Umpire Safety by John Holder

30th August 2015

Patrolling the Boundary  – a view from the outfield

It was with great interest, but no surprise, that I read the article where umpires are considering the wearing of protective equipment for safety reasons (you can read the article John cites here). With the huge improvement in bat technology, allied to modern players being physically stronger from spending hours in the gym working on strength and fitness, the job of umpiring at first-class and international level has become more dangerous.

In my 27 years umpiring I came close to serious injury or worse on two occasions. The first was at Worcester where Ian Botham was facing Raj Maru of Hampshire bowling at my end. The bowler had me standing close to the wicket as he ran behind me to deliver. Botham smashed a ball back towards me at groin level. I just had time to twist sideways as the ball hurtled past me to the boundary. Botham, with a huge grin on his face, pointed the bat at me and jokingly said: “I will get you, Holder”.

On another occasion at Northampton Roger Harper was bowling around the wicket to Paul Smith of Warwickshire. I held Harper’s hat behind my back in both hands. Smith slammed a half-volley straight back towards me at chest level. But with both hands behind my back I was in serious trouble. Luckily, Harper stuck out his left hand and almost took a miraculous catch. He saved me from serious injury. After that close call I never stood with my hands behind my back again. With them at the front, I had the chance to quickly bring them up to deflect the ball away.

Several Elite umpires, the late David Shepherd, Tony Hill and Aleem Dar to name a few, always stood with their hands behind their back. I saw Aleem nearly decapitated during the World Cup in South Africa some years ago. A powerfully struck straight-drive whistled under his chin towards the boundary, as he stood with his hands behind his back. An inch higher and he would have been a goner. Many other umpires have had to take desperate avoiding action like throwing themselves on the ground to prevent serious injury. Last year there was the tragic death of the Israeli umpire Hillel Oscar from a straight-drive which was deflected off the non-striker and crashed into his nose.

Realistically, I can see umpires wearing helmets, boxes and probably chest pads. This will save lives and prevent serious injury, very much as happens in baseball. Change is definitely afoot.

John Holder

John was also interviewed this week by Barbados Today. In that piece he expressed his view that, in general, young Caribbean cricketers are not paying enough heed to the heritage of West Indies cricket; are failing to learn from the achievements of their predecessors; and are lacking the graft and hard work necessary to succeed in the game. You can read that item here.

John is also, of course, the ‘adjudicator’ in The Observer’s hugely popular weekly column ‘You Are the Umpire’. You can find all of this season’s ‘posers’, which John skillfully gives his verdict upon, here.

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.

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