By Indrajit Gupta and Anmol Shrivastava
Note: The podcast is in three segments. They will autoplay in sequence. You can also choose to listen to a particular segment by clicking on the links above.
Simon Taufel was in Mumbai recently to promote his new book Finding the Gaps: Transferable Skills to Be the Best You Can Be. While the book is about the game of cricket, Taufel says the lessons were applicable to business as well—particularly for leaders who are looking to build high performance organisations. The book deals with how to groom the next generation of leaders, and of course, how to be the best in your profession and also retain the edge over time.
Taufel is an unusual personality, for sure. Till he retired in 2012, he was considered the best umpire in the game. In his new book, he shares some amazing perspective on how he reached the very top of his profession—and then chose to focus on his next big thing: developing ICC’s next generation of elite panel of umpires.
In this podcast:
Part 1: Sustainable success
Taufel uses the lens of cricket, and the experiences he’s had, both personally and professionally, to talk about how we can help people see where their performance gaps are, and shift behaviour to bridge those gaps. “Because, if we've done a training session, or a coaching session, and if we don't shift behaviour, then we've had a nice chat, and that's about it,” he says.
He talks about the life skills and leadership lessons he learnt along the way. “It's a self-realization. And I think it's a self-acknowledgement. This is why it's really important that people actually step back and they think about their game, about what they do, about their why.” He especially draws on his experience in 2004 (“I had my worst game that year, and then I also won the ICC Umpire of the Year in that year… my lowest moment, and my best moment”) and the incident with Sachin Tendulkar at Trent Bridge in 2007, where he’d incorrectly given Sachin out for 91.
Part 2: Cross-pollination, why you need a good coach, and the dangers of changing for the sake of changing
Taufel touches upon some important facets of what a good coach can bring to the table, as well as how do you get ready and be ‘coachable’. “Everybody should have someone in their corner, comforting the troubled and troubling the comfortable,” he says.
He draws from his relationship with Russel Trotter, the Australian Rugby Union’s referee’s manager, and coaches like Gary Kirsten, who coached the Indian Cricket Team from 2008 – 2011 and his predecessor John Wright. “Good coaches help you build self-discovery, self-learning, resilience, decision making, strategy skills—so that you can actually self-diagnose.”
There’s also a lot one can learn from different industries, different sports, people from different walks of life, he says. Especially when it comes to innovation and using technology. How is baseball, football, or tennis looking at these same challenges?
But Taufel cautions about changing for the sake of change. “When you go through a lot of change very quickly or every year, it tends to disrupt people, it tends to make them feel nervous and anxious, it tends to be a major distraction.” Business, captains of industry, they will get this: Before we make a decision about change, is it broken? Is it a rational decision based on the data or an emotional one?
On emotional calls for change, Taufel makes a point about the controversies around the 2019 World Cup finals. “How do we take the emotion off the table?… We're trying to sort through a difficult issue, we need to manage the emotion of the person, manage the person, we need to manage the issue… How do we get more decisions, right? Or is this something that we really need to fix or change?”
Part 3: How India can build a cadre of leaders, how to create a system that attracts the right people, and black box thinking
Can India, like Australia, build a cadre of world class umpires? It will take a few things, says Taufel—and these are equally true for developing leaders in any field: Creating an environment of trust, meritocracy, and accountability. Give them the right resources to be able to do the job, get in the trenches with the people and listen to what they say they need, support them, and coach them for those life skills such as managing conflict, coachability, being able to adapt, and manage pressure through self-discipline.
It boils down to building a structure and system for leadership development.
For team success, Taufel talks about the need for an egalitarian culture. Give the team members the expectation of adding value. And if they see something that is not done right, give them room to speak up.
How do you handle mistakes? That’s closely connected to building a great team. “To be successful, and to learn from the mistakes, you need to be brutally honest,” Taufel says. “You need to be able to feel comfortable in a safe environment, to share those mistakes and to be vulnerable. Because unless you're brutally honest, you are not going to move forward. An alcoholic to move forward, has to admit that they've got a problem.”
Books mentioned by Taufel
Part 1: Sustainable success
Indrajit Gupta: Simon, I wanted to start with understanding the idea of the book project, because it's not common to have an umpire write about cricket. It's an unusual perspective. What was the lens through which you were looking at the game?
Simon Taufel: I'll tell you what it's not first. It's not my life story. It's not a memoir. It's not a collection of cricket stories per se. It came about basically because when I left full time employment with Cricket Australia, I started a business around integrity, values, leadership, and saw a gap of serving teams, both in sport and business, around helping them to achieve their potential as individuals, as teams. And part of that process was to pin my main messages, pin my main learnings, create some anchoring points around content. The book was a good way of doing that, where people could decide whether or not my messages, my learnings, my experiences might be able to help them unlock their potential to see where their performance gaps were, and offer some support to bridge that gap.
It's quite interesting that the title of the book, Finding the Gaps, has that cricket connotation.
What's really unique about my journey is that through the lens of cricket, and the experiences that I've had, both personally and professionally, I think, we can actually help people connect with those messages in a different way, in a way that gets them to shift behaviour. Because at the end of the day, if we've done a training session, and we've done a coaching session, if we've done a sharing session, and if we don't shift behaviour, then we've had a nice chat, and that's about it. So we are really committed to shifting behaviour and helping people unlock their potential to find those gaps and close them.
It's part of that fundamental opportunity to grow a business in this space. But it's also a great way for me. Because I get a lot of the same questions—how did you get involved? What was the best part? Why did you leave? What did you learn? What was the hardest decision, etc., etc. So for me, it's a way of being able to say, ‘well, have a read of chapter 16. Or read chapter 7, or chapter 2, which talks about preparation and routines and all those sorts of things. And it's a great way for me to be able to share how to get to the top, how to stay there, look at what sustainable success looks like in the year 2019.
I see so many gaps in leadership today, with sport, with politics, with captains of industry, with moms and dads, where there is a lot of greed, there's a lot of self-interest, and there’s a lot of—well, not naivety so much, but there's a lack of knowledge of purely action-based leadership, and serving the cause, serving the objective of the team. I really would love to put a bit more focus on getting back to our old values, getting back to the traditions, going back to a formula that we know that works, and how can we help people lead more fulfilling sustainable lives.
