The term “umpire” is derived from the old French word “nompere,” which means “not equal” or “impartial.” Professional matches have umpires and a match referee, who may be called upon to make a decision that affects the outcome of the match but are primarily responsible for ensuring that the ICC Cricket Code of Conduct is followed.
1. Dickie Bird
Harold ‘Dickie’ Bird, the most beloved of all umpires, played for Barnsley CC alongside writer/broadcaster Michael Parkinson and Geoff Boycott. In 1970, he stood in his first first-class match, and in 1973 in England’s first Test against New Zealand at Headingley. Bird stood in 66 Tests in total, the last of which was in 1996. He officiated his final county match two years later. Dickie’s mannerisms, quirkiness, and sense of humour are no longer seen on the cricket field.
Dickie Bird was unrivalled as a reader of lbws and catches behind and off bat-and-pad. Toward the end of his career, he earned the reputation of being a ‘not-outer,’ a batsman’s umpire, but also from a bowler’s point of view. His instinct for what was out and what wasn’t was his greatest strength as a decision maker. Dickie never let a batsman go.
Trouble and comedy followed him like a pair of mischievous minders from then on. But, after that, he was able to deal with the rest –overflowing drains, firecrackers as Bob Willis ran up to bowl, newspapers going up in flames while he was reading them, finding his car on four piles of bricks and a rubber snake in his soup bowl courtesy of Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh, or having to answer Allan Lamb’s mobile phone while standing at square leg in the middle of a Test match. And a lot more.
His final, farewell appearance in June 1996, at Lord’s for the second Test between England and India, demonstrated that he never let the spotlight at the centre of the stage distract him from the job at hand. Dickie received a standing ovation on the first morning, which was not only overwhelming, but also unprecedented.
Dickie once said to Ian Botham, “cricket is my wife,” and predicted that if he didn’t have it, he’d be dead in six months. Fortunately, it turned out to be one of his few bad calls. But the game was and still is everything to Dickie, and the players adored him for it.
2. David Shepherd
David Shepherd, who died in October 2009 at the age of 68, was a well-known international cricket umpire who officiated in 172 One-Day Internationals (ODIs), including three World Cup finals in a row, and 92 Tests between 1983 and 2005. His roly-poly appearance, light-hearted approach to officiating, and eccentric superstitions -most notably his ‘jig’ when scores reached 111 or a multiple thereof -made him a fan favourite among players and spectators worldwide.
David Shepherd became a first-class umpire in 1981, and he made his international debut at the 1983 World Cup. He would go on to become one of the most decorated and well-liked officials in the game. Only Steve Bucknor and Rudi Koertzen had stood in more Tests at the time of his death.
His final Test match was between Pakistan and West Indies in Kingston in June 2005, following which Brian Lara presented him with a bat inscribed with a message thanking him for “the service, the memories, and the professionalism,” and his final county appearance was at his former home ground of Bristol. Shepherd had a 14-year career as a batsman for Gloucestershire, including 282 first-class matches and 12 centuries.
3. Steve Bucknor
The West Indian Steve Bucknor is another umpire with a distinct demeanour. His nickname ‘Slow Death’ comes from the fact that it takes him an eternity to raise the fatal finger to signal that a batsman has been out. Only one man Steve Bucknor has officiated in both the cricket and football World Cups.
Steve Bucknor stood in five cricket World Cup Finals and was a fully qualified FIFA referee during the 1978 football World Cup qualifying stages. In addition, Steve Bucknor became the first umpire to stand in 100 Test Matches, including 14 Ashes Tests.
He stood in his first Test match in 1988-89 and passed the 100 mark in 2005. He retired in March 2009, after appearing in his 128th Test, a match between South Africa and Australia in Cape Town. Bucknor’s final match as an umpire was the one-day international (ODI) between the West Indies and England on March 29, after which both teams formed a guard of honour to applaud him from the field.
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