In 1953 Mr. Tom Smith took the leading part in forming the Association of Cricket Umpires. He is the Honorary General Secretary of the Association and it is largely due to his enthusiasm and untiring energy that the Association has a membership approaching 2,000 and is linked with many similar bodies in various parts of the British Commonwealth.The Association may well help to produce men worthy to stand in first-class matches but in England the responsibility for the appointment of first-class umpires rests with the county captains, who rely on recommendations from the various county clubs including the Minor Counties.
Umpiring and umpires are twin subjects which have provided much controversy during the past decade, and the recent moves of M.C.C. and the Australian Board of Control to clarify Law 26 will result in our members being kept under the closest surveillance by cricket enthusiasts this summer.
This is not a bad thing for umpires. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Promise of complete support for umpires dealing with throwing is a very welcome pronouncement, and it may well be historical.
Cricket playing countries of the world look to England for guidance and control, and it is only natural that we should set an example by putting our own house in order.
Far too much responsibility in the past has been left to umpires. They are always ready to take action if assured of support. It was a great pity that no legislative steps were taken here to deal with drag until after the season finished. Something had to be done to enable umpires to interpret Law 26 in a uniform way, for action was necessary to ensure that all bowlers conform to a common standard of foot-faulting. Now England and Australia are at last working on the same lines.
The Association of Cricket Umpires was formed in 1953 when I called together about 20 umpires. They enthusiastically supported the formation of an Association. D.R. Jardine accepted the office of first President and held the position until his death in June 1958.
He was a tremendous inspiration. He said to me on several occasions: "The work we are doing is for the good of cricket as a whole -- we must get 'so-and-so' interested." The late Frank Chester became a Vice-President, as well as Frank Lee, the Test umpire, and John Arlott, both of whom are still in office.
Colonel R.S. Rait Kerr, former Secretary of M.C.C., has always been an ardent supporter of umpires and encouraged our work. In 1957 he was elected first life Vice-President, an office open only to those who have performed outstanding service to umpiring and the Association.
From that small beginning personal membership is now approaching 2,000. Umpiring and cricketing bodies in the British Isles and overseas are affiliated, bringing in more thousands of umpires. A fraternity of cricket umpires has been built up covering every country where cricket is played. The predominant objective remains the same now as on inauguration -- to improve the standard of umpiring.
The Association were greatly honoured in October 1958 when G.O.B. Allen -- England cricketer and administrator -- formally accepted the vacant office of President. I am certain that under his leadership and guidance the Association is assured of a great future. He is not a man content to be a President in name, despite his heavy commitments.
I think it is typical of him that he said: "Tell me what is expected of me and I will decide. If I can't do it I won't accept."
The Association of Cricket Umpires asks nothing for the umpire except respect. It believes implicitly that this can be done only by producing an umpire who is carefully selected, trained and qualified -- a man who knows his job and does it quietly and effectively. He must have strength of character, with a dignified bearing, bringing distinction to the office.
Every cricketer and every lover and follower of our game knows that the job of the umpire is a difficult one, and a thankless one. It is impossible to please everyone. I know from experience that the great majority of umpires are extremely conscientious. Although it is only human that they should make a mistake at times, they worry about mistakes. They set a very high standard for themselves and try hard to keep to it.
How right is the saying that although the umpires can make or ruin a game your average cricketer takes them for granted. If a match is spoiled he grumbles, but he seldom gives any thought to the umpiring when it is good.
During my travelling and personal umpiring around the country I am amazed at the number of top grade clubs who are still haphazard about providing an efficient umpire. Scoring, catering and ground arrangements are carefully laid on. Too few clubs think about engaging a qualified umpire, but these same clubs would consider it bad taste to arrive a man short. Yet they are apparently happy to turn up without an umpire and have a player stand in. They are even quite pleased sometimes to recruit an umpire on the spot -- Old Tim will stand in for an hour and so on. All this is regardless whether Old Tim or anyone else really knows anything about the laws of cricket or the skills of umpiring.
