VRINDA RATHI was a scorer on Mumbai’s maidans, but a chance encounter with New Zealand international referee Kathy Cross inspired her to enter the 22 yards.
Janani Narayanan, a software engineer in Chennai, resigned when the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) invited applications for umpires. A shoulder injury shattered Gayathri Venugopalan’s dream of becoming a professional cricketer, but she remained in center square after passing the BCCI’s umpiring exam.
The three pioneers will now take the field in Ranji Trophy matches this season, with the Indian board having decided to field female umpires in the men’s domestic circuit. “In the future, female referees will do Ranji Trophy matches. This is just a start. The BCCI has decided to give them a chance in the men’s game as well,” a BCCI official told The Indian Express.
Rathi, Narayanan and Venugopalan will start in round 2 of the tournament after missing the first leg of matches starting next week as they will feature in the India-Australian women’s T20I series. The BCCI is expected to make an official announcement soon.
Many state associations call for women to compete locally in men’s matches, with the exception of women’s cricket. But until now, the BCCI had never given women the opportunity to act as on-field umpires in men’s senior tournaments.
Indian board-contracted referees are barred from communicating with the media, but track regulars say they know about the three women who are about to make history.
32-year-old Rathi from Mumbai was a medium pacer and represented the University of Mumbai. She regularly scored in local matches in Mumbai and passed the BCCI exams for scorers in 2010. In 2013, she was the official BCCI scorer for the Women’s World Cup when she faced the New Zealand referee. She passed the Mumbai Cricket Association exams and then the BCCI test.
Narayanan, 36, has never played cricket at a serious level, but has always been drawn to the game. She had approached the TNCA in 2009 and 2012 asking for an application form to become a referee – to the surprise of local officials. In 2015, the state association finally changed their rules and perceptions and got a form. In 2018, after passing BCCI’s Level 2 umpiring exam, Narayanan decided to quit her IT job.
Venugopalan, 43, from Delhi wanted to become a professional cricketer, but a shoulder injury forced her to rethink her dream. She gave up her corporate career, passed the BCCI referee exams and was registered as a referee in 2019.
Rathi and Narayanan have competed in the CK Nayudu Trophy competitions for boys under 23 years old. But this season, they’ll take the big leap – and women will have the final say in a field full of men.