call. Allan Border, the non-striker, also allowed him to walk and later admitted that he didn’t know the law otherwise he would’ve asked him to stay at the crease. The players don’t always know the laws but it’s better and easier if the captain is aware of all the laws.

In 1959, would you have believed that a place called Chiang Mai in northern Thailand would have two decent cricket grounds?
No we would not have believed it. But now look at it. Even Kuwait has four grounds. There is no way we’d have never dreamt of them playing cricket.

At an ACC umpiring course in China

Do you think it’s a positive development that more countries are playing cricket?
Most definitely. I think it is spreading now because the ICC has the correct idea of development. Getting China to play is a big thing for cricket.

When did you first start at the ACC?
I was actually employed by the board for about four years as Director of Umpiring but now they call it the Manager of Umpiring. Then Peter Manuel and Asoka de Silva were really the ones who first started and on one appointment Asoka couldn’t go so Bandula Warnapura and Duleep Mendis asked me to go in his place in 2002. In those days there were only two-day seminars and so I went to Malaysia and Singapore and from there I went to Nepal and Bhutan. As a resource person for the ACC, I train the umpires. I’ve been to China five times, twice to Kunming, once to Guangzhou, Beijing and Shenyang and intellectually China is understanding umpiring.

Whatever mistakes are made, I will highlight and they will need to improve.

Your ACC role has moved beyond coaching umpires hasn’t it?
Yes now there is an umpire assessment system. I scrutinize the umpires during games, recommend them for promotions and watch the games and see whether they are performing their duties properly. It was suggested we assess them because without watching them in a game, we can’t give a proper assessment and we didn’t know whether they were umpiring in their local tournaments. When Bandula became ACC Development Manager he made it a reality where one resource person has to be present at a tournament.

K.T. Francis with captains and officials at the 2009 ACC U-19 Challenge Cup Final

Are you creating a pathway for these umpires in the ACC tournaments?
Yes. The ICC has recognized six people who I’ve appointed like Buddhi Pradhan from Nepal and Sarika Prasad from Singapore amongst a few others, who are part of a group below the Elite Panel. Now other umpires are fighting to get into that group. They will have to perform well and I will give a realistic assessment. Whatever mistakes are made, I will highlight and they will need to improve. Bandula had spoken to them and told them that this is a pathway for them to improve and get themselves selected for more competitions. Their ultimate goal is to get a One-Day International game between the top countries. Buddhi and Sarika are closer to that goal now than anyone else from the Associates.

What have been your best experiences in cricket?
I’ve enjoyed matches that are really competitive. I like to perform in front of a 100,000 crowd like in Eden Gardens in Calcutta at the 1989 Nehru Cup between India and Pakistan. When Srikkanth fell while running and was run out, that made the difference to the game. With that kind of noise in the stadium I concentrated and performed and it was one of the best matches I’ve umpired. In 1999 during the Asian Test Championship between India and Pakistan again at Eden Gardens, I was TV umpire when Sachin was run out and there was a riot in the stadium! Which was quite interesting. Those watching on TV could see he was out of course, but no one in the stadium knew exactly how much he was out by and the circumstances (involving a mid-pitch collision with the bowler Shoaib Akhtar) were unusual.

What keeps you busy now other than working for the ACC?
On the weekends I do first-class match refereeing in Colombo and sometimes in Dambulla if there’s a match there.

Do you think being plainspoken, as you are, is an advantage or a disadvantage in cricket?
I think players normally would like an openly spoken man. That is how I gain respect. To gain the respect of the players you have to be a good umpire as well. You have to perform your duties and then you gain the respect of the players. It is better to do that than to try to curry favours or anything in that way. That will not take you very far. Be straightforward and do your job. That is how I saw it and I was happy with it.

Filed Jan 20th, 2010

KT’s last assignment for the ACC was as a tutor on a Level II Umpiring Course in July 2012. He passed away on June 10 2013.