Indrajit Gupta: It's incredible. Because one of the things that's remarkable about the book is all the experiences that you’ve shared in terms of bringing so much discipline and commitment to growing and reaching the top. Tell us a little about that. What were the earlier years like particularly—for you as an umpire. I know you've grown as a person and as a leader as well in the work that you do.
Simon Taufel: I call it an apprenticeship—that’s the best way that I could look at it. I had some wonderful mentors, coaches, trainers with the New South Wales Cricket Umpires. I think one of the great things that I've got out of cricket umpiring and the journey that it's taken me through, is it's taught me a lot more about myself.
When you travel a lot, when you spend a lot of time on your own in hotel rooms, in airplanes, in airports, etc. you realize that you really need to love what you do and do what you love. Because if you don't, there's a lot of sacrifice involved, there's a lot of tough times involved. And you want to make sure that you're coming up the other side of that journey with a sense of achievement, with a sense of it was worthwhile. And there's also a sense of no regret.
But when I say that you learn more about yourself—when you spend a lot of time in hotel rooms, as I said, if you don't learn to love yourself, and to like who you are, and to continually grow as a person, then they are very lonely days.
One of the great things that I've been lucky enough to have is, as I said, with that apprenticeship, having so many good people around me at the start of that journey. I very quickly realized that it's about enjoying the journey. It's about making the most of that opportunity. But also, with the sacrifice, it is about getting a return, getting something out of it.
Umpiring is a funny thing that we do, because it's a team sport. A lot of people think that we're on our own, it's about us, it's about me. If I go back to 2004, when I had my worst game that year [Test match between England and New Zealand, at Trent Bridge], and then I also won the ICC Umpire of the Year in that year—in some ways, I had my lowest moment, and in some ways, I had my best moment, which is a really strange contradiction within the same period of time.
Things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Context and perspective is really important
What I get from that is that things are never as good as they seem, and they are never as bad as they seem. Context and perspective is really important. And all of those games that I've gone through, all those experiences, right from that year that I talked about, or you go through 2003 World Cup, right through to the 2011 World Cup, and then you talk about the whole terrorist attack [in 2009, on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore]—a lot of ups and downs. There are a lot of moments that you go through in your career, where you reflect on what you're doing and why you're doing it. And they all make you stronger. They make you more resilient, they teach you lessons.
The game of cricket is really unique because if you have a weakness, the game of cricket will find it, it will find you, and you will find your level.
I've really enjoyed the challenge of looking for ways to find new information, looking for ways to keep pace with where the game is going, looking for ways to go places that no one's been before in umpiring, and try to be the best umpire I could be. And who knows where that was going to go. I'm just one of the lucky ones that it took me to the international level, it took me to the elite panel, it took me to being voted that way. But when I get up there on stage, and I collect those types of awards, I feel very awkward. I feel embarrassed.
Indrajit Gupta: Why is that?
Simon Taufel: Because it's a team sport, and you can't achieve success on your own.
Indrajit Gupta: That was a remarkable part of the book as well, because most of us, like you rightly said, look at it as an individual sport, or an individual role that you play, but you placed a lot of accent on teamwork.
Simon Taufel: That's why, a few years ago, I sat back and thought, well, those awards sitting on the shelf—they’re not for me. I just did what they helped me do, and then someone voted and here we are. So I started to give them away. I gave one to my mom. I gave one to my coach who helped me a lot through those years. I gave one to the New South Wales Cricket Umpires Association—without their support, without their giving an apprenticeship and opportunity, I wouldn't be here. And I gave one to the Bradman Foundation, because I think it's really important that [to] other people who go to what I believe is the maker of cricket in Australia. And I kept one still on the shelf to represent what we'd achieved. It's not about me.
Indrajit Gupta: Simon, that's fairly unusual, isn't it? Most people would decorate their living rooms with all the trophies that they've collected. You've given it away.
Simon Taufel: Well, I've given those sorts of things away. I've kept some memorabilia for myself that mean something to me—around remembering some of the special moments. But successes is never achieved on your own. It's really important that when we do get those things that we celebrate what's worked, and that we put something back into the other people that have helped us get there. That's what sustainability looks like.
What I'm doing now by writing the book, and by sharing a lot of those stories—I'm not trying to get rich out of selling books. I don't believe you get rich out of selling books. All I'm trying to do is to share. I'm selling the message. I'm selling the learnings. I'm selling the ideas and concepts of helping people unlock their potential. And I'm passionate about that.
That's part of the reason I got out of umpiring back in 2012, full time. The book talks about that as a use-by date, when I started to recognize that I wasn't training as hard, that I didn't want it as much, that other people wanted it more. And that we felt that there was something more important to do in the game of cricket. I started to transition out of that.
I started with Aleem Dar and Billy Bowden back in 2003 on the Elite Panel of ICC Umpires. And there's no doubt in my mind that I could still be there. I could still be umpiring. And I could still be building a bank account. I could still be spending seven months away from home every year. But it's not my passion. It's not what I wanted to do. It wasn't the most important thing to me. I felt that.
Indrajit Gupta: Was it an inner voice that told you at some point that you had your fill?
It's really important that people step back and they think about their game, about their why
Simon Taufel: It's a self-realization. And I think it's a self-acknowledgement. This is why it's really important that people actually step back and they think about their game, about what they do, about their why.
The book just goes through a lot of those, what I call life skills, soft skills. Because we all tend to be very good on the competencies and capabilities, but I've really tried to narrow in on the character skills and the chemistry skills—you know, your individual foundation values and talents and qualities and also your ability to add value to a team and fit into a time—that determine that ‘how far do you go’ concept.
Indrajit Gupta: You made a very interesting distinction in your book between reputation and character. I love that. Can you elaborate a bit on where you were coming from?
The game is a wonderful way of revealing people's character, particularly under pressure
Simon Taufel: Character is definitely who you are. No one can change your character—that's entirely up to you. People can speculate about your reputation. And reputations take a long time to build, but can be lost very quickly. But your character is something that stays with you. And the game also is a wonderful way of revealing people's character, particularly under pressure, particularly in moments where, as I said, with leadership—people can get very selfish or self-centred.
In umpiring, I make lots of mistakes because mistakes are part of what we do. And part of my character has to be to admit those mistakes, to take ownership of those mistakes. When I say good leaders such as Mahela Jayawardene that I've written about in the book, I think it's really important to acknowledge that character is about taking responsibility for what's not working. And when you do achieve success, it is giving that credit to your team. It's about putting the game first.
