You Are The Umpire May 9, 2009

The hot-seat experience

Artist Paul Trevillion's beautiful panels pose questions that will puzzle all would-be umpires, from the novice to the wizened expert

Growing up as I did in the 1970s, I remember avidly reading Shoot, a popular football magazine, every week. In it one of the features my friends and I most enjoyed was You Are The Ref, a comic strip that posed refereeing scenarios, some likely, some highly improbable, for you to argue over. Some of those often heated debates lasted hours.

I had all but forgotten about the strip when it was resurrected in the Observer's excellent monthly sports magazine in 2006. Soon after, a cricket version, You Are The Umpire, appeared to fill in the decreasing gap between football seasons.

While the series relies on an expert (in the case of cricket, Test umpire John Holder) to deal with the nitty-gritty of the laws, the genius behind the idea, and the one who makes it work, is 75-year-old artist Paul Trevillion.

Trevillion is more than just drawer of cartoons. He has an almost unique ability to bring character and movement to life (comic-art realism to use the technical jargon). Among his other claims to fame are holding the world speed-kissing record (25,009 in two hours if you must know), inventing the tags on the Leeds United socks of the 1970s (which almost drove Brian Clough to acts of violence), and creating a national row by drawing Wimbledon champion Evonne Goolagong nude for the Sun.

The formula for Trevillion's strips is simple but effective. Three beautifully drawn panels, each with a recognisable face from the relevant sport, each posing a question about the laws - in essence, what would you do? On the surface they are simply entertainment, but by using experts to give their opinions, they also serve as an excellent learning aid to anyone who plays the game.

It's not just aimed at novices either, and I suspect some long-in-the-tooth officials could learn a thing or two. Do you know if a wicketkeeper is allowed to eat a hot dog at a drinks break, or if a fielder can catch a ball deflected off a cow?

This book, which is essentially a collection of the last three summers' worth of Observer strips, offers more, in that each cartoon is accompanied by a brief profile of the players involved. A few more general sections about the laws and the history of the game are also included, but while of interest to beginners add little.

Overall this is an outstanding collection and one well worth the price. And even if you care little for the laws, it will still appeal to cricket fans because of the care and accuracy of Trevillion's drawings.

You Are The Umpire
by Paul Trevillion and John Holder
Guardian Books, 2009, hb, £9.35

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa