Umpires have never had the most unenviable job, but in the last few decades their job grew all the harder because of the all pervasive eye of television, ready to highlight errors, and to do so repeatedly. Despite that, almost all of them persevere with good humour and authority. But very occasionally it all becomes too much, and in the case of Australia's Tom Brooks, that happened during a Test.
Brooks was one of Australia's leading umpires during the 1970s. He was also something of a rarity among Australian officials in that he had also played first-class cricket as a fast bowler for New South Wales immediately after the war.
He made his international umpiring debut during the fractious 1970-71 Ashes series, standing in five matches, and in 1974-75 he and Robin Bailhache were appointed in all six Ashes Tests. While the pair gained a reputation for being over-tolerant of short-pitched bowling, their umpiring was considered sound.
Brooks and Bailhache were appointed for the second Ashes Test at Perth in December 1978. England had already taken a 1-0 lead with a seven-wicket win over an Australian side decimated by defections to World Series Cricket, and the pressure on the official side was tremendous.
England won the toss and batted, and Brooks and Bailhache were under the spotlight from the off. Geoff Boycott and Mike Brearley were repeatedly rapped on the pads, but numerous appeals were turned down - Christopher Martin-Jenkins noted in In Defence Of The Ashes, his account of the tour, that "both might have been lbw to [Geoff] Dymock and [Alan] Hurst had Brooks and Bailhache not been in a charitable mood towards batsmen". It left the Australians fuming and the crowd frustrated - more so as Boycott reached the close on 77 not out. In the match he batted almost ten hours in making 100 runs, never once hitting a boundary.
When Australia batted, Brooks gave Rodney Hogg out caught behind off an inside edge, much to Hogg's demonstrable displeasure. As he skulked past Brooks he pointed to his hip. "That stern critic of players' tantrums turned his back and walked pointedly away from him," noted Martin-Jenkins, "much as a father might ignore the complaints of a child when his patience had worn thin. It was the gesture of a man tired of being in a position where players, crowd, broadcasters and press could freely criticise without having the same responsibility."
At the start of the series the two captains - Brearley and Graham Yallop - agreed that tailenders would not be on the receiving end of bouncers unless they were proving hard to dislodge. On the third day, Dymock, a genuine tailender, was standing firm and Brearley told Bailhache that he thought the batsman warranted a bouncer or two. Bailhache agreed, but when Brearley took the new ball, Brooks told him that he should not bowl short to Dymock. Brearley disagreed. "If it happens then we will do what we have to do," replied Brooks. "I took that to mean he would report what happened to the board," noted Brearley. The irony here was that in 1950, Brooks himself had been slated in the media for "his overdue use of the rising ball".
Brooks was again in the spotlight when England batted again, turning down a vociferous appeal for caught behind against Boycott, and the pressure in the media on the officials grew. Brooks admitted he had got the call wrong and apologised to Yallop at the close, saying: "I'm afraid my error has cooked it for you."
On the final day of the Test, Australia were battling to survive for the draw, with Graeme Wood leading a charmed life - he was twice dropped by Boycott off Ian Botham, and when he caught a third chance, it was off a no-ball. As it looked as if they were in with a chance of saving the game, Wood played forward tentatively at John Lever and the fielders behind the bat made a half-hearted appeal for a catch. "Brooks raised his hand halfway," noted Martin-Jenkins, "seemed to think better of it, thought again and then lifted his finger decisively." Wood raised his eyes to the sky and made plain his feelings as he departed. "You do what you have to do," Brooks said, "what you think is right, and I have no regrets on that score."
Hours earlier, at the lunch interval, Brooks had announced his immediate retirement, weary of the unremitting pressure of umpiring at the highest level. "The old mental and physical machines weren't synchronising," he explained, adding that he would prefer to be watching the match than earning $800 for umpiring it. "In other words," The Cricketer observed, "his nerve had gone."
But it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Adelaide Advertiser that Brooks had actually admitted that his nerve had cracked during the game itself. The papers subsequently retracted the claims and apologised on the basis that its report had been obtained from a source found not to be as trustworthy as was originally thought.
Brooks stood in one more match - a state game at the SCG - and that was that. The shame was that the stress had got to a man who was widely respected and very popular. In 1977 he had officiated in England as one of four overseas umpires brought in by the Test & County Cricket Board (the forerunners of the ECB) to stand in domestic matches in order to gain experience. The announcement of Brooks' retirement appeared in the same column as news that the TCCB has scrapped the scheme.
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The Cricketer Various
The Ashes Regained Mike Brearley and Dudley Doust (Hodder & Stoughton 1978)
In Defence Of The Ashes Christopher Martin-Jenkins (MacDonald & Jane's, 1979)