Umpire Piloo Reporter would spend much of his September Sundays on the Mumbai maidans, doing what he did best, which was officiate games with efficiency, mingle with the Kanga League fraternity, eat his wife Homai’s prepared dry lunch, and savor the glucose biscuits and chai served during tea time in the tent. According to his doting granddaughter, “Freny,” the Piloo Reporter bid us goodbye on his Parsi Roj birthday, which fell this Sunday.
Back to the Kanga League. Cricket didn’t end with the 5.50 p.m. draw of stumps for Piloo Reporter, who passed away at 84. It would carry on on the train ride back to Thane, filled with pleasant chat, camaraderie, laughter, and a hint of regret. Regret, because at times he made mistakes on the field of play and he wouldn’t be coy to admit them to the concerned player or Homai when he got home.
The Piloo Reporter’s demise means another Parsi cricket character has left us. “A Dikro is as original as it gets. Fine man, a real character, and a top umpire in his prime,” Ravi Shastri told me on Sunday. Was it ever suggested to the Indian team management in Sri Lanka that, in remembrance of the Piloo Reporter, there should be a minute’s silence observed prior to the India vs. Nepal Asia Cup match in Kandy? Or probably perform that noble act in the dressing room?
We don’t know if they did, but the Piloo Reporter never failed to notice black armbands worn by players while watching cricket on his television. Invariably, he would call me to find out the reason for the armbands. He and I have been friends since the late 1980s, and when I joined this newspaper the next decade, we became even closer. He was a columnist and friend of the organization, answering umpiring-related questions from readers. One day in April 1997, a Piloo Reporter, walked into our then-Lower Parel office to tell us about his benefit match.
The departed umpire could be firm without forgetting to be pleasant and complimentary, as legend Richard Hadlee experienced when he became the highest wicket-taker in the world during the 1988–89 season. The Piloo Reporter match is to be held at Valsad in June. He was discussing the names he wanted to invite so that the event would have some star value. My immediate boss, Nandakumar Marar, suggested he call Vivian Richards, who was in Mumbai at the time.
The Piloo Reporter loved the idea but wondered how to get in touch with the great man. We provided him with a number, and Nandakumar insisted that the Piloo Reporter make the call immediately. The Piloo Reporter hesitated and sat on a chair before garnering the courage to dial up. Guess who picks up the phone at the other end? Richards himself. The Piloo Reporter is stunned and rises from his seat to carry on the conversation. They decide to meet the following Saturday.
Nandakumar wants me to accompany the Piloo Reporter to interview Viv Richards on Sunday at midday. Piloo Reporter accompanying on a visit to invite him to be part of a benefit game didn’t appeal to me. After I was coerced, I thought I should pose as the Reporter’s media manager for his benefit. Within a few days, we landed at Viv Richard’s place.
The Piloo Reporter carried a sweet box for Viv Richards, while I carried a file to give the impression I am a well-prepared communications man, as well as a camera in case Viv Richards agreed to be photographed. We enter the living room and are made to wait. He gives the Piloo Reporter a bear hug. I introduce myself as the PR man.
They get talking. I don’t remember if he told Richards that the benefit match was being held for himself and fellow umpire Dara Dotiwala, but I do remember the Piloo Reporter fearing that Viv Richards wouldn’t agree to participate in his benefit match as soon as he mentioned Dotiwala’s name. Viv Richards was extremely disappointed with Dotiwala’s LBW judgment in the first innings of the 1983–84 Delhi Test. The cups and saucers (in the dressing room) took a knock from a Jumbo bat flung in anger,” reported The Sportstar. Richards agreed to be in Valsad on June 1.
It’s now time for me to ask him for an interview. He agrees. When I reached Questions No. 5 or 6, the Piloo Reporter pinched me to let me know to end it. He fears Viv Richard will blow up. This was the same man who had to remind Richards to hold his tongue when he reacted sharply to the Piloo Reporter turning down an appeal that would have sent Mohammed Azharuddin back to the Eden Gardens pavilion in the 1987–88 Kolkata Test. “I didn’t want him to apologize; just remind him who the boss on the field is,” a Piloo Reporter, told me in an interview.
We left Vivian Richards’s Andheri apartment in excellent spirits, having persuaded her to come for his benefit and getting me an interview. As everyone who knew Piloo Reporter would agree, he could be strict on the field without forgetting to be pleasant and complimentary. Richard Hadlee wrote in rhythm and swing about what a Piloo Reporter said to him while congratulating him on becoming Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker in the 1988–89 Bangalore Test: “To complete my cricket education, I have to umpire in England, but today my education is complete.”
When Piloo Reporter responded to the eternal signal to leave us last Sunday, he was a far lighter version of the active man we saw several times, with or without his white coat. Three years later, Piloo Reporter became more popular when he thrilled spectators during the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand with his signature’ signal whenever a batsman hit a four.
Sir Richard Hadlee called it a ‘lovely reaction.” His contribution to the game, just like umpires in general, should never be undervalued. And as Richards told him on April 12, 1997, “You have been very much part of the game.” The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.