David Shepherd prepares to bow out
David Shepherd, for so long part of the furniture of international cricket, is preparing to call it a day. He officiated in his last match in the southern hemisphere earlier this week - the washed-out Wellington Test - and will stand in four more Tests in the Caribbean in the next few months before he reaches 65 and takes compulsory retirement.
Shepherd started umpiring Tests in 1985, four years after he made his first-class umpiring debut, and in the intervening period has overseen 88 Tests and 165 ODIs (including the 1996, 1999 and 2003 World Cup finals, all with Steve Bucknor).
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Shepherd said he would not be too unhappy at going, accepting that the world he knew is fast changing and that gadgets are taking over. "People say to me, 'is there too much technology, Shep? They'll be doing with your job', and I say to them that, 'to be quite honest, the game wasn't invented for umpires'. The game was invented for the players. And anything that can help the players and help the game itself must be good for the game. So umpires must adopt that procedure.
"The danger is, how far down the road do we go. Will we go to lbws? Doubtful catches? I honestly think that as technology improves we might go even further. Anything that can help the game, I think we should try it."
His 20 years at the top have coincided with several major events, some good, some bad. "I've had phone calls thinking they were all very innocent, before match-fixing and betting came out," he recalled. "I would remember, 'I had that phone-call years ago. I wonder if someone was trying to get at me?' They'd call your room and say, 'how are you? Welcome to India. Have a wonderful time. Who's going to win today?'
"And I know that certain matches got a mention in dispatches and I thought, 'oh, I did that game.' But I never suspected a thing. They've tightened up a lot these days. They've done their best. But can we, hand on heart, say the game is clean? Well, I hope so. I just hope so."
In more recent times one of the most controversial aspects of the game has been throwing. Always honest, Shepherd admitted that the rulings were a potential minefield. "It's a very difficult job to call them. Now that they say you've got so many degrees of tolerance, I never took a protractor out on the field with me. I don't understand [the new ICC throwing laws]. It's a new language to me. When I started, it was such a simple game, an easy game."
And who does he rate the best he has seen? Shepherd said the best batsman was Viv Richards, Brett Lee the fastest bowler and Shane Warne the best spinner. And the best team? He reckoned the current Australian squad would beat the West Indies teams of the 1980s. He is sure to be reminded of that on the last leg of his farewell tour.