Most of the people associated with the game of cricket — administrators, scorers, even curators — are those who once dreamed to be international cricketers. When they realize that it might be impossible for them to reach that level, they take up such a job that could allow them to remain associated with the game.
Aleem Dar is one of those. When he decided in 1994 to quit playing cricket and become an umpire instead, no one could have thought that he would be so successful in this profession that he would be as famous as cricketers are.
He recently surpassed West Indies’ Steve Bucknor when he officiated in the Perth Test between Australia and New Zealand.
Aleem was born in Jhang on June 6, 1968. He came to Lahore in 1980 hoping to become a Test cricketer. He was one of the two who got admission to Islamic College Civil Lines on cricket quota. The other one was Wasim Akram. Aaqib Javed was also part of that team, which was captained by Aamer Sohail.
Joining P&T Gymkhana paved the way for him to become a first-class cricketer. He was a leg-spinning all-rounder. However, he soon realized he was not going to make it to the highest level and went to the US and worked as a cab driver. He did not know where his future lay.
When Majid Khan became the head of PCB, he encouraged first-class cricketers to become umpires. P&T Gymkhana captain Azhar Zaidi thought of making Aleem an umpire. His brother Athar Zaidi was already a Test umpire. During a long telephone chat, he convinced Aleem to return to Pakistan and start a career in umpiring.
Aleem supervised his first-class match in 1999. The other umpire in that match was late Siddique Khan. The match was played between Sargodha and LCCA. At that time, umpiring was thought to be a job suitable for those who had passed their youthful days. But Aleem was four years younger than Akram Raza, who was captaining Sargodha.
“I was very fortunate in that I got 19 matches in my first season as umpire,” says Aleem. “And seeing my performance, PCB included me in its international panel after only 15 months,” he adds.
He remembers his first international match clearly. Asad Rauf, the umpire at the other end, was also making his debut. “It was a double delight for me because the match, between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, was played in Gujranwala,” he says.
Aleem says he got a lot of encouragement from Khalid Mahmood, Majid Khan, Iqbal Qasim and Ramiz Raja.
He never looked back. Soon he was part of the ICC’s elite panel. In 2011, he completed a hat-trick of being declared the umpire of the year. He had already got the Pride of Performance Award in Pakistan in 2010.
His performance was brilliant in the 2011 World Cup. Players challenged 15 of his decisions and lost every time.
Bucknor is his role model. He says he was a top-class umpire. Aleem, now 51, says he never thought he would go so far in this profession as to beat Bucknor. “This is an achievement I never even dreamed of,” says Aleem.
He is a man who has the courage to declare the best of the batsmen in the world out, but he is also a great human being. He donated Rs. 1 million for the victims of 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. Once he saw an accident in Township Lahore in which a journalist got seriously injured. He went with him to hospital and provided cash for his treatment.
It was Aleem who built up the case for increase in local umpires’ match fees and other perks during the tenure of Ijaz Butt. On his recommendation, the PCB fixed salaries for Ahsan Raza, Shozab Raza and Ahmed Shahab. In 2019, 12 domestic umpires and three referees were given central contracts.
Aleem’s 18-year-old son Hasan is following in his footsteps. He is seen umpiring during friendly club matches in Lahore.
Aleem has supervised 383 matches so far in his career. He wants people to remember him as an honest Pakistani.