I say in the book that the game owes me nothing, I owe everything to the game. Without the game of cricket, you and I are not having this conversation.
We are very fortunate that in today's world through people like Kerry Packer [best known for founding World Series Cricket] and other administrators and other visionaries who have grown the game in a way that allows us to put food on the table by simply participating—we owe it to them to actually keep taking the game forward and making it accessible to other people so that they too can enjoy what we've had.
Indrajit Gupta: I wanted to pick up that whole issue around mistakes because they do leave a mental scar. You're in high-pressure situations all the time, there's no let off. Talk to us about, let's say, any one of those—maybe the incident with Sachin Tendulkar at Trent Bridge in 2007. We were watching the video earlier. How would you deal with it when you come back to the pavilion?
[Watch a video clip of Simon giving Sachin out for 91 at Trent Bridge in 2007. Watch it from 3.23 mins]
If I take a step back, before I talk about Sachin’s example, as I said, in 2004, I had my worst game of cricket, and it happens to be on TV. And that's the world we live in—our best game will be on TV and our worst game will be on TV. That's the job. That's the cards we’re dealt. In some ways, you can try and prepare for those sorts of events. But until they actually happen, you really don't know what you’re made of. And we've seen over the last couple of years, where a lot of our elite panel umpires have had their worst game of cricket.
Now that's really interesting because it's not about what you do at the time, it's about what you do next.
I walked away from the game in 2004 with a choice. And I remember thinking about that choice. And I'm thinking individually, personally, emotionally, I didn't sign up for this. I didn't sign up for this feeling. I do not want to feel this way. I feel terrible. I don't want to go through this experience again. So maybe, just maybe this international umpiring is not what I'm cut out to do. And I thought, do I give up? Do I walk away? That's certainly… why not? But then I read a really good book, which I talk about in Finding the Gaps, called Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert. And I started to self-discover and connect with how I got there, how I got into that dark place, and made so many mistakes.
Now, Brad Gilbert wasn't talking about umpiring skills. He wasn't talking about how to get more decisions right on the cricket field. He was talking about mentally being stronger, tougher, being more resilient. What I took away from that was… and it actually helped me personally, individually to be a better person.
Now, you know what I decided on that plane going back to Sydney, when I had that choice. That I'll have a crack at this and I'll learn from it and I'll stick around and I'll give it a good crack. Now that doesn't stop you from still making mistakes. But if we then go forward to Sachin’s decision where I gave him out incorrectly on 91. Okay, technology didn't agree with me at the time. And I know why I got that decision wrong ultimately—because I second guessed myself and I tried to make what I would call the hero decision—looking for something that's not there, trying to get that one decision that no one else is going to get right. And not trusting my gut, my instincts.
If you watch the video clip, I do take a long time to give Sachin out. And that's because I overthought that decision. I didn't follow my gut. My original thought was, now that's probably missing. And then I thought long and hard about it, and I thought, no, I reckon that might be just clipping off stump, I'll give that out. So I went against my gut feel.
Now, what's unique about that is, only a few days ago, I was in Pune and doing a session for JetSynthesys, which is a company that works with Sachin with video games, and also an app that they’ve developed with him. Unbeknownst to me, while we're doing this Q and A, and while we're talking about our lessons in the book, they said, ‘Well, we were with Sachin the other day and he's recorded a message for you in relationship to that decision’, and I played it. It was a 40-50 second video clip.
In that video clip Sachin says, yes, he gave me up. Yes, it was incorrect. Yes, I was disappointed with the decision. However, Simon came back to me later and said… he acknowledged that he got the decision wrong. He showed contrition around the decision—and I'm paraphrasing here—he admitted, he acknowledged. And I thought that was big of him. I thought that was impressive. I respect him as an individual as a result of that. I respect him as an umpire as a result of that.
Isn't it interesting here in 2019, many, many years after that decision, I write a book. And I get to the end of the book, and then I'm thinking about who can I get to write the foreword? Then I pick up the phone, and I ring Sachin and I say ‘Sachin, I've written a book. Would you mind if I send you a copy of the electronic version? Would you mind having a read? And if you think there's any merit in would you be kind enough to consider writing the foreword?’ And he said, ‘Happy to do that for you’.
Now, here I am—an umpire from Sydney, who is just a participant in the game, talking to someone who's done 200 Test matches, and been an icon in the sport for so long. And someone whom I’d given out incorrectly, possibly cost him a 100, who is able to show strength of character himself. He's able to put the respect and individual qualities of who we are first and simply lend his support to someone who's trying to do their best and trying to make a difference to other people.
That's what I think is really great about the game of cricket and about this example—that we rise above what might be working or not working in the game. And we might still have that human connection of respect. Maybe not friendship, necessarily. But certainly respect and mutual admiration, and a good relationship.
Indrajit Gupta: How many empires would do what you did, to step up and…
We want people to put their hand up and say I stuffed up
Simon Taufel: I'm not a big believer in apologizing for decisions, because it's not about the apology. And I do see match officials go to players across different sports and apologize. I'm not saying that's always wrong. And I'm not saying it's always right. But it has to be done in a way—and I talk about this, about leadership—it has to be authentic. It has to be genuine. We want authentic leaders. We want people to put their hand up and say I stuffed up.
Players don't want us to apologize. All they want us to do is to get the next decision right
But, the apology is not for the person making the apology. The apology is for the other person. Sometimes we go to make those apologies, and we're saying it to make ourselves feel better. I wasn't doing that for me. I was acknowledging the error to him to say, I understand how you feel, I understand you were disappointed with the decision—I could see he was disappointed. I could see that wasn't just ‘Okay, I got out of 91’. I could see it meant more to him than just getting out. That's where I felt that I had a responsibility to acknowledge that—not to make him feel better, not to make myself feel better, but to try and draw a line under it to communicate to him that I knew that it meant something. And I did something that was unintentional in terms of the outcome.
But at the end of the day, I truly believed that players don't want us to apologize. That all they want us to do is to get the next decision right. That's the way I've grown up. That's why I say I don't believe in apologies in that format.
