ON MOST evenings during the cricket season, S K Bansal would wait for his twin sons, umpires Sumit and Amit, to return home, like a parent waiting for his children from school. The 80-year-old former international umpire, whose most memorable match was the famous 2001 Eden Garden Test, would want to know how their day went and relive his time on the square.
But now, discussions about cricket and umpiring won’t be the same anymore at the Bansal household in East Delhi.
On October 10, Sumit passed away following a heart attack — a week after the 46-year-old was hit on his face by a cricket ball that ricocheted off the bowler’s hand during a Vinoo Mankad Trophy (Under-19) match at the Feroz Shah Kotla.
After the incident on the ground, Sumit was taken to a private hospital in Jasola, where scans and tests were done before he was discharged. The sudden cardiac episode came as a surprise.
“He even went to his office at a private media company, although there was swelling on his face. He would have continued umpiring. The ball hitting him did not scare him and he looked forward to umpiring again. He was recovering well,” says Bansal.
On October 9, Sumit complained of feeling uneasy. Bansal says he rubbed his son’s back and the discomfort seemed to have eased. But around midnight, when Sumit felt a strain again, the family rushed him to a private hospital in Patparganj where he passed away. A week later, Bansal’s brother passed away, too.
“I cried a lot. It hurt a lot. But then, one must realise that crying or mourning won’t bring back those who pass away. It was the Almighty’s will that Sumit and I spend only so much time together. I have many good memories,” says Bansal.
Till he retired at 60, Bansal was considered as India’s lucky mascot because the team won every time he officiated a game involving them in Test cricket. In a career spanning two decades, from 1980 to 2001, Bansal officiated in six Test matches and 44 One-Day Internationals.
Bansal also points out that it was from his end that Harbhajan Singh took the hat-trick in that famous 2001 Kolkata Test. What was to be his last Test proved to be the watershed game for Indian cricket, thanks to V V S Laxman and Rahul Dravid, as the Souarv Ganguly-John Wright era took Indian cricket to new heights.
After retirement from Tests, Bansal continued to be associated with the game, first as a match referee and later as BCCI’s umpire-coach. But when his sons decided to take up umpiring, Bansal warned them that it was an unforgiving profession.
Amit recalls how he and Sumit would sit up till late night and study for the umpires’ exam. They had day jobs but the two put in the extra effort as they didn’t want to let down their father.
“I was proud when my sons took up umpiring. Amit was between jobs when I asked him if he wanted to study to become an umpire. He said ‘ok’. Sumit was an official scorer by then. When Amit decided to become an umpire, Sumit too had no hesitation,” Bansal says.
In addition to T20, List A games, and club games, Amit has officiated 15 Ranji Trophy games, while his twin Sumit had two to his name.
Amit narrates stories about match referees and players getting confused when the twins officiated in the same game. “When we would ask for video tags of the dismissals we gave during a game, I was given those of Sumit’s. Players would be surprised to see similar-looking umpires on the field,” Amit says.
On the day Sumit got hit by the ball, Amit was umpiring at another Vinoo Mankad game at the Karnail Singh Stadium. “I spoke to him after the day’s play when he was at the hospital. He was in pain but in good spirits. There is a bit of danger in being an umpire, it is part of the job,” Amit says.
With Bansal’s wife having passed away years ago, and both his sons unmarried, he now wants to see a project close to Sumit’s heart take off.
During the lockdown, the family of umpires created a bilingual app on the rules of the game. “At the click of a button, laws of the game are available in English and Hindi. It will help remove the language barrier. We have reached out to the BCCI for help to launch the app,” Amit says, adding that Sumit “put his heart and soul” into the project.
Bansal says he will now miss the evening walks with Sumit, the daily visits to the temple nearby — and those cricket tales he would bring home.