19th December 2014
Patrolling the Boundary – a view from the outfield
Last week in my ‘Around the World in 2’ slot for Mason & Guests, I acknowledged the birthday of Guyana’s former international umpire, Eddie Nicholls. I noted that he stood in 46 ODIs and 17 Test Matches, 8 of those Tests as a neutral umpire.
My good friend, David Braulik who is an excellent umpire for both the Shepherd Neame Essex League in England and MCC (and was my former skipper for Walthamstow CCC 3rd XI), dropped me a line to point out the implication of my comments:
“Dave, I suggest that Eddie Nichols stood as a neutral umpire in ALL his 63 international matches!”
“Good point Dave! I note you read the above with the beady eye and impartiality of a genuinely neutral umpire. I realise I must be more careful in how I phrase things, and not write with the suspicion and ‘hard-done-by-ness’ of an obdurate opening batsman!”
The point of the above exchange of course being that cricket officials ARE by definition neutral, irrespective of the identity of the two teams, or the location of the game.
But suspicions have always been present, throughout the game’s history, of the men in white coats by cynical players. And we’ve all played in matches when our good faith has been tested, and the cynicism has been justified. This of course should never be the case in the professional or international game, and yet…
Coincidentally, Mike Selvey in the UK’s Guardian wrote on Wednesday of this week on this very subject. Backed up by some recent data in a study of LBWs published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, he looked at the emergence of neutral umpires in the late 1980s, but wondered whether they were still necessary in these modern days of DRS?
RBH’s John Holder was one of the very first, and most successful and popular international ‘neutral’ umpires, and he naturally got a mention in Selvey’s piece, which you can read here.
I brought the article to John ‘s attention, and this was his response:
Selvey’s article was interesting and enlightening. It did not surprise me that Aussie umpires are top of the list as poor ones before the advent of neutral officials. I vividly remember an incident of blatant dishonesty in an Ashes Test over there. Bob Willis bowled a ball to Rick McCosker which he played defensively on the off side and moved out of his crease looking for a run. Amazingly, Willis ran towards the ball, picked it up, then spun around and threw down McCosker’s wicket with the batsman stranded a yard out of his ground. This happened in the first or third over of the innings. The square leg umpire inexplicably turned down the run out appeal. The striker was so far out of his ground that the umpire had to be cheating.
Around 1992 I went to Bombay to umpire a double wicket tournament, with Test players from all the countries. My colleague was a former Indian Test umpire called Goataskar. He was quite a feisty character who told me that during his time umpiring Test matches, the Indian officials used to instruct the umpires how to make decisions, according to the state of the match.
I can say with total honesty that neither the TCCB nor the ECB has ever told me how to umpire and I do not know of any English umpire who ever was. I believe that we had advantages over umpires from other countries. Firstly umpiring was our profession and trying to be as good as you could be was essential in keeping your job. Secondly we were all ex-professional players who would not cheat players and the game which we loved.
With the level and quality of TV scrutiny now I feel that neutral umpires are not needed. ICC would still employ them but the best home umpires should now stand in home Tests. Match referees would still monitor their performances as they do now and it would save the game hundreds of thousands of pounds annually in hotel and flight costs.
John Holder is a highly respected former international umpire, who stood in Tests & ODIs between 1988-2001, and in 1st-class cricket from 1982-2009. He was also the innovative mind behind the introduction of the ‘bowl-out’ to settle washed out one-day games.