Part 2: Cross-pollination, why you need a good coach, and the dangers of changing for the sake of changing
Indrajit Gupta: I love the chapter on coachability as well. You've touched upon some fairly important facets of what a good coach can bring to the table, as well as how do you get ready? I wanted to explore the relationship that you had with Russel Trotter, the Australian Rugby Union’s referee’s manager. Tell us a little about how that relationship developed and the chemistry because without that, sometimes you don't develop a relationship of trust.
Simon Taufel: I'm a great believer in cross-pollination across sports. There’s a lot that we can learn from different industries, different sports, people from different walks of life. Again, lucky that Darrell Hair [Australian umpire who was also in the ICC Elite umpire panel] put me in touch with Russell Trotter from the Australian Rugby Union. He was the referee’s manager at the time. He also put me in touch with Michael Stone, who was the NRL [National Rugby League] referee’s boss at the time. And we started developing a network of sharing information and learning from each other. But Russell and I clicked. It's a fascinating thing. I truly believe that we can't be given a coach, we've got to click with a coach, we've got to find a coach that knows us.
Indrajit Gupta: And who is willing to contribute to a development.
Simon Taufel: Yes, absolutely. I've learned a lot about coaching over the years. Russell has taught me a lot, but also some of the best coaches around elite sport.
Where I walk away from this is a couple of things that are in the book.
Number one, good coaches—they don't tell you what to do. They ask you good questions. And then they put a level of accountability that, say, ‘you said you wanted this, you said you're going to do this. All I'm doing is just asking you whether you have done it.’
Some coaches fall into the habit of telling them what to do. That's mistake number one.
If I then move across to a Gary Kirsten [who coached the Indian Cricket Team from 2008 – 2011] type coach—what I learned from him was around this continuous improvement psyche. I thought Gary was interesting because after John Wright [former New Zealand captain who coached the Indian national cricket team from 2000 – 2005] — and I think John Wright was actually leading India in a way that was leading to where they needed to get to. Gary just sort of walked in and put the icing on the cake as it were. But he was able to galvanize the team and take a team of champions and turn them into a champion team together with Paddy Upton.
And I said, ‘Gary, so what's the secret to your coaching success? What do you do that works more than most?’
And he said, ‘You know what? Very simple. We ask ourselves two questions every day. One, are we doing this the right way? And two, Is there a better way? Because once they cross that white line, I can't help them.’
So, good coaches help you build self-discovery, self-learning, resilience, decision making, strategy skills—that you can actually self-diagnose. You can self-heal without them telling you what to do.
A good coach for me is a bit like a general practitioner, a doctor. They will help you diagnose what the problem is. They may be able to prescribe some minimal things that will help. But what they generally do is, they'll send you off to a specialist, they'll send you off to get a scan done, they'll send you off to an expert in a particular field that they can’t help you with. They'll point you in the right direction. And then they'll work with you and get a copy of those results and then try to have that accountability that will deliver the outcomes you're looking for. So I firmly believe… and Russell is still with me today, we still have a relationship today.
Indrajit Gupta: How long has it been?
Simon Taufel: We're getting close to 20 now.
But I would say that the work that I do with Russell now is completely different to what I did before. And I've got other coaches around me as well because your coaching needs change as you grow and develop. So, it's quite unusual to have the same coach for a long period of time, because your needs change.
Everybody should have someone in their corner, comforting the troubled and troubling the comfortable
But where I'd go with this is the firm belief that everybody should have a coach. Everybody should have someone in their corner, comforting the troubled and troubling the comfortable. Because sometimes you need that arm around your shoulder to pick you up when things aren't going well. And sometimes you need that kick on the bum, when you need to pull your finger out, as we say in Australia, and get it done, and stop blaming other things or other people, or finding excuses. That's where I land on coachability.
Indrajit Gupta: I wanted to focus on the point you made about innovation. We talked about Kerry Packer who was probably the best example of what the game has witnessed. But we're headed into uncharted territory with the pink ball cricket, people are talking now of T10, Sachin has talked about having two separate innings in a test match. I know the game needs to evolve. But are we trying to do too much too soon?
Simon Taufel: I think there's always a danger of changing for the sake of changing. It's just like business. We need to take educated risks with sport. We need to be very careful with sport, though. We need to keep it simple.
When you go through a lot of change very quickly, it tends to disrupt people, it tends to make them feel nervous
And if it isn't broke, we don't go fixing it. Because we can shift too quickly. It's funny, I was having dinner last night with a gentleman from Reliance. I understand that they are going through a lot of change. When you go through a lot of change very quickly or every year is, it tends to disrupt people, it tends to make them feel nervous and anxious, it tends to be a major distraction. And it's almost like, as I explained to him last night, in a cricketing context, you lose a few wickets at the top of the order. And then the focus has got to be to consolidate. We don't want to lose any more wickets. Because when that panic goes through the dressing room, all of a sudden, it's ‘what do we do now?’ And one leads to two leads to three leads to four. And at no stage did anyone consolidate and say ‘Hang on, let's…’ — it's a bit like that aircraft taking off full thrust—lots of change. But then when you get to the top, you want to sort of pull back on the throttle and ease out and just start to cruise.
That's why we need to be very careful with change for the sake of change. We want to make sure that we implement change, we manage change in a way that people get comfortable before we move on. And we don't keep changing before people get comfortable.
Where I would say with the pink ball test — and I've said this to many people over the last couple of weeks is — I think it's very important to try and apply. I think it's very important to look at issues to solve the broader problem. But very rarely is there a silver bullet that's going to solve all of our problems in a particular area.
So if we're trying to promote Test cricket, if we're trying to protect its heritage and look for ways to ensure that we don't lose the primacy of Test cricket, and we make it available for more people to play, the pink ball is just part of the possible solution. It's not the answer.
We need to look at how do people want to consume Test cricket? How do we improve the strength of our domestic structures? In other words, how many people [are] playing four-day cricket in first-class? How many full member countries are really investing in the longer form of the game? How are they promoting their stars of Test cricket? How do we make it more attractive to players to stick around and play Test cricket and not look for more lucrative short-term fixes of shorter formats of the game?
So, it's important to try and apply.
Indrajit Gupta: A slightly more holistic kind of approach rather than just tweak one or two things.
Simon Taufel: Yes, I think it's important we don't look for Band Aid solutions. And sitting on the ICC cricket committee over 10 years ago, on this topic of a test championship, we advocated a test championship many, many years ago as being part of the importance of context, playing towards something, not playing cricket for the sake of nothing. We needed to play for something, we needed to create some context and relevance in that area.
I'm very pleased today we have a world test championship as a result. You can debate the point system as much as you like as to whether it's right, or wrong, or indifferent. But that doesn't matter to me. What's really important is that every game counts, and the teams have got something to play for.
So, for me, it's a very much a balanced scorecard approach to improving a particular area of the game and making sure that we just don't [say] that's a silver bullet, let's just do that and all of our problems will go away. Because society keeps changing. So the relevance of the game in society has to shift with it. We have to keep ourselves relevant to the needs and wants of society.
Indrajit Gupta: I have one question around technology. I could sense from all the conversations that you've had on this at the IIT Techfest and a couple of sessions that you believe that technology has its place but let's not take the game away from the human factor, which is what the umpires do really. But at the same time, given the kind of pressure that the game creates—you want to get every decision right—are there any new problems that technology ought to solve beyond what is already being tried out—the Snicko [Snickometer], Hot Spot, and a couple of others. We get too obsessed with technology I believe, but I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.
Simon Taufel: My background before I took up umpiring was in manufacturing. I worked in a printing company and I worked my way up from costing and estimating right through to operations management in a sheet-fed lithographic environment. I very quickly connected with the concept, particularly when you're looking after lots of clients and lots of jobs, that you can do anything with manufacturing given time and money. I can shut down my entire factory and get one job through in a hurry by ignoring all the other things, all by throwing lots of resources and money at it over time. For example, extra printing presses extra staff, I can do that. But it comes with a cost. The cost is the other jobs that don't get done, or the cost is the financial one. And I liken that to exactly the same way in the game of cricket—that we can do anything we want to. But it has a cost.
We can use technology for more decisions, but the cost is it will slow the game down. Is that what we want?
So, we can put more technology into the game. But look, we need to bear one thing in mind that the game doesn't own the technology, the broadcasters do, ICC doesn't own the technology. And so we are pretty much subservient to what the broadcasters want. Because they're paying the bills. So that relationship looks different. And we can use technology for more decisions if we want to, but the cost is going to be time and [slowing the game] down. Is that what we want?
I find it interesting when I look at other sports—and again, here we go to cross pollination. I look at sports like baseball In the US that have gone down that technology pathway, but have decided to wind up back. They’ve decided that they don't want to slow the game down to that extent.
So it's one of those funny things that, again, sitting on ICC cricket committees in this space, is that we need to deliver what the game expects. Now when I say the game, we're talking about what the majority expects, and how do we want to play the game? We need to be very clear on our vision about how do we want to play the game? There's always two extreme views: Don't want to use any technology down one end of the table, let's go all technology down the other end of the table. The answer is somewhere in between. You’ve got to find that sweet spot, you've got to find what the majority of people expect of you.
As technology continues to get better, as it continues to get faster, we're able to implement it in a way perhaps that we find more reasonable, more efficient, more accurate. I've always said, ‘never say never’. There's always a discussion and debate to have about how much and why and where it fits. But we need to implement it in a way that doesn't compromise the way that we want to play the game. At the moment, I really am supportive of umpires making decisions. I think the umpires having the soft signal is a good thing. I think the conclusive evidence protocol is a good thing.
I also believe that technology breeds mediocrity in officiating. That whenever an official can abrogate their responsibilities of making a decision and just send it upstairs, why do they need to have the technique of either getting into position, making a decision, or getting involved? And do they overuse technology or do they underuse it?
We've seen of late in some sports like soccer, football, where they're going through this real challenge at the moment about how do we want to use technology? I don't think they’ve sorted that question at the moment. The VAR [video assistant referee] system doesn't seem to be making anyone happy. They're going through that phase that we went through 10 years ago, 15 years ago—how do we want to use it? And are we just taking our own field problems and putting them into the third umpire’s box? I think we’ve just have to go through that period, like they went through, or they need to go through that period, like we went through. We were all just trying to sort our way through it and feel our way through it, and get people used to it and manage expectations.
Because managing expectations is really funny in this area. I’ve seen people who use one example, like the overthrows in the World Cup, and say we must use technology for overthrows. Or they see one front-foot no-ball someone blows up about, and so we must use technology for that. Well, again, how much of the game is broken? Are we simply solving for that? Let's go back a step. Is it one umpire? Is it one decision?
Before we make a decision about change, is it broken? What are the numbers telling us?
Business [leaders], captains of industry, they will get this. Before we make a decision about change, is it broken? What are the numbers telling us? What's the error defect number telling us? How do we make a good decision based on good information? What does our gut tell us? What does the data tell us? I'm not quite convinced that sometimes we get all the data first and make a rational decision. We take very much an emotional decision. We need to really make sure that we just don't change for the sake of emotion, that we change to make the sport better, because that's the right thing to do.
Anmol Shrivastava: On that note of talking about the World Cup finals, this year was a monumental moment. We saw very unfortunate incidents, and you later also came out and said that the umpiring was also not spot on, because it was an extra run. But as you said, it's also maybe a once-in-a-blue-moon moment. How do you deal with such mistakes where there's so much emotion of the fans on the line?
Simon Taufel: My advice would be, how do we take that emotion and turn it into rational thinking? How do we take the emotion off the table? In my book, I talk about managing conflict. I talk about coping with pressure. But if we're managing conflict, and we're trying to sort through a difficult issue, we need to manage the emotion of the person, manage the person, we need to manage the issue.
To me, it's about focusing on playing the ball, not playing the man.
Why are we looking at one ball out of 599? Why aren't we talking about all the other incidents from that game?
What's the ball here? The ball is ‘okay, how do we get more decisions, right?’ Or is this something that we really need to fix or change? Is it just the beauty of the game? Is it just the bounce of the ball? Is it just someone who's made a judgment call?
Why are we looking at one ball out of 599? Why aren't we talking about all the other incidents from that game? Marais Erasmus makes a great caught behind decision not out. We're not talking about that. We're not talking about the Ross Taylor LBW. We're talking about the overthrows. One ball did not determine that final. It's a great game. And people then talk about ‘oh, it's ridiculous that we're deciding the World Cup final on boundary count back’. That rule has been around for over 10 years. It's always been there. Everyone signed up to it. All the competing teams had the opportunity of looking at the plying conditions before the tournament started and saying I've got a problem with this. I don't like it. One team missed out on the semi finals based on the net run rate. They all knew what the parameters were before the competition started. No one who was on the right side of the net run rate said this rule is no good.
