“KNOCKY” AND “GOR” JOIN THE MEN IN WHITE COATS
It’s an irony that has never been lost on me that my chosen means of re-charging the batteries after a long season covering summer cricket usually entails hours of watching winter cricket on TV. Games from New Zealand are a particular favourite; the 9.30 pm start dovetails nicely with the finish of any football on offer and means the best part of two full sessions before the eyes give in.
Australia isn’t bad either, although the onset of day/night cricket, especially from Perth, has totally ruined my scheduling. The fact that they’re playing each other this time (and not very well if the first Test is any guide) means less to watch and is something of a bugbear which you would think would be “rightified” by the upcoming World T20’s.
The thing is though that, Ireland’s participation apart, if they were playing the World T20’s in my back yard, I would pull the curtains. That’s just a personal mind-set and maybe a discussion for another day because as many have pointed out, T20 is the most financially viable area of our sport.
I’m not saying I never watch it- just that unlike Test or ODI’s, International T20 cricket is behind Air Crash Investigation, Alan Partridge and anything by David Attenborough on the remote control hierarchy. T20 Franchise cricket is behind Dora the Explorer.
Most people who watch cricket do so with some sort of leaning towards one team or the other but like 99% of those who have ever umpired on a regular basis, I watch solely from behind the stumps. Many a man has been given out in the middle of the night from the sofa in Old City Close over the past few months.
I get a weird satisfaction from getting an lbw shout right first time along with Nigel Llong and an even greater sense of achievement if I call it and he gets it wrong. And any umpire who says differently is lying!
Strangely (or not) the two biggest “howlers” of the winter both favoured the Aussies with George Bailey going on to get a “ton” after middling one behind and Adam Voges making a double after being clean bowled for 7. Charlie McElwee would have had both back in the hutch in the blink of an eye.
It’s a tough old job as they say but the gulf between “elite” umpires and the top officials from these parts isn’t as wide as you think. You’ll see plenty more Voges and Bailey moments over the next few weeks as well, there’s nothing surer.
And the reason for bringing this up is the potentially very good news for local cricket last weekend when, under the tutelage of Davy Caldwell and Dermot Ward, no fewer than 16 candidates passed their Level 1 umpires exam at Bready. Quite a few are former or current players too, which is also a good sign- Strabane’s Paul McNamee and Bready man Norman Allen among those seeming now ready to sample life on the other side.
We’ve had a very lean time of things in the North West over the past few years in terms of dwindling umpires’ membership but hopefully a good number of the new men will now join the regular circuit allowing the Appointments Secretary (whoever that may be) some scope to cover matches throughout the season.
“Standing” in matches is a wonderful way of staying involved in the game and it’s no coincidence that umpires come back year after year. In the main, players and officials at club level have great respect for each other and I’ve seen first hand the amount of work umpires put in to ensure they are the best they can be for players.
It isn’t just about rules and discipline of course because officials are also focused on ensuring that everybody enjoys their day. Most matches last the back end of 7 hours and it’s very difficult to spend that length of time with these men and not get a laugh.
The rewards are plentiful (I don’t mean financial) and among my many favourite memories was watching from 22 yards as Kamran Akmal posted his flawless 160 in the 2003 senior cup final.
Those with ambition to officiate at a higher level now have opportunities to travel the world so long as they’re prepared to put the work in. The likes of Roly Black, Noel Dunn, David Bradley and Dermot Ward get through mountains of training, assessments and paperwork but their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
There is of course also great camaraderie between umpires up and down the country too and I hope the superb “exchange” programme with our colleagues in Belfast and Dublin remains an integral part of the annual schedule. Many a great weekend has been spent in and around Balrothery as Kenny Magee will testify.
A host of people from outside the North West including Paddy O’Hara, Dr Murray Power, Peter Thew, Keith Smith, Billy Boyd, Kevin Gallagher and “mighty” Mark Hawthorne also warrant mention here as they have always been on hand on the many occasions that help and advice have been required.
In wishing our “new 16” the very best for the year ahead I also hope that we might still be able to cajole one or two former umpires back into the fold this year. Men like Paul Simpson, John Thompson, Robin Glenn, Maurice Simpson and Colin McClelland to name but a few still have tons to offer, even if it’s only to help out off the field.
The Umpires and Scorers Association is an altogether different type of animal these days as Roly and his team have everything running like clockwork. There is no game without them so here’s hoping they continue to grow stronger.