Aleem Dar became only the third member of the Elite Panel of ICC Umpires to reach the 100-Test mark when he took to the field to officiate in the second Test between South Africa and England on January 2, 2016 at Newlands. He joins the exclusive company of Steve Bucknor and Rudi Koertzen to have umpired in 100 or more Tests, to date.
Imagine the setting.
A tall, wiry Wasim Akram running into bowl at you on what is the biggest day of your fledgling cricket career.
Akram had a long, but very smooth run up unlike his latter years when he could create magic off a few yards.
Facing-off against him was batsman Aleem Dar.
The right-handed middle-order batsman survived the fast, bouncy test by Akram as both the teenagers were picked on the first day of trials for Lahore’s Government Islamia College cricket team.
“Wasim Akram was the first one who got selected for bowling and I was the first batsman to be picked,” Dar says.
“I came to Lahore from Gujranwala got admission in Islamia College and played from there,” he adds.
Akram would be selected by the Pakistan team soon after and go onto become arguably the greatest left-arm fast bowler in history. Dar continued to put in the hard yards on the local circuit but soon realised he couldn’t cut it at the top level.
“I really wanted to be a cricketer. I gave it my best shot,” says Dar.
“I played First-class a bit and also played at Grade II level. But, then I realised that it was tough for me to become an international cricketer.”
The setback separated Dar from his childhood dreams but he had promised his parents he would do something ‘big’ in life.
He vowed to become the best umpire in the world.
“I promised my parents before leaving Gujranwala that I would become something big and I had to fulfill that promise,” he says.
Turning point: 2003 World Cup
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), run by COO Majid Khan, President Khalid Mehmood at that time, initiated a program for First-class cricketers to become professional umpires.
“It was a good opportunity. Azhar Zaidi advised me to take it up, saying it was a good opportunity, and that I may get something out of it,” says Dar.
Since then Dar’s never looked back and was lucky enough to get frequent opportunities to progress as an umpire.
He featured in his first international match just after a year’s experience under his belt, during which he officiated First-class, Grade II and Under-19 matches.
“I started from my club, where Imran Nazir, Abdur Razzaq and other players were playing at the time,” says Dar.
“I think I was extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to officiate in an international match with only an year’s experience.”
“Even if a Test cricketer comes to this field, he requires at least five to six years to complete the procedure and officiate in an international match,” he adds.
It did not take much time for Dar to become a World Cup umpire and he impressed the ICC on his very first tournament.
Aleem was flawless throughout the event and earned a place in the semi-final as the fourth umpire.
“The turning point of my umpiring career was the 2003 World Cup,” he says.
“ICC appreciated my performance and with only 12 matches worth of experience, I stayed there until the semi-final and was the fourth umpire in it.
“It was a huge achievement for me,” adds Dar.
Dar’s performances in the 2003 World Cup helped him achieve Test status and an England-Bangladesh fixture in October the same year became the first match he officiated.
Dar entered the ‘elite umpires’ category after that match and has maintained the honour since then.
The ICC conducts different tests to keep check on the umpires’ fitness for future assignments and that according to Dar, has pushed him to achieve extraordinary fitness and high levels of concentration.
“We still attend courses or you can say workshops twice a year conducted by the ICC. In those courses, we have our fitness tests, eye tests, hearing tests, which are quite tough,” he says.
The consecutive three-time ICC Umpire of the Year dedication has been key to his success.
“Every match is important for me. I officiate every match like it’s my first one.”
‘Aleem Dar from Pakistan’
The 47-year-old says despite all the accolades, his proudest moment has been representing Pakistan.
“I can’t explain the moment when I won the first award. For me, it felt like I had done something for my country.
“I had tears in my eyes, I never thought I would reach this level.”
Dar idolised West Indies umpire Steve Bucknor when he started his career and the Jhang-born official say anyone who wants to be successful needs an idol.
“I will say that not only this profession [umpiring], but, whatever profession you have, try to reach its peak, try to be the best in your respective field,” he says.
“Idolise someone, like when I started, I idolised Steve Bucknor. You need to have a role model for yourself.
“Watch cricket on television, try to give decision before the umpire whether it is LBW, some nick or anything else.
“No dream is too big for you.”