Nitin Menon: Journey thus far and challenges lying ahead as ICC Elite Panel Umpire

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After a 10-year gap, in 2006, BCCI decided to conduct an exam for umpires aspiring to officiate at the domestic and national level. Narendra Menon, a former First-class cricketer for Madhya Pradesh and an international umpire himself, advised his son Nitin Menon to take a shot.

Nitin always wanted to make it big as a cricketer, but just like many other Indian young kids, he was forced to diverge his path. All he could manage was two List A games for Madhya Pradesh and in what were pretty confusing times, he decided to take the exam and fast forward 14 years – Nitin Menon became the youngest to be inducted into the ICC Elite Panel of umpires.

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This Monday afternoon, ICC’s selection committee comprising General Manager Geoff Allardyce, former cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar, Match referees Ranjan Madugalle and David Boon – decided to induct the 36-year-old into the Elite Panel at the expense of English umpire Nigel Llong.

For a nation obsessed with Cricket, it is pretty surprising that only three umpires born and bred in this part of the world made it to the ICC Elite Panel of umpires. The man who led India in the first-ever World Cup campaign in 1975, Srinivas Venkatraghavan, was the first of those three and almost three decades later, Sundaram Ravi made it to the apex level of Umpiring.

However, S Ravi’s time was cut short after a series of underwhelming days at the office and was axed last year. It seemed like we’d have to wait for a long time before we see another Indian climb up the ladder, but Nitin Menon’s entry to the Elite panel was indeed enlightening.

A dramatic beginning to his career

While Menon made his debut in 2017 in international Cricket, the first time he made his presence felt was in 2016, during the 4th Test between India and England in Mumbai. Nitin Menon was originally the 4th umpire for this fixture with Bruce Oxenford and Paul Reiffel taking the field. Marais Erasmus was the third umpire for this game.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s throw from the deep hit Paul Reiffel’s head and he was forced to leave his duties. As per the law, the third umpire (Marais Erasmus in this case) should be taking the field with the 4th umpire (Nitin Menon) filling up in third umpire’s role. While Erasmus did join Oxenford on the field, due to Menon’s lack of experience, C Shamsuddin took over as the third umpire in controversial circumstances.

Nitin Menon took charge of the 2019 IPL final alongside Ian Gould

Shamsuddin was in the stadium only to watch the match but match referee Jeff Crowe was not 100% sure if Nitin Menon could take up the big task of sitting in third umpire’s chair. India winning this game threw this whole incident under the carpet, but a heartbroken Menon found respite a few weeks later, when he made his debut in the T20I series that followed.

An ODI debut came a couple of months later in a game between Ireland and Afghanistan. Even in the wildest of his dreams, he wouldn’t have imagined this promotion to come so quickly, but this opportunity of a lifetime to make his mark will certainly inspire many other umpires to stay focused and determined as hard work indeed gets paid off.

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Thus far, some major achievements besides this promotion include officiating in the Women’s T20 World Cup in 2018 and 2020. He also took charge of the 2019 IPL Final alongside veteran Ian Gould, a game where the duo had a controversial moment with Kieron Pollard but did a great job overall.

Menon made his mark in the T20I series against West Indies, where he made some terrific decisions under immense pressure. A lot of fan pages on social media took notice of his work and appreciated him and now, he hit the peak at an age no one else could.

What is in store for Menon in the coming years?

Taking the ongoing pandemic into consideration, Menon, who qualifies to officiate in the Ashes series next year, might be restricted to games that happen in India as the ICC might not revoke the “Local umpires for home series” policy anytime soon. However, if the India-England 5-match Test series will progress as per schedule, Menon will get to take charge in two or three of those games.

This is an age where some great umpires like Richard Kettleborough, Marais Erasmus and not to mention, Nitin Menon, are all under the scanner every moment. It gets pretty easy for them to hog the limelight for the wrong reasons whilst getting appreciated for their good work is not a real thing anymore.

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Basking in those misconceptions, it is highly imperative for cricket fans to not jump into conclusions easily. International, National and State bodies should provide ample mental support to these officials who literally take a bullet for every small mistake.

In an era where umpires are being scrutinized to a level where every minor mistake makes them a criminal, Menon has made his mark with some razor-sharp decision making in intense moments. When Simon Taufel says he wasn’t surprised with Menon’s promotion, one has to believe this is no small achievement.

Losing out on a talent like Nitin Menon will do no good to the game in general, let alone Indian cricket’s catastrophic history in nurturing officials from the scratch to the top. The 36-year-old doesn’t just provide a ray of hope but also oozes quality in decision making every time he is in the middle. A chapter in his story comes to a fantastic end, and now we turn the page, where something more tricky and adventurous awaits the 36-year-old.