Sri Lanka's K.T.Francis, 70, is a legend among umpires, having been officiating in one form or another for over 40 years. An ICC Elite panel umpire before he retired from the international arena, after standing in 25 Tests and 56 One-Day Internationals from 1982 to 1999, starting with Sri Lanka’s first home ODI and Inaugural Test. His career was marked by a steadiness and diligence throughout, along with an uncompromising adherence to the highest umpiring standards. "KT had the kind of temperament which helps an umpire to succeed at the highest level," says ACC Development Manager Bandula Warnapura, who captained Sri Lanka in that 1982 Test.
His most recent assignment was as Umpires Assessor during the 2009 ACC U-19 Challenge in Chiang Mai, where he was also called upon to act as Match Referee in the Final. He spoke to us there, while looking not only as dapper as ever but healthier than he has been for a long time, as a result of giving up pipe-smoking seven months earlier.
"You can't just walk onto the field and umpire a match and expect to do well."
What made you choose to be an umpire?
After my schooling in the eastern province of Sri Lanka I joined the Sri Lankan Railways in 1959. I played cricket for the Railways department but I never played first-class cricket. We had these inter-department tournaments and there was a station-master by the name of J.M.C Jayasinghe. He and his brother M.A Jayasinghe were at that time supposed to be the best umpires in Sri Lanka. They used to umpire visiting side games like when Australia and England used to go for the Ashes series, the teams used to travel by ship and stopover in Colombo for a day.
J.M.C convinced me to become an umpire and I was given a small cricket law book by them. In October 1969 I sat for the three-hour paper where you needed to get over 75%, which I did and then I became an umpire. I umpired a lot of school games and in 1975 I got promoted to the Grade 1 panel. I had one ambition and that was to emulate my mentor, Mr. Jayasinghe. He had authority and commanded respect for his ability to think correctly and do things correctly. I worked very hard and in 1981 Sri Lanka got Test status and after that in 1982 when England played Sri Lanka I was selected to officiate that Test with Herbie Felsinger who was a senior umpire. In 1987 we stopped playing Test cricket because no team came to Sri Lanka after the bomb blasts. This went on till 1992. In 1991 I retired from the Railways and concentrated on umpiring and in 1993 the ICC panel was introduced and I was nominated along with B.C Cooray from Sri Lanka and started umpiring overseas also.
Which was the first overseas Test you umpired?
It was in February 1994, the Third Test between Pakistan and New Zealand in Christchurch. In those days there would be one local umpire and one overseas umpire. Now they’re both from neutral countries. One enjoyable series was England versus India where Sachin and Sourav Ganguly got a hundred each in Nottingham in 1996. For England I think Atherton and Naseer Hussain got hundreds and it was a big scoring match. Once I was a part of the ICC panel, except for the West Indies, I have umpired Test matches in all other countries.
Which country do you like umpiring in the most?
Definitely it is easy to umpire in England because the players help you because they won’t appeal unnecessarily. In Asian countries it is very difficult especially in Sri Lanka because there is undue pressure. I think I am the only umpire in the world who has been taken off by the home side after they complained that I wasn’t fair. This was in 1992 against New Zealand at SSC because the Sri Lankan players felt I was biased against them. I also had the opportunity to umpire in two World Cups, in Sri Lanka in 1996 and in England in 1999.
|K.T. Francis - Match Referee at the ACC U-19 Challenge Cup Final|
How does an umpire train for a match?
Coming from the railways, punctuality was a must and it definitely helped me. Already the foundation was laid when I was in the railways because we had to be on time, go on duty, sign on and start the trains. In cricket as well I was very punctual. When I lecture also the first thing I mention to the new umpires is their punctuality. Punctuality and discipline was always a part of me and one should always be prepared in time. You can’t just walk onto the field and umpire a match and expect to do well. The playing conditions also have to be read. In one or two matches at this ACC U-19 Challenge there have been some huge mistakes made. In my opinion you can make a mistake in the decision but not in interpretation of the laws or the playing conditions.