The truth is that umpiring is a specialised job whatever the grade of cricket. Selection of men for the job is very important. It does not follow that every old cricketer, even if he was a good cricketer, is necessarily going to be a good umpire. It is no use telling a man that he has been a good servant to the game, and as a reward, next year he will become an umpire -- hoping that he will glance through the Law Book during the winter. Let us face it, those days have gone. There is a lot more to it than that.
The umpire must be selected, trained and tested. He is on the field for the whole of the match, and during that time must give complete concentration. Our man must be physically fit. He must possess a mind which will enable him to react quickly and give sound reasoned decisions under pressure. He must be able to keep his temper and ignore the hasty behaviour of excited players. He must be fair, completely unbiassed and courageous. Not everyone possesses these qualities.
Training consists in not only reading the laws but thoroughly understanding them. Discussion with other umpires is very valuable. Knowledge must be stored and sometimes not used for years. Suddenly, in a flash, a situation is set up -- a situation in which very often the umpire is the only man present who knows the answer. Knowledge must come from the storehouse of the mind and be applied at once.
The Association organises training classes, lectures, discussions and demonstrations. At these, constant references are made to interpretations and tricky points of law. There is always something to be learnt from thinking about the laws and listening to other people discussing them.
Theoretical knowledge, however, is not enough. Even if a man passes a written examination with flying colours it does not necessarily make him a good umpire. The Association of Cricket Umpires requires further tests.
The candidate must come up for oral examination and a panel of senior umpires will assess his personal qualities, technical knowledge and reactions. Very often Frank Lee, the Test match umpire, is with the panel and his knowledge and experience are of tremendous value.
Finally, field reports are considered. Where possible these are from A.C.U. examiners. Where not practicable the reports come from independent referees.
If successful in all these tests, our Associate member is promoted to Full Membership. We know these men to be the best umpires in the country and we are quite sure that our Full members are the best umpires in the world. The number is small -- fewer than 250 over the cricket world. Every Full Member knows that he can be called on at any time to be tested again.
All this does not mean that the best umpires will not make mistakes. They will. Nor does it mean that they will reach perfection. It simply means that the right men have been found to be efficient in their jobs. They will be respected. The more a man feels himself respected, the more will his confidence grow and the more the standard will improve.
Cricketers can do a lot for umpires as well as for the aims of our Association. In places where gamesmanship is accepted it is considered smart to try to deceive the umpire. Fieldsmen appeal at every opportunity, even if they know perfectly well that they have little or no justification.
It stands to reason that the only man in a position to judge lbw is the umpire, but even he has difficulties. Yet we have players at mid-off and mid-on, and frequently in other positions, talking about a man being plumb out. It is ridiculous and absurd, but it can become fashionable and infectious. The bowler who is standing at an angle of 20-30 degrees to the pitch after delivery, and is constantly throwing his hands up to the heavens with disappointment or anguished appeals is a menace to the game.
This posturing may be amusing to some but it is not so to umpires, and it is not cricket. Youngsters will always imitate their seniors and this behaviour is detrimental to the game as a whole.
There are matches, too, where batsmen who know full well they are out apply all their acting powers and gimmicks to try to confuse the umpire. Again, this can become fashionable and considered clever and it will be imitated and carried into junior cricket.
Fair-minded people know that the umpire has a very small chance against the odds of bowler and batsman. In some cases his life becomes miserable. He grows bitter and unhappy, and thinks seriously about giving up. It is impossible to recruit the right type of man if he has to face hours of worry and anxiety in the field. He does not stick it for very long if he meets the wrong type of players.
My appeal to player in all grades of cricket is to recognise the umpire as a vital part of the game. Treat him with respect. Forget silly play-acting and gallery-appealing antics; control bad temper and incidents. Not only will this be doing something for umpires and umpiring but it will make cricket a happy game. It was always intended to be so.