Umpiring is one of the under-rated jobs since the inception of Cricket, it’s the unglamorous part of cricket but you can’t take away the fact that it’s a relentless job which needs high levels of sincerity, concentration and dedication. The players need to stand only for a period of one innings but the umpires slog it out the entire day standing for both the teams.
They have to maintain high levels of concentration, awareness and presence of mind as even a slight distraction or shift in attention would contribute towards a wrong decision which can make or break the game. Also umpires command respect on the ground, you can’t raise your voice or behave in an unappropriate manner against them. Their decision is binding and a player has to abide by it, the respect which they command is as equivalent as a School Principal guiding his/her students on Do’s and Don’ts, what’s right and what’s wrong. Hence, a game without umpires is like fighting in the ring without a referee or a batch of students in a school without a supervisor.
And when we talk about umpiring, the Couto Brothers comprising of Ricky Couto and Marcus Couto are two of the most experienced umpires in the history of Mumbai Cricket. Talking to both of them was like a journey taking us back into the library of golden days of cricket. Ricky taking us into the glorious gloom of 80’s and 90’s while the senior Marcus sharing some brilliant anecdotes since the time he began umpiring from 1978.
Speaking about Ricky Couto, he played School level Cricket with the likes of Amol Muzumdar, Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, he played cricket till club level before he finally took up umpiring. Ricky holds the record in Limca Book of records for being the youngest umpire in the World to qualify the Umpiring examinations at the age of 16 years, 116 days. Ricky started umpiring from 1990 and so far he has officiated in over 1200+ matches across all the MCA Tournaments. With close to 28 yrs of experience, Ricky is one of the most revered MCA umpires you will come across. Ricky Couto in his teenager days started his schooling from St.Joesph Wadala, however he alongwith two of his friends Kambli (who earlier studied in Our Lady, Bandra) and Tendulkar (who earlier studied at King George, Bandra) would often practice together at the Shivaji Park ground (Kamat Memorial Ground).
The turning point was when Ramakant Achrekar sir told them that you boys will have to change your school to properly focus on cricket and that’s when all three of them got admitted to Shardashram School where Ricky and Sachin became the benchpartners between 7th to 10 std apart from playing together for their school. Ricky also quipped that his elder brother Marcus is all the inspiration behind everything on what he has achieved. Whether it was the decision of changing the school or taking up umpiring, it was always Marcus being the guiding light.
When you had players like Sachin hitting double and triple hundreds, players like Kambli and Amol Muzumdar at the middle order piling on runs, it was obvious that other players like Ricky barely used to get to bat and would mostly remain padded up which later motivated Ricky to take up umpiring which his brother Marcus advised would keep him involved in cricket with a closer look at the game.
Post a consistent career in umpiring, Ricky Couto is now at the helm of Omtex Sports as a Sales and Operation Manager where he is thankful to the director Vijay Patel who offered him the role
Now comes the Senior Couto-Marcus, talking with him was certainly a joyride back to the retro cricket days as he had the best seat in the house to watch the cream of Mumbai cricket thriving in front of his eyes. Marcus who is a MCA as well as BCCI Certified umpire has had an illustrious career of 40 years out of which he officiated 25 yrs in First Class Cricket too. Had it not been our umpire Marcus who first went to Kanga library, the historic 664-run partnership between Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli in 1988 would have never been known to the world which catapulated both the players to national reckoning. It was Marcus who went to the illustrious statisticians Anandji Dossa, Sudhir Vaidya and Mohandas Menon who eventually verified & established that the 664 run stand was indeed a world record partnership.
People like Marcus Couto who has been a Gold Medalist in 1981 (in Umpiring) started officiating at the age of 18 are a big treasure trove of Cricket with a great cricketing wisdom. Apart from enjoying a distinguished umpiring career of over 40 years, Marcus also had an affination for the history of the game too. In the late 1980s, he wrote a book on cricket great Vijay Merchant. Marcus was a regular at cricket with Vijay Merchant programmes which he attended a record 172 times.
