The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The umpire I knew is finished: Bird

Leeds: Only rarely is an umpireís autograph sought. Yet, six years after his last (and 66th) Test, Harold ĎDickieí Bird remains hugely popular. The legend, who also officiated in 98 ODIs (including three World Cup finals), spoke to The Telegraph on Monday morning.

Following are excerpts

On what keeps him busy

Iíve just written another book, Dickie Birdís Britain, so a fair amount of my time has been going in writing... Indeed, the next few months will be devoted to promoting the book... Then, I try not to miss a match at Headingley...

On whether he misses cricket and umpiring

(Smiles) I do, I canít lie and say I donít. Going back to my career with Yorkshire and, then, umpiring at the highest level from 1973 to 1996... I was in the thick of it all for 50 years... Leaving the sport after so long, in whatever capacity, is a wrench. Quite often, while watching a match here, the urge to be in the middle does arise.

On whether he is happy with the increased use of technology

My humble opinion is that technology ought only to be used in a close run out, which can be a very difficult decision... Today, the third umpire has become more important than the gentlemen in the middle! Clearly, I canít approve of this.

Nowadays, the on-field umpires just have four decisions to make ó bowled, leg-before wicket, bat-pad and the caught-behind. If thereís a low catch that is doubtful, that will be referred to the third umpire. He can also sit in judgement on the hit-wicket, a close run out and the close stumping...

Not to talk of the Ďdisputedí fours and sixes... So, the men in the middle are being made irrelevant. The umpire I knew is finished, the Swaroop Kishans are no more. Itís a big regret.

On whether the umpires themselves ought to have resisted curbing the powers of the on-field ones

Absolutely. They should have told the ICC that the decision-making must be left to those right in the middle ó except, as Iíve said, in deciding the close run outs.

On the fear that technology could be used even more

I can understand the sentiments of some people but, if there is an increased use of the third-eye, then why have umpires in the middle' In fact, despite the technology available, problems have only increased. Mistakes are still being made... In any case, every decision referred to the third umpire slows the game down. Thatís not fair to the paying public which isnít paying to watch hold-ups.

On whether thereís a case for referring close leg-before appeals to the third umpire

In other words, be guided by the hawk eye or whatever' No. There are so many things to be considered: Exactly where the bowler delivered the ball from, the bounce, how much did it swing in the air, how much did it seam off the wicket... How can a TV camera take all this into account' Sir, just let the gentleman in the middle make the decision.

On the ICCís Elite Panel of umpires

All Iíll say is have the best. Again, in my humble opinion, thereís this gentleman called Alan Whitehead (a former Somerset player), who is the best not just in England but in the world. But, then, is he on the panel' No... Apparently, itís held that he can get too aggressive with the players. Fact, though, is Whitehead is the best.

On the eight currently on the Elite Panel

Frankly, I havenít consistently watched them over a period of time... Moreover, the best way for me to judge would be to umpire at the other end. That, however, isnít possible.

On the qualities an umpire needs

Concentration, dedication and, most important, a common-sense approach... Of course, he must be mentally very strong. While enjoying the job, he must make the decisions confidently. Anybody with the right attributes should gain the playersí respect. A good umpire must have that... The one with the least mistakes goes to the top and, if I may add, stays at the top.

On Match Referees

Look, Iíve got a suggestion whereby the ICC can save a lot of money: Do away with the Match Referees. Strong umpires are enough to control the game. If the umpires are firm and have the respect of players, why have Match Referees'

On how he handled the Ian Chappells

(Smiles again) I joked with them, didnít allow any tension to grow... In fact, Ian himself once said he had feared ďall hell would break looseĒ during a Test at The Oval, but that moment passed when I cracked a joke and had everyone laughing. I just had this knack of calming things in ticklish situations.

On the toughest moment he faced

Thanks to the respect I enjoyed, I didnít really have one... Of course, I earned this respect... Itís not something that can be picked off the shelf.

On whether he made mistakes

A few times, yes... However, I donít think any one mistake actually influenced the out-come of a match. On the eve of a game, I always had that butterflies-in-the-stomach situation. (After a pause) If an umpire has made a mistake, he must immediately get it out of his system, because the only thing that then counts is the next ball. Also, no umpire must ever try to Ďevení it up... Two wrongs never make a right.

On the greatest cricketer he encountered

I donít have to think hard ó Sir Gary Sobers.

On having excluded another Yorkshire legend, Geoffrey Boycott, from his personal all-time great team

Geoffrey didnít like it and said he wanted to meet me... The openers I chose (in his autobiography) are Sunil Gavaskar and Barry Richards.

Finally, on having bowed out in a Test featuring India (Lordís, 1996)

(Emotionally) I wanted to... Having been loved and respected so much by the Indians ó be it your cricketers or the ordinary fan in one of the bazaars ó it was my wish that I sign off in an England versus India Test. And, yes, how can I ever forget the teamsí gesture of lining up and the crowd giving me a standing ovation... They still say I got a bigger round than Sir Don Bradman, when he played his last Test (at The Oval)...

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