‘You can’t coach an umpire’

“I don’t care much about the television cameras. I just give my decisions. As I see it. As you and I see it,” says Dickie Bird in this chat.

“I love cricket. It is a great game,” says umpire Dickie Bird.   -  V. V. Krishnan

You don’t question his decision. Such is his ability. If Dickie Bird says, “You are out,” you know you are. Not that he does not make mistakes. But they are rare. As he says in this interview, “everyone makes mistakes.”

Bird is known for his honesty and fair decisions. For him, cricket is everything. He enjoys the game thoroughly. “Sports is to be enjoyed, isn’t it?” he says. The most famous umpire after compatriot Frank Chester, Bird has plenty of firsts to his credit. He is the only umpire to have stood in three World Cup finals, to officiate in the highest number of one-day internationals (82, he informs you) and shares the record of 48 Test matches with Chester. He is set to beat that record when New Zealand visits Zimbabwe.

He acknowledges that he owes everything to cricket. “It has given me a wonderful life. A person loved by almost every player, Bird contributes to making cricket livelier by his antics and gestures on the field.

Bird spoke to The Sportstar in Harare on the eve of the India-Zimbabwe Test match. “I am honoured to stand in Zimbabwe’s first-ever Test match. I can go anywhere, travel any distance to do a Test,” he says with a smile.

Excerpts:

Question: How do you view the idea of having a third umpire in front of the television screen?

Answer: I can’t see any point. To consult the third umpire who is watching it on the screen, you would have to stop a Test match. That takes time and you would have the crowd shouting, “get on with the game.” They have paid a lot of money to come and see the Test match. I can’t really see any point in it. You have got to get on with the game. Just accept the decision of the umpires on the field and get on with the game. To go back to the electronic umpire would mean to stop the flow of the game.

 

What about the new rule concerning bouncers? Does it add to your job?

I prefer the old law concerning intimidatory bowling where if you felt a chap was bowling too many bouncers you had a word with him and then warned him. I thought that was the best rule concerning short pitch bowling. People are getting confused with the new law. I am for the old law.

Do you find umpiring different from the good old days?

Not really. You used to go out there. You used to put the bails on. It could be a good day. What else would you want? No rain or bad light. What else would you want? “Call play” and get on with the game.

The umpires were respected with everybody accepting their decisions, isn’t it?

Everyone got on with the game. I understand the players’ point of view. There is so much money now. The prize money is up. The individual money is up. The characters have gone out of the game because of the vast amount of money that has come into it. With so much money involved in the game now, if a decision goes against a side, it can cause problems. Everyone makes a mistake. In those days, even if one made a mistake, everyone carried on with the game. The vast amount of money that has come into the game puts so much pressure on the umpires.

What about the pressure from the TV cameras?

I don’t care much about the television cameras. I just give my decisions. As I see it. As you and I see it. That’s how I give my decision. I don’t worry myself about the television cameras. There have been times when you have been proved wrong by the television cameras but there are many, many times when you have been proved right. I am not for giant screens. When they play the replays, if a decision goes against the host nation, it could create problems in the crowd. That is why I don’t think those giant screens on the ground are good. I think they create problems than solve any.

How about your assignment in Harare?

This is something special for me. This India versus Zimbabwe Test match. This is Zimbabwe’s first Test match. It is a nice feeling to be appointed to this Test. I equal Frank Chester’s record of 48 Test matches. This is a marvellous honour for me. It is also an honour to beat Chester’s record because he was a fine umpire. In the coming series against New Zealand in Zimbabwe, I will not only beat his record but also go on to 50 Test matches. I am so pleased about it. My 82 one-day internationals is a record. Standing in three World Cup finals is also a record. I have been standing in Test matches now for 20 years. I have seen young players start their careers. Some of them have gone, but I am still around. I saw Sunny Gavaskar, Jimmy Amarnath, Kapil Dev, Viv Richards, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Malcolm Marshall, Mike Holding, Clive Lloyd start their careers... I can go on and on. I am still going. I think I still have a few years in Test matches. I keep myself fit to keep going.

What is the secret of your rapport with the players?

I have always said that you have to gain the respect of the players. I have always treated them as professional men. And in return they treat you the same way. Gain their respect. I have always said that and I have always worked for it.

Were you disappointed you couldn’t stand in the last World Cup?

I had this sinus operation, otherwise it would have been my fifth World Cup. I could have done my fourth World Cup final but for England beating India in Bombay. Doing the fifth World Cup would have been a tremendous honour. It would have put the record out of anybody’s reach. I enjoyed the World Cup in India. It is a beautiful place. The hospitality was wonderful. People were nice. They would recognise and come and talk to me. India was great. Please relay this to people in your country. I can never forget the Indian crowds.

What about your experiences? Have you enjoyed being an umpire?

It has been a marvellous career for me. I began playing county cricket for Yorkshire and Leicestershire and when I finished playing county cricket, I began umpiring. I have been umpiring now for 23 years and been a Test umpire for 20 years. It has been a tremendous life. It’s given me a chance to see the world, enjoy good living and a chance to meet wonderful people. I am thankful to cricket for the wonderful life it has given me.

Where have you enjoyed umpiring the most?

In India, no doubt. I enjoyed because the atmosphere was tremendous. I don’t think I have umpired anywhere else in such an atmosphere, in massive stadia like Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. And the crowds were tremendous. The people are cricket loving. They are noisy because they are so involved with the cricket. When I went to the bazaars, I remember people calling out to me. I can never forget the 1987 World Cup. It was tremendous. Maybe umpiring in India was a little harder because of the travelling. I didn’t mind it. The people were so marvellous. I tried to shut the crowd out, you have such massive crowds for the big games. It was an experience which I shall always cherish.

Which match would you remember the most?

It is difficult. I have seen so many great Test matches. I think if I have to make a choice I would go for the 1975 World Cup final when Australia played the West Indies. That match had everything. I always remember that the West Indies scored 291 off the 60 overs. And at the tea interval, the press and the television commentators were writing the Australians off. There was no way they were going to get such a massive score. And as the match went on, I thought if they had not panicked when they had three run outs, they would have won it. There was a young lad who played in that match. A young lad called Vivian Richards who had just started his Test career and what stood out was his brilliant fielding in the cover point and mid-wicket area because he ran three of them out with splendid pick and throw. I also remember one of the greatest centuries by Clive Lloyd. It was tremendous. That match had everything. It swayed from one way to another. When the Australian last batsmen were together — Lillee and Thomson — it still looked as if they would make it. They lost by just 17 runs. That stands out as the greatest game I stood in. Then there was this Test match between England and Australia at Birmingham. I am not sure of my figures. But Australia was 89 for three and needed 130 something to win. You would have gambled on Australia winning the match. England was really down. I remember Mike Brearley telling Ian Botham, “Come on give me all you got.” Give me 150 per cent. Botham took his sweaters off, came in from the City End and if you remember he took five wickets for one run to win the Test match for England. I thought it was a good Test match. Another good Test was when the West Indies was in England in 1991. At Headingley, Gooch carried his bat. It was one of the best Test centuries I have seen. It was a tremendous knock.

Which side would you pick as the most disciplined?

I will put it this way. I have got on very, very well with every cricketing nation of the world. I can honestly tell you that the most important thing in umpiring is gaining the respect of the players. If you can gain the respect of the players and treat them as professional men, you get the same in return. When I say that I mean honestly I never had any problem with any cricketing nation. Three fourths of the battle is won if you gain the respect of the players. I have always been honest and fair in my decisions. I have treated them all the same.

Dickie Bird receives medical attention after being hit on the foot. A person loved by almost every player, Bird contributes to making cricket livelier by his antics and gestures on the field.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

 

Whom would you rate as the greatest cricketer?

I don’t have to think about it. I think all the cricketers throughout the world would agree with me. I have got to go for Garfield Sobers. He was the greatest all-round cricketer I have ever seen. He was a magnificent left-hand batsman. A great player. With the new ball you know, left-arm over the wicket, I have not seen better new ball bowlers. He used to run it into the batsman and he used to slant it away from the batsman at a brisk pace. And also he could confound them with the ‘chinaman’. He was a brilliant close-in fielder. He was three cricketers rolled into one. He was brilliant. The best I have ever seen.

Is your preparation for a Test any different from say a county game?

I prepare myself just the same even if I am umpiring a schoolboys match. I would prepare myself mentally just the same. I am always there early, wherever I go. I have my cup of tea, relax, go around the ground, look at the sightscreens, the markings on the pitches and the boundary, have a chat with the groundsmen, take things easy. I psyche myself. I go to the toilet quite a few times before the start of the match. I stopped a couple of matches because of the call of nature. The England versus West Indies Test at Manchester was stopped. I said, “I am sorry gentlemen, but nature calls” and I ran off the field to a tremendous ovation from the crowd. The crowd just erupted. It was marvellous. They enjoyed it. That is what sport is all about. It is to be enjoyed.

What does it take to make a good umpire?

I think application, dedication, concentration, honesty. These are very, very important. Like any batsman or a bowler, keep yourself in good shape. I do 15 minutes of exercises. I think it helps. But I don’t think you can coach umpires. I think it is born in you.

Talking of players, how would you rate Kapil Dev?

Well. Kapil would go down in the history of cricket as one of the greatest all-rounders. You have got to put him in the same class as Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham.

Do you think it is a good idea to have a panel of neutral umpires?

What is this neutral business? To me, every umpire in the world is neutral. I am not for it. Tell me, if you have this panel, you would have the best doing the job for a certain period of time. What happens to those who do not figure in this panel of neutral umpires? It would not do any good for the umpires, the young ones.

This system of evaluating an umpire on the basis of the captains’ report. Do you think this is the best method?

I know it has its drawbacks, but tell me is there any other better way? You must remember not all losing captains give the umpires a bad report.

How do you react to the idea of a Match Referee?

I think it is good. It takes some pressure off the umpires. There are a few things less for us to worry about. It certainly helps in keeping a check on the incidents on the field.

What keeps you going?

I love cricket. It’s a great game. But it saddens me to see so much money coming into it. The players have become very professional and the characters have gone out of the game. But cricket still remains a great game. I love it, I tell you.

This article was published in The Sportstar of October 31, 1992