When we asked him to share some more anecdotes, we got to hear some interesting things about Sachin. Marcus shared “In one of the matches at Matunga, I declared a 9yr old Sachin run out. Being a small ground, Sachin then complained to Ricky that Marcus was standing too far where he might have felt I am standing quite far off because of the small size of the ground”
Another instance which Marcus sir shared with us was when Sachin used to be reluctant to wear caps while batting. The reason for him not wearing a cap being that Sachin felt that it appears as if the player is trying to do some “herogiri” or portray himself as a cool stylish batsman by wearing a cap. Ramakant Achrekar sir completely did not agree with that opinion of Sachin and gave him a proper lesson. Later, when Marcus asked Sachin on what Achrekar sir was saying, Sachin replied ‘It has an advantage, you can see the bowler better, which will save you from the direct rays of the sun.’ From that day he never batted without a cap”
When we asked Marcus sir to share any particular instances where he was under quite pressure as an umpire or any big matches where he officiated, he shared with us “It was in the One Day Match of Delhi Vs Punjab probably 7-8yrs back. There were 6 players from both the sides eager to make a comeback into the National team. It had players like Yuvraj, Sehwag, Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Raina and Gautam Gambhir. In that match, Yuvraj had scored a hundred. I was just thinking that I should not make a blunder as it would cost them their comeback”
We asked him to dwell further, he shared “Sehwag was knowing that this is my last season and he asked me what will you do post retirement, I said I will also open an academy like you have in Gajjar and one day I’ll visit your academy. Sehwag said why one day? Why can’t you go tomorrow? It was nice of him, he arranged a car and somebody picked me up from Haryana to Delhi, I went to the academy where I addressed the boys and it was a memorable experience”
Next day was again the match and Marcus recalled an embarrassing moment– “Sehwag was hitting brilliantly but while trying to hit the 3rd consecutive boundary, he was out caught behind with a nick, he came running towards me showing me his bat (probably to show that he did not nick it). Sehwag than cheekily said “Sir parso khana kaisa tha? Namak kam tha ya mirchi zyada thi? I remember telling him that the way you are acting (running towards me in a match post getting out with Delhi fans in crowd), people may think that I have given you wrong, I have to go back to the hotel room safe! It was a bit embarrassing for Marcus as Sehwag known for his jolly nature was just having some light banter with him.
Marcus has also written 12 books so far and one of them is on ”How cricket started in India”, it took me 8 years to complete the book, to fetch our Indian scorecards, i even went to UK from where I got some data, even in CCI where I have been serving past 35 years, i could not find our own records. Then he was eventually helped by illustrious statisticians Mohandas Menon and Anandji Dossa.
When we asked him whether he also started off by playing cricket, he said during my time our financial conditions were very bad, I went once to Sassanian ground and borrowed a bat from a rich fellow which got broke, that guy told me to pay 50 Rs which was too big a sum in 1977. That really put me off but I would come daily to the ground. I saw this one gentleman there talking about cricket, he suggested me that you study laws of cricket as it would be better for you. Then I realized that the gentleman who is giving me advice was an Indian Test Umpire AM Mamsa. I started going there everyday, MCA classes for umpiring examinations used to start at 6pm to 8pm but I would reach to Azad Maidan at 4pm getting a firsthand knowledge from him.
After 8 “O” clock, again AM Mamsa would love to have his tea, so again he would sit in the stadium restaurant till 10pm and I would not go home but sit with him getting a revision. Then AM Mamsa took me to Panchgani where I got practical knowledge. That’s how I got my gold medal where you put hardwork for anything, you get whatever you want. That’s how I started umpiring at the age of 18 where I would get 20 Rs a game everyday which was quite a good sum for me back then.
The last question we asked Marcus sir was what advice would he give to the young cricketers and he shared ”See it’s not the end of the road if you can’t be a cricketer, there are just so many avenues through which you can be connected with the sport and contribute to the field you love. If you can’t be a cricketer you can be an umpire which is also a high paying and a very respected job, if you can’t be an umpire you can be a scorer, if you can’t be a scorer you can be a video analyst, you can also be a team manager, a liaison officer, a cricket journalist, a coach, an assistant coach and just so many roles! Cricket has too many roles to offer and it’s certainly not the end of your life if you can’t be a successful cricketer”