You see, people want consistency. But they don't want it all the time. They only want it when it suits them. And this is how match officials and match officiating have to work with the rational side of applying laws in playing conditions in a very objective and fair way based on what happens on the day.
Indrajit Gupta: But Simon, did the way that it panned out the same day, the next day, do you think the response was in line with what you're saying? Could we have dealt with it a little more…
Simon Taufel: We get emotionally charged up because it's a World Cup final, because it's the ultimate in sport. It's such a big occasion. It's such a big day. And they say, isn't it a shame that this happened? Look at the flip side. We had a fantastic game of cricket. That's like the technology debate—people say all technology shows you're getting decisions wrong. You flip that on its head and you say, well, it’s showing us getting 95 out of 100 right. That's actually a positive story. That's the other side of looking at technology and how many good decisions the umpires make and how technology supports that high quality of umpiring that we see from time to time.
It's no different to saying, ‘Well, here we had a game of cricket that was drawn twice, tied twice.’ And why aren’t we talking about that? Why aren't we celebrating more the way that the New Zealand team handled defeat, the way that they showed tremendous leadership and courage, and the character that we talked about. Its import within the game of cricket and the spirit that we talk about—why aren't we celebrating that? Rather than focusing on the negative, which is about why one team lost and why one team won?
Indrajit Gupta: Was there constructive debate in the umpiring community after the World Cup final?
Simon Taufel: It's important to let the dust settle and let that emotion come out of it. Just let that die down and say, look, let's not rush on conclusions here and what have you. But already, we've seen in some competitions that the rules around the Super Over have changed, and that they've gone away from having a boundary count back to having another Super Over.
But in every sport, funny enough, you still need to have some form of tiebreaker.
I find it fascinating in tennis, for examples, that we moved away from having the best of the last set to actually having a tiebreaker after a certain number of games—because, again, how do we want to play this? The broadcasters are saying we've got to have a finish line. We've got to have something to determine a winner. We can't just keep playing for days and days. There has to be a result. I just find it fascinating that tennis has actually gone back to where cricket was—having a tiebreaker in the last set, and cricket has gone the other way by saying, well, no, we actually don't want a tiebreaker, we want to get in this pathway. And who's to say it won’t change again, based on emotion.
Indrajit Gupta: What a day that was when the two matches were going on simultaneously.
Part 3: How India can build a cadre of leaders, how to create a system that attracts the right people, and black box thinking
Anmol Shrivastava: Cricket fans look at the game from the vantage of players. Very little is spoken about the meticulous preparation which umpires go through. When it comes to umpiring there's still a long way for us to go to produce really high quality umpires much like Australia's doing. What would your suggestion be to countries who want to build an umpiring ecosystem?
Simon Taufel: It relies upon creating an environment built around trust, meritocracy, accountability, serving the game, providing sufficient resources. When I talk to businesses and teams about building trust, I talk about five components to building trust.
Number one, find the right tools. You need to resource your people in umpiring and give them the right resources to be able to do the job they have to do. Now that could be anything from clothing to match appointments, sufficient notice, to paying them responsibly and fairly, to giving them the right radios, umpiring room key—the whole lot.
Isn't it funny that when we build stadiums these days, we don't actually think about the umpire’s room. It's too small. Or where's the third umpire’s room? Most of the third umpire’s rooms these days are still in corporate suites, where they're not even close to where the umpire’s room is. You've got to give your people the right resources to do the job. Just let them get on with it. Less distractions. So that's number one. Give your people the right resources.
Find the right tools to get in the trenches with them. So the management team, the cricket administrators really need to walk around in the umpire’s shoes and see what's working and what's not. And see what they say about what they need, and see how they can support them and give them the sense of belonging, trust, support, to be able to feel that sense of inclusiveness that they too are important to the game of cricket because a lot of administrators might say that they're important, but how many actually have walked in their shoes and can see those gaps and see what needs to be done and create opportunities where there's dialogue between match officials and administrators. That's number two—get in the trenches with the people.
Do the umpires really know what their role is in the game within your domestic structure?
Number three is the vision. Have you clearly communicated your vision, mission statement objectives to your people? Do the umpires really know what their role is in the game within your domestic structure? Do they really connect with the fact that the game is for the players and that they have a role to make sure that the right players go through the system and that they have a responsibility to add value to cricket? That they understand their role and they understand where cricket is going? Are they part of those decisions? How many decisions are the administrators making where the umpires, referees are not consulted on? Do they really think that they're part of that vision, part of those company objectives and game objectives?
[Next is] education and development. We need to constantly look for ways to impart new knowledge to people that allows them to keep pace with the game. What that might look like our space is, the mental side of the game. You look at what's recently happened to Glenn Maxwell, around mental health. We've had examples in the past where Mark Benson has also gone through similar experiences of just feeling it's too much and that we need extra resources, extra support, and extra help. But you also need to keep pace with technology, which we talked about. I can remember when I started first being a third umpire in the mid-1990s, nobody gave me any training. One learnt on the job.
There are four ICC umpire coaches. There are many full member countries around the world who did not even have any umpire’s coach. If you compare the resources around education and training for the first class cricket team—just pick any first class cricket team you want around the world—and you will generally find there are more resources in the education training space for players at the first class level than you've got for the national group of umpires in that country.
I find that amazing. I thought it’s disappointing, but I find it amazing.
So, educate and develop your people.
And then we get to the last one, which is ‘lead by serve’. We need to make sure that we provide an environment for our match referees, for our umpires, where everyone in the cricket system is there to serve their needs and to help them be the best that they can be. So it's a very broad system.
But then practically, what does that mean and what does that look like? So that means having a dedicated and responsible umpires and referees manager. That means having a dedicated responsible national coach for umpires. That means having a dedicated and responsible manager for training, development and education. That means having dedicated people responsible for the logistics and administration of those people.
Indrajit Gupta: That's how you build the cadre.
Simon Taufel: That's how you build the structure and the system.
