David Shepherd, the most recognisable umpire in the world, will hang up his white coat after this English season is complete. His final Test is between West Indies and Pakistan in Jamaica shortly, and his last international will be the third and final NatWest Challenge match between England and Australia at The Oval on July 12. In this interview he talks about an umpiring career that has included three World Cup finals, 92 Tests and a record 172 ODIs, and also gives his thoughts on the game:
What are your feelings now retirement looms?
Obviously I'm sorry to be retiring, it has been my life really, but the time comes when you have to move on. I have to retire from county cricket and I think it is right to let the next generation have their turn.
That next generation is headed by the likes of Simon Taufel and Billy Bowden. What do you make of them?
There are some very good young umpires, including Billy and Simon. Billy has his antics but he gets most of his decisions right, and that is the important part of being an umpire.
How has umpiring, especially the international scene, changed over your career?
The travelling has been the major change, not being able to umpire Test matches in your own country. Now umpires are expected to spend large amounts of time away from their families and this has put some people off taking up the role. Peter Willey is a very good umpire but he declined an invitation to join the elite panel because he didn't want to be away so much.
The extra travelling is as a result of having two neutral umpires in Tests and one in ODIs. Has this system worked?
Yes, because not only do you have to try and do the right thing, you have to be seen trying to do the right thing. All umpires will make some mistakes and if that happened in your own country, questions could be asked, but this system ensures neutrality and independence.
When you finish umpiring will you find it hard to leave the game behind? Will you still be giving decisions while sat in the stands or your living-room?
I think I might but I'd hate to say it. I wouldn't like to sit there and comment on other umpiring decisions, they have a difficult job and sometimes they will make mistakes and I just want to let them get on with it.
Sledging is currently an issue again. How has this aspect of the game altered?
I think it is actually better now than it used to be. With more TV cameras and the stump microphones players know they can't get away with much these days. The match referees have certainly helped, with the ability to fine and suspend players. The trouble is, that when TV catches something, they blow it up out of all proportion and then you see the kids doing it on the village green at the weekend. I think players must realise that they have a terrific responsibility to set the right image for the whole game and accept decisions gracefully.
So, to that end, would a return of players walking help?
I would love to see walking come back into the game. But there is so much more at stake now with all the money that is around. When I started out, players wouldn't wait for the umpire, