Growing up in Pakistan in Lahore, I enjoyed all sports. We would play hockey, football and badminton as well as tape ball street cricket. My first game at school was badminton, I didn’t play any formal cricket until the age of 17, whilst I was in MAO College Lahore. My cricketing journey started from here. I was motivated and encouraged to play cricket from my coach, Akhtar Butt. After performing well in college cricket I was noticed by Azhar Zaidi and was given the opportunity to play for Income Tax cricket team. It was here that I played first-class cricket from 1994 onwards for Islamabad Cricket, Gujranwala and the Water and Power Development Authority.
I moved to England in 1999 and played as an overseas professional for Lidget Green Cricket Club and Idle Cricket Club in Bradford League. I settled, here and two years later I applied to play county cricket. I had a trial at Derbyshire and started to play second team cricket. I was called up to the first team in 2003. In 2004 I was awarded the county cap. This was an exceptional honour for me and something that I still remember and am proud of. In 2007 my first-class career for Derbyshire ended.
From 2008 to 2012 I played for Suffolk Minor County and Club Cricket for A&BCC. This was another great opportunity for me to continue my passion of playing cricket. I had a great time and met some amazing people.
Towards the end of my career, I had two options to explore, coaching or umpiring because I really wanted to stay in cricket - that is all I knew from a very young age. My good friend Aleem Dar whom, I have known whist playing cricket together in P&T Gymkhana Lahore said, ‘make sure you stay in the game. Use your experience, try umpiring and see if you enjoy it’. I first completed my entry level coaching badges. Level 1 and Level 2 but quickly realised this was not the right path for me. It was then that my journey of umpiring started. I tried junior level umpiring in 2011 and quickly realised how much I enjoyed it. I was greatly supported by Derbyshire umpiring Association, John Salisbury and Dave Connor and continued on, until I was promoted to Minor County and ‘D’ list panel (now referred to as National Panel). In 2019 I was promoted to ECB’s reserve panel of First Class Umpires.
During my time, I’ve found that there is a genuine umpiring community and, as a group, we support each other. I played with and against my umpires whilst I was a cricketer. I had known them for a number of years. They are all incredibly supportive and there for me when I need them. Management has always supported me throughout my journey as an umpire. As umpires, we are our best assessors, we know if we have done well or not. I believe that if you need to improve in an area, it’s important to learn from your mistakes.
There are opportunities for everyone. The ECB has acknowledged that it needs to do more to ensure that our First Class Match Officials are more diverse, and I agree with that but at the same time umpires should be prompted on skill and performance.
When I did my level 1 umpiring course, I was one of only 2 or 3 people from a South Asian community doing the course. Although I did not feel uncomfortable in any way as the tutors always supported and guided me, however it would have been nice to see an improvement in these figures. To make umpiring and officiating more diverse and to grow as a sport, we must show people that there are opportunities out there you just need to be focused, committed and encourage everyone no matter what race, gender or age. Cricket at its best is a family where everyone is comfortable and supportive.
Hopefully, I can encourage and inspire young umpires. Cricket is a game for everyone and umpiring should be no different.
Looking forward, I want to continue performing as a First Class Umpire. My first target is to perform well. The goal of most umpires is to be a top international umpire. Maybe one day!
Anyone can get involved in umpiring. Just visit ecb.co.uk/be-involved/officials to find out more.