(This article, about a 15-year-old girl of Indian origin in Hong Kong, who aspires to be the world’s first woman ICC Test umpire, was published in DNA edition dated July 9, 2006.)
Never underestimate the power of female adoration of celebrity sportsmen: in the case of 15-year-old Shurabhi Das, it could lead her to international glory – to becoming the world’s first woman Test umpire, in fact. And if that happens, it will only have been because, like a lot of teenaged girls across the world, she flipped for cricketer Irfan Pathan’s dashing good looks!
Even until three years ago, Shurabhi, who was born in England and lives in Hong Kong, didn’t know the first thing about cricket: she probably thought a ‘square leg’ was a physical deformity and a ‘bye’ was a half-hearted farewell! “In 2002, I went for the Hong Kong Sixes cricket tournament with my dad and my brother, who are crazy about cricket,” recalls Shurabhi. “And there, I had photographs taken with Kapil Dev – except that I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t then understand or enjoy cricket, and I certainly didn’t know who the stars were.”
But all that changed in 2003, during the Indian cricket team’s tour of Australia, when a 19-year-old left arm pace bowler from Baroda burst on the world stage with his prodigious talent and his child-like enthusiasm for the game. Bowled over by nothing more than Irfan Pathan’s good looks, Shurabhi, then only 13, overnight crowned herself his “greatest fan” and acquired a keen interest in the game.
That interest led her last year to appear for the preliminary umpiring examination conducted by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC), which she passed with flying colours, scoring 96%, a record. She is the youngest ever to qualify to become an umpire, and is even today the only girl on the ACC umpiring circuit.
Shurabhi recalls her first day as a cricket umpire: it was a women’s tournament in Hong Kong, and she was extremely nervous, although she was only officiating as square leg umpire for the entire match. “When I gave my first dismissal – a run out – the fielding side players all came over and gave me a hug!” she says, laughing. “That was funny, but now players on the circuit know me, so they’re a lot more decorous on the field.”
Shurabhi has now set her sights on greater glory in the world of cricket umpiring: she dreams of becoming the first woman ICC cricket umpire. That goal is a long, long way off: and since Hong Kong is only an associate member of the ICC, Shurabhi may have to relocate to a Test-playing nation (like India or England) in order to pursue that dream.
And then again, since academics is top priority for her doctor-parents Subid and Rapti Das, Shurabhi has reshuffled her priorities for now, knowing that age is on her side. She’s also working towards a career in advertising and graphics design; and later this month, when the Das family makes its annual visit to India, she’ll take up a summer job assignment in an English-language television channel in Delhi.
Still, Shurabhi has her eyes firmly on the ball. “I want to be a Test umpire one day,” she asserts. “I know the going is very tough, but I’ll give it my best.” Clearly, this is one maiden who’s been completely bowled over by cricket.