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Simon Taufel

'Umpires should be helped to get better'

The five-time ICC umpire of the year speaks about the future of TV technology, his frightening experience in Lahore, and his days as a star schoolboy cricketer alongside Adam Gilchrist

Interview by Jason Dasey

September 7, 2009

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Simon Taufel with a prototype pink ball, Lord's, May 13, 2009
"I cannot be perfect but I can be excellent" © Matt Bright
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Simon, what's it been like to umpire away from the cricketing mainstream, in the ICC World Cricket League Division 6 in Singapore?
This is the cricket mainstream, as it's a pathway to the World Cup. These guys are serious about representing their country and are playing to win. For me it's a great opportunity to prepare for the ICC Champions Trophy Tournament. The umpires were giving their best, just like the players, and looking to improve. If I'm able to pass on some tips and advice along the way and help them become better umpires, then that's a bonus.

You've had a busy 12 months. How do you rate your chances of winning the ICC Umpire of the Year award for a Lance Armstrong-like sixth straight time?
I don't umpire for awards, I umpire to become better and give the game the best I can give. If the captains and referees rate my performances a certain way, that is great, but it doesn't change the work ethic or professionalism that is involved in my work. Besides, umpiring is a team sport and we have to perform and succeed as a team. No one cares how many awards I've won or not won if I get something wrong!

You're only 38 but have been umpiring internationally for over a decade now. You've previously mentioned taking it "year by year" because of concerns about being away from your family. How much longer do you see yourself going for?
Thanks for reminding me! Yes, I'm older and have the hair loss to prove it, but they tell me you cannot grow grass on a busy highway. Seriously, we do look at my umpiring and travel commitments regularly and put the interests of the family unit pretty high up on the ladder of importance. That's exactly why I never commit to a time-frame. I'll continue to officiate while I'm finding it challenging, rewarding, and I'm wanted.

What are your feelings about the Champions Trophy being held in South Africa, given that it was originally slated for Pakistan last year?
I go where the games are; the venues are not my area of concern. It was a disappointment to have the series delayed by a year, but I understand the reasons more than most. I feel sad for Pakistan losing an important series, grateful that South Africa can now host it, and challenged that we have a packed cricketing calendar in 2009.

How do you look back now on that frightening experience on the Sri Lankan tour in Lahore in March, where you and fellow umpire Steve Davis were lucky to escape unscathed after your mini-van was fired upon by gunmen?
Exactly that: lucky to be here and still on the planet. We are very fortunate to still be with our families and we are determined to not be ever put in that position again. There have been some positives to come out of the experience as well - we are a closer family unit, and the relationship I have with my wife, Helen, is stronger than ever before. The experience has made me a stronger person and I have a greater perspective on life and on what is really important. Everyone please read this and give your loved ones a huge hug while you still can.

You were extremely critical of the security arrangements at the time. How did that affect the way that you look at your umpiring career and life in general?
I was critical of what we were to receive in terms of protection and safety arrangements and what was then delivered in our hour of need. The ICC and home boards are aware of the reasons for this and I'm confident that they all understand their role in providing a duty of care over all those people who participate in the game - not just players, not just the umpires, but everyone in that convoy. There are lessons to be learned and it would be a terrible shame if we did not improve as a result. There is much too much at stake.

Despite your continued excellence over a number of years, no one involved can be happy all of the time. How do you handle the criticism from players and the media, including the "Awful Taufel" UK headlines of a few years back?
You do your best. If you make a judgment error, then you learn from it and become better. If you make the same type of mistake, that's when people should be critical. But don't forget, we're up against around 25 cameras and all the tools of super slow motion, Snicko, Hot Spot and Hawk-Eye, and we still get 95% of our decisions correct - that's pretty good in my book! The challenge for me is to get as close to 100% as possible, realising that I cannot be perfect but I can be excellent.

 
 
"Technology has a place, provided it gives us a more reliable and accurate answer than an umpire and it is used to enhance the game, not dominate"
 

Who are you closest friends among the other umpires?
I hope it's all of them, because as I said, umpiring is a team game. When the chips are down, you need the strength of the team to help you through.

You were a fast bowler in the same New South Wales Schoolboys' team as Michael Slater and Adam Gilchrist before a back injury curtailed your ambitions. How much do you think about what might have been? Were you more a Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath or a Terry Alderman?
I don't think about what might have been at all. I cannot focus on what is in front of me if I dwell on the past. I've got too much on my plate to be worried about a potential cricket career that never took off. It's been lucky that I got into umpiring when I did, as I've been able to achieve so much more as an umpire than I ever would have as a player. I'm not sure any of those great bowlers that you have named would be happy if I compared myself to them!

What's your view on umpires getting more help through TV technology?
There is no easy answer when it comes to technology. The fundamentals for me are: firstly, having the right balance; having consistently accurate technology; but most of all, having the umpire make the right decision in the first place. Technology can be used to assist the umpire get the decision right, not replace him. Yes, the game has changed and we need to change with it - that's being professional. Technology has a place, provided it gives us a more reliable and accurate answer than an umpire and it is used to enhance the game, not dominate. I'd like to see more effort put into helping umpires develop greater skills and better performances before giving all the decision-making to technology.

How much do you wish that you could be allowed to umpire in an Ashes series?
Personally, I would like to challenge my skills and umpire against the best sides, regardless of who they are. The game deserves to have the best umpires and the game also deserves to be protected against any perception of cheating or biased officiating. The administrators have made their decision and I respect that. The best interests of the game come before any individuals.

What's a funny story from a day in the middle in international cricket that you can share?
Sorry, but what happens in the middle, stays in the middle. If you or the readers want to find out, then take up umpiring and have the best seat in the house. Then you can find out what really goes on.

Jason Dasey is a former host of Cricinfo SportsCenter and four international editions of SportsCenter on ESPN

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