Umpire Tulsi Kumar recently left us to officiate at a game in heaven. This article is a tribute to his glorious life.
There was a time when life consisted of the simple things. People worked hard and looked out for each other. They went to bed when the sun was set and woke up at the hint of dawn. These hardy souls congregated at weekends in temples, the marketplace and sporting grounds and celebrated life in genteel surroundings.
There was a particular group that talked about little else except cricket. They knew the players, statistics, the social aspects of the game and who were the likely prospects to make it big. In this group there was one person that shone like a bright and constant star. He was Tulsi Kumar, cricket umpire and gentleman.
Tulsi Kumar had an abiding passion for cricket in its purest form. He belonged to the school that saw the game was a battle of wits. It was the four and five-day matches, as opposed to the T20 format, that best illustrated the drama, attrition and passion that went with cricket.
Tulsi Kumar was born at Plantation Leonora on the West Coast of Demerara in Guyana. His mother was Torie and his dad was Musai. Tulsi is the eldest of three children; there is a sister Joyce and a brother Hardat. The family had a cakeshop in Leonora while Musai was the deputy head bookkeeper at Leonora estate. Tulsi attended the local schools in Leonora and he did well in his studies. He went to England around 1952 to further his studies but he returned to Guyana after a few months as he missed home.
The young Tulsi had a love for cricket at an early age and played the game with his brother Hardat and others. There were several household names that Leonora produced on the 1950’s. Many of the players belonged to the Leonora Cricket Club. Hardat says that Leonora had one of the strongest teams in the 1950’s and some of the players at that time were Sunny Basdeo, Abdul Hakim, Godfrey Granger, Lalta Persaud, Nabi Bacchus and Boodhoo Dwarka, among others.
Cricket underwent a transformation on the West Demerara in the sixties with the arrival of Clyde Walcott. Tulsi says that Walcott was instrumental in getting Port Mourant to play Leonora and this competition benefited both teams.
According to Tulsi, ‘we had a lovely team spirit and we had some good players. Bhisham and I used to open the batting and we put on a century stand against Wales. Boodhoo Dwarka was a good batsman. When McWatt saw him play for Guyana Colts against Australia in 1973 he said that Dwarka would make the Test side as he was that good.’
While the intricacies of cricket proved to be fascinating it was another aspect of the game that held Tulsi’s interest. This was umpiring. Why did Tulsi want to be an umpire? He said, “I discussed my options with Clyde Walcott. He said that I had done well to train Baksh and Ayube Mohamed and he suggested that I should go around in Guyana and give training to those that were interested in umpiring.”
Tulsi went around the country giving training. He also officiated in local Shell Shield matches and Umpires Tulsi Kumar and Cecil Kippins became a fixture at the Bourda Cricket Ground. Tulsi became a Labour Officer at the Ministry of Labour in Guyana. This meant that he had to split his time between his job and umpiring. Tulsi’s responsibilities were increased when he was appointed to head the flood relief committee in Guyana. This job was assigned to him because of his high profile in Guyana, his easygoing manner and his ability to get things done.
In 1968 the life of Umpire Tulsi Kumar reached new heights. He was invited to umpire in a game in England. When B.L. Crombie announced the news on radio the people of Leonora were excited as one of their own was about to put the community on the map. Tulsi enjoyed his experience in England. The English Umpire Association arranged matches for him to umpire. His greatest moment came when he stood at Lords with Syd Buller in an MCC versus Scotland game. Tulsi became friends with Syd Buller and even invited him to visit Guyana.
The English visit inspired Tulsi to conduct more training programs on his return to Guyana. There were no instant television replays in those days to help umpires and sometimes mistakes were made. Did Tulsi make a mistake? He laughs and said that no one is perfect. ‘I made a serious mistake that was long remembered,’ he recalls. ‘ I was standing at Bourda and Randolph Ramnarace and Rohan Kanhai were at the wicket. I gave Ramnarace out leg before wicket but on review the ball was missing the leg stump. I am happy to say that the incident did not spoil my relationship with Ramnarace. Incidentally, Ramnarace was one of the most prodigious talents that West Indies has produced. He would have broken many records if he had continued playing. Like Rohan, he was a crowd-pleaser.’
Umpire Tulsi Kumar had the best view of the players in action so who are some of his favorites? He says after much thought, “There are many but at the top of the heap is Rohan Kanhai. He was sheer class. He knew how to put lash on the ball! Garry Sobers was the greatest but the spin of Cornelius used to confuse him at times. Basil Butcher said that he considered himself as good as Sobers but Rohan were shoulders above the rest. In the bowling department none can compare with the great Wes Hall.”
Tulsi has respect for all the teams and he was particularly close to Clyde Walcott and Cecil Kippins. Tulsi loved the game so much that he formed a cricket team called ‘The Cavaliers’. It was made up of local players that toured the Caribbean.
Umpire Tulsi Kumar has served the sport well. He says, “Over the years I made many friends and I thank all for their support. I love cricket and umpiring.”
What advice does he have for cricket officialdom in the West Indies? He would like the players and administrators to realize that cricket is greater than the individual. Tulsi was so good that he should have umpired in Test Matches but politics, insularity and discrimination got in the way. But there is no bitterness. Tulsi is jovial, smiling and hard working and an inspiration to others.
Umpire Tulsi Kumar was a gentleman and a legend. He lived for cricket. He has made his country proud and he is busy in heaven helping others to take guard.