David Shepherd

'I've never given a dishonest decision'

Interview by David Foot
David Shepherd on Nelson, the village he grew up in, the lowest point in his career, and the impact of TV on umpiring

I suppose many people remember me as that rather fat umpire who at certain times during a match jumps around on one leg. I promise you, it's not an affectation. Devon people are by nature superstitious, and my little whims go back to club-cricket days. I'm horrified if I miss a Nelson or a Double Nelson

I was born in the estuary village of Instow in North Devon, and shall never leave it.

Instow is where I'm happiest of all, along the sand dunes as I take my dog for a run. That's where I can relax after the intense concentration of a Test match. My brother Bill runs the local post office and newsagent's. I enjoy getting up early when there isn't a match to deliver the papers for him.

I played most sports with great enthusiasm - I was a schoolboy scrum-half and second-choice football goalkeeper in college. And cricket remains for me the most wonderful one of all.

My family always encouraged me when I did well as a schoolboy cricketer or played for the old-established North Devon CC. But they also thought I needed to prepare myself for another career and sent me off to college to qualify as a teacher. By then I was making plenty of runs and several counties had invited me for trials. So you can imagine my conflict.

I joined Gloucestershire at a time when they had great international players like Mike Procter and Zaheer Abbas.

The new disciplines in county cricket were an education to me. On one strenuous cross-country run, the rest of the players became suspicious because I'd dropped so far behind. They were waiting for me, in hiding, when I arrived at the finish in a milk float!

My county record is relatively modest, but I did make a century on my debut, against Oxford University. I always liked to attack the bowling.

The one thing that bothers me is that umpires are being gradually stripped of their judgments and initiative. I really think that, whatever the human frailties, we get most things right

I like to think I have a pleasant, at times jovial, relationship with the cricketers. But there have to be limits. I've had stern words with famous players. Once at Edgbaston I needed to lecture Mike Atherton when I felt he was sledging Sachin Tendulkar.

Every decision I've ever given has been an honest one.

Cricket's a very sentimental sport, too. There are so many warm memories to treasure. I remember Curtly Ambrose's last Test in England, when he put his big arms around my shoulders and told me how much he'd enjoyed having me as umpire over the years. David Boon said more or less the same, in his final match for Durham. These little compliments help you forget some of the less edifying moments that leave an umpire shaking his head.

My lowest point came in my 56th Test, against Pakistan at Old Trafford. On the final day I missed three no-balls when Saqlain took three wickets. I went cold with horror when I found out. On the long journey home, I was sick with torment. That was it, I told myself. I was ready to walk out of Test umpiring. But I was gradually talked out of it.

TV technology is here to stay. I can accept that and realise the advantages.

The one thing that bothers me is that umpires are being gradually stripped of their judgments and initiative. I really think that, whatever the human frailties, we get most things right. We don't want to be in a position where we are asked to count up to six and not much more.

First published in Wisden Asia Cricket, September 2003