And then that's just the national body. What do you then do at the state level? You do exactly the same thing. And you cascade that down. So that the pathway then is very clear. And you have to align education, training and assessment together and make it very clear to match officials when they come into the system that this is what we want and this is how you will be promoted through the pathway. We will select and appoint based on your ability to meet the benchmarks and standards that we've got at every level through the pathway. And if you don't meet those benchmarks, you don't go forward. But if you do, there's a very high likelihood that you will [go forward].
You've got to be able to clearly demonstrate that pathway and what's required at every level of the game for that to happen.
Now I give you this this final thought on your question. When I look at the best match officials in any sport around the world, yes they are good decision makers—they have to be; that's a given. But there's something else that they’ve got that determines the best of the best. It's all the stuff in the book—leadership, preparation, managing conflict, building relationships, earning respect, coachability, positive attitude, being able to adapt, being able to manage pressure, being able to self-discipline and manage themselves by being self-disciplined. That's the difference between good and right.
We can produce umpires that are good decision makers, but when you've got an assessment system that's geared towards just assessing decisions as being the most important thing, you're missing the true. The best in the world have got those skills, they are a given. We can all tell whether someone's made a good decision or a bad decision. But not everyone has all those soft skills, the ability to go from good to great.
That's where the subcontinent, in my view, has the real opportunity here to build sustainable success and to build a structure and a system that attracts the right people, rewards them as they go through the system, and manages the people who can't do those things out of the system. Through transparency, through meritocracy, and rewards for hard work and performance. That's where the soft skills really come into their own.
Indrajit Gupta: We seem to have done that as far as the players are concerned. Ian Chappell went on record the other day, saying that the Indian system has now come to a level where even the Australians need to sit up and take notice. But when it comes to umpiring—I think you've referred to it and I wanted to understand that a little better. You said that when you work with junior umpires in this part of the world—India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka—you found that there was too much of a this whole respect that they have towards international umpires, which sometimes comes in the way of the learning. Do you want to elaborate on how to deal with that phenomena?
Simon Taufel: In the subcontinent cultures, you've got a great culture of respect, hierarchy of respect that is built over a long period of time. That's a great quality to have—the respect for your elders, for your mother and your father, your grandparents. But a lot of strengths also have their weaknesses in certain situations. When I walk into a team environment, it's important to work really hard to ensure that — and I talk about this in the book about the traits of a top team — we need to be inclusive of all of our members in the team, we need to draw them in, we need to give them the expectation of adding value, and not just sitting back and getting a free ride and just letting other people do all the work. That there is an expectation of contribution.
If you see something that I'm doing that's not right, I expect you to tell me
We also need to look at egalitarianism, treating people as equals, and expecting that they contribute equally. But also, when we put on the Superman suit and we go out there into the game, everyone's equal. There's no senior, no junior, there's no ‘sir’. We are the same. And if you see something that I'm doing that's not right, I expect you to tell me.
Indrajit Gupta: Otherwise, how will you learn?
Simon Taufel: Or, how are we going to have team success?
It's not about me. And it's not about them. It's about us. We're all in this together. We could judge together. When I say us, and we talk about moving umpiring and refereeing forward, it's about us.
Indrajit Gupta: But that's not true. Even, let's say, if you look around and look at the medical profession—doctors do pride themselves, they have colossal egos and they don't often listen to the team around them. That can be fatal.
To be successful, and to learn from the mistakes, you need to be brutally honest
Simon Taufel: I look at a resource like Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. If you read that book, and you connect with it — when he compares the medical industry with the aviation industry, we handle mistakes in the medical industry completely different to the airline and aviation industry.
To be successful, and to learn from the mistakes, you need to be brutally honest. You need to be able to feel comfortable in a safe environment, to share those mistakes and to be vulnerable. Because unless you're brutally honest, you are not going to move forward. An alcoholic to move forward, has to admit that they've got a problem. In the aviation industry, when there's a crash, they look for that black box, they try to find out what is the root cause of what went wrong, and they fix it. They don't bury it. They don't hide it. They fix it. That's the culture of high performance. That's the culture of honesty, safety, integrity, putting the objectives of the group first—not one airline company, not one insurance company. That's where we've got to be and that takes courage. That takes commitment. And it takes tenacity to make hard decisions—that takes great leadership. That's where the book comes from.
This is a marathon, it's not a sprint to change a culture. It's a big ship. And big ships take a long time to turn
That's what I'm trying to get across too.
This is a marathon, it's not a sprint to change a culture. It's a big ship. And big ships take a long time to turn.
We need to start now, to try to shift the culture and turn it into a high performance culture, and have a positive effect on looking at those soft skill values of courage, honesty, respect, taking the traditions which you've got here. How do we leverage off that in a way that we turn a population of 1.2 billion people who can actually reach Number One from a playing perspective, but how do we get them to Number One from an officiating perspective?
They're all transferable skills. They're all high performance skills. They're all team skills. They're all leadership skills. They're all honesty skills, vulnerability skills, humility skills, they’re team-first skills. They're not about getting a caught behind right—that’s a given.
Let's do it. Why don't we do it?
Indrajit Gupta: You asked that question to Virender Sehwag on the bus. And he said no. That's tragic. But S Venkataraghavan did it [turned to umpiring] and he did a pretty good job.
Simon Taufel: But again, getting former players to be part of umpiring is not the silver bullet. It's developing that structure that I was talking about. It's developing that environment that I was talking about. It's committing to that environment. It's someone in the office getting a phone call saying such and such has had a bad day today, I don't want to see him umpire again—and someone then having the courage to say ‘Hang on. Do you realize he has umpired 20 games this season? He's actually performing quite well overall. And this is just a blip on the radar. We back him. He’s a good umpire, we back him.’
Indrajit Gupta: It's interesting that you mentioned this because if you see what's going on with cricket commentators, there is a huge bias against anyone who hasn't played the game. It's very subtle. And you know who I'm talking about, the names are obvious. If you not a test cricketer, international cricketer, you aren’t always given the kind of respect that you perhaps deserve.
Simon Taufel: That's an uncontrollable for me. But that's a mindset. That's a culture.
Indrajit Gupta: Has that happened in Australia as well?
Simon Taufel: We produce so many good umpires in Australia that have no first class cricket experience. I'm one of them, hopefully. If people think that I'm a good umpire, I haven't played first class cricket. Steve Davis and Daryl Harper didn't play first class cricket.
Indrajit Gupta: And commentators?
Simon Taufel: Well, the beauty about commentators is they can say whatever they like and there's no accountability. Who are they answerable to?
Indrajit Gupta: To the audience, I guess, and to the broadcast I'm guessing.
Simon Taufel: But we're talking about participants in the game of cricket. We're talking about attracting the right people into the game. And as a cricket fraternity, we should make better decisions around how do we encourage the right people to get involved.
You're lucky in this country, you have a tremendous quantity of empires. So numbers aren't your challenge. In Australia, I'm chairman of the Highlands District Cricket Association. I'm one of five practicing empires every Saturday. And I'm doing both ends on my own because we don't have enough umpires. And I don’t want to umpire domestic cricket if I don't have to. I want other people to experience [it]. I'm constantly trying to grow and develop with our umpires association to get more people to officiate. So my issue is not quality, my issue is quantity. Over here [in India] the issue is not quantity, but quality. We need to respond to that.
Anmol Shrivastava: You spoke about how much of the game is about leadership, providing air cover, creating the right environment. When we look at captains—and you're spoken about Mahela Jayawardene, you've also spoken about MS Dhoni. It's at a very young age. There's so much expected of them. You have had a very interesting cricket vantage point. Which are the lesser known cricketers who have inspired you, or who have made you to think, or you have appreciated?
Simon Taufel: Before I answer that question, you raise an interesting topic that I spoke to Rahul Dravid a week or so ago when I caught up with him in Bangalore—about how are we developing good people.
The cricket system today grabs the cricketer at a very young age and puts a contract in front of them. They get paid a reasonable amount of money, in some cases a lot of money. They don't go through learning some of these life skills that are important to developing the individual. They don't have a real job. They don't have a real boss. They don't get through the trials and tribulations that most people in society do. They live in a world where a lot of things are done for them. People carry their bags, organize their flights, organize their visas and passports. People organize their breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their laundry gets done for them. They don’t make their own bed. It's not their fault. That's what's presented in front of them. So I'm not blaming them at all.
But we have a responsibility to ensure that if we don't give them that real life experience and we take those opportunities away from them, what are we doing to actually give them those as part of their overall development? The game does very well with players to develop the cricketing skills. But are we developing their life skills? Are we developing their leadership skills? Are we developing their captaincy skills and helping them make better choices? Which also then touches on doping. Or corruption or racism, or tolerance and humility.
Where are the programmes to develop holistically the individual and not just the cover drive, or the bouncer, or the leg spinner?
We can do much better in this space. And to deal with those challenges, those mental challenges that we touched on before, of well-being. We teach them good habits about diet, or fitness and exercise, but there's a lot of other things that we should be touching on which the book covers—to holistically produce good individuals.
Indrajit Gupta: Can you insulate cricket from what's going on in the larger society? That's the question.
Simon Taufel: No you can’t. As I said before, sport is a reflection of society and sport brings out the character of people. But what are we doing to bring the parents along with us on that journey? When we develop the individual cricketer holistically with those skills, how do we [also] involve the parents to ensure that we're on the same page—because the parents have the responsibility really, of dealing with young people first and foremost. And then you've got the education system, you've got schools and then you've got cricket coaches, etc. We all need to be together on this, [be] on the same page about how we might encourage better citizens, and then better cricketers.
But I've seen in my career—and so back to your question around not just famous captains, but other cricketers—I was very impressed when I first came across a lot of the South African players like Boeta Dippenaar, Jacques Rudolph, Jacques Kallis, and AB de Villiers… I could go on with these sorts of players who were a product of their schooling and their parenting. I went to South Africa and did some umpiring early on in my career at the first class level—I just thought, these are just great individuals, they are nice people, very respectful, and they treated me with a lot of professional respect. And I'm not just a talking about their language, I'm talking about the way they carry themselves. They are products of their parents, their schools, and the cricket system. That's what you want. That's what you're looking for.
Indrajit Gupta: But in a in a world that obviously is heading towards more corruption, less ethics, it's hard.
There's a gap of leading with integrity. We see that there are a lot of opportunities for people to take shortcuts
Simon Taufel: Well, let's look at finding the gaps. And that's why in this world—and back to one of the original questions that you asked me about why did I write the book—is because, personally, together with my business colleagues, we see that there's a gap of leading with integrity. We see that there are a lot of opportunities for people to take shortcuts, and simply put themselves ahead of everyone else, or to be selfish, or to have an ego that drives them in a direction that's not sustainable. And it's not about that. It's about doing the right thing for the right reasons, adding value, sustainable success, and about making some tough decisions and doing the right thing. If we all just do the right thing, there are less problems.
Indrajit Gupta: What did Rahul Dravid have to say to your question and to your comments?
Simon Taufel: It's a task and a concept that he's keen to develop and look at together with his education manager. But it's about turning thoughts and ideas into words, and turning those words into actions. Again, this gets back to the administrators around investment, and making some hard decisions, and being committed to sustainable change and important things that will make a difference.
It's like most things in life—we'll see what happens. But all good leaders have a strong bias towards action and getting stuff done.
Anmol Shrivastava: To end on a lighter note, can you tell us how you learned Hindi and if you have a message in Hindi for our audience?
Simon Taufel: Dubara mat poochna [Don’t ask again] (laughs).
I learnt Hindi coming here for many years now, probably close to 20 years. I was very lucky early in my career to tour with a guy like Daryl Harper who encouraged me to embrace the local culture, and to assimilate with people—whether they are at the airport, hotel, cricket ground, whatever.
And if I'm umpiring people in India, and they ask me how many balls to go, and I can say teen [three] or I can say do [two]. Counting to six is very important—so ek, do, teen, chaar, paanch, chhe—over. If I can say please—kripya, if I can say thank you—dhanyavaad, if I can know all the swear words when people are saying things that they're not supposed to be saying—that's a good thing. But if I can help them, if I can make that human connection by respecting the local culture, by respecting the local language, and show them that I've made a very, very small effort to make that connection, then that's a good thing. And that shows that I respect where I am, and how I can learn what they might be able to share with me.
Indrajit Gupta: Terrific. We've had a fantastic session and I'm glad that you could spend so much of time with us. You've brought to life what obviously the book has tried to capture, but there's nothing to beat a face-to-face conversation. We will stay in touch inshallah, and all the best for the rest of your stay in India and the rest of your book tour as well. Thank you.