Hats off to Taufel
A basic tenet in cricket is about respecting and agreeing with the umpire's decision. In the case of Simon Taufel, players generally agree with him on almost every occasion. They accept his decisions because a very good percentage of them are correct - and this has been mostly also validated by technology. But that is only part of the reason.
A lot of that respect comes because Simon has a measured and methodical way of dealing with people. He generally ensures that he keeps emotion out of the discussion - not easy to do in the middle of a Test match when something is going on and you are not happy about it. Simon has usually been able to satisfy both sides if there is an incident, and people have been confident in his ability to keep doing that. Personally, I was more emotional in contrast. That is a major difference when it comes to gaining respect from players and coaches. Simon knows when to talk and when to keep quiet.
I remember an incident in a tri-series match in Dambulla in 2003. I disallowed overthrows at one point when Pakistan were batting against Sri Lanka. The throw deflected off the batsman's body and ran away to the boundary. I consulted the Pakistan batting pair of Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar, who agreed with me that it was unfair to benefit from the deflected throw. I did not signal the boundary and the game continued. Simon was not officiating that day, but his glare at the end of the day made me feel like a schoolboy being dealt with by his principal. I told him I had used common sense instead of referring to the laws and copped the blame, agreeing that my initiative was not universally acceptable. I made sure I never used that interpretation again.
Despite being a young guy, Simon has never been afraid to have his say if he thinks something is wrong. He has always had an opinion, and on most occasions it has been reasonable and considered. That is because he has done all his preparation and has usually been on the right track.
Simon leaves nothing to chance, and it is this attitude that has ensured he has been prepared for any eventuality. On the field, when the pressure is on, he usually exudes a calmness that must impress everyone else around, who is generally passionately and emotionally involved in the outcome.
Right from 2003, when he made it to the Elite Panel, which was in its second year then, Simon not only accepted the chance to perform at the higher levels of competition but seized the opportunity to challenge his fellow umpires to match his meticulous preparation and levels of performance. Many umpires, including myself, found his presence somewhat intimidating at first, until we realised it was just his dedication that was making us feel that way.
Simon has always been consumed by all things cricket and was always thinking ahead. Between games, he was studying the Laws, attending nets sessions, and working in the gym on his fitness. In the early days, some of us umpires would joke at the way he wired himself to mentors of all sorts: at one point he had a life coach, a financial manager, an umpiring mentor and a physical mentor. Meanwhile the rest of us were just umpiring cricket. But it was not that Simon was trying to cure some deficiency; instead, it showed his openness to experimenting. He was always going to try something different if it was going to improve his performance.
For example, before any match, Simon had his individual training routines revolving around his physical and mental preparation. When he decided that running laps of the ground before a day's play was going to improve his performance, we all begrudgingly felt obliged to follow suit… except possibly the much loved and sadly late David Shepherd. When Simon ceased this practice, we all sighed with relief.
In Elite Panel seminars, Simon guided discussions on laws and playing conditions with painstaking attention to detail and thorough preparation. His involvement was so complete that I introduced a new word into our umpiring vernacular. Seminars became known as "simonars". (This was wholly complimentary, of course.)
During rain-interrupted ODIs, where every other umpire would immediately open the playing-conditions booklet to the appropriate page to begin calculating the numerous possible permutations, Simon would go straight to his calculator and have the vital numbers in an instant. We came to be heavily dependent upon him in moments requiring such calculations. When he wasn't in the team, we had to come up with right answers ourselves and it always seemed to be more stressful.
He was a perfectionist, no doubt, but he accepted his mistakes. Both of us eventually umpired nine Tests together, and I can only recall one Test match, in Nottingham in 2004 between England and New Zealand, when he struggled to come to terms with his own poor performance. A highly complimentary newspaper article, on the third morning of the Test, about the new face of umpiring, was followed by one mentioning more than a handful of errors by Simon on the third and fourth days. It was impossible to speak to him about it because he did not know what was happening. While he looked for a reason for why he was making the errors, there was nothing I could say that would appease him. It was not that he stopped making mistakes after that, but he clearly used the experience to develop strategies to prevent a repetition. It was entirely predictable that Simon would win the ICC Umpire of the Year Award for the first five years of its existence; such was the excellence of his on-field performances.
Simon has always been very particular about his appearance and has ensured that he presents himself perfectly, with a glance in the mirror before returning to the field after a break in play. He wasn't happy when he began to lose his hair at the crown, and less so when I began to continually harass him about it. He was reluctant to remove his hat on the field and he almost always wore a baseball-style cap off the field to hide the march of time.
To an outside observer, it often seemed that Simon was so clinical and concise in his decision-making as to be almost robotic, lacking humour or personality. However, after several years on the Elite Panel, his colleagues began to observe that he had begun to develop both qualities in varying degrees.
Off the field Simon, though a very private person, has not been afraid to try out new things. He certainly didn't have any trouble eating local foods all around the world. I cannot say the same for myself. He can eat a horse - and possibly did at some point in his travels.
Umpiring is a very lonely job, but Simon made it popular. The fact that he did not have any obvious flaws in his performance was very attractive. He certainly set an example for everyone to follow.
Daryl Harper is a former Elite Panel umpire who stood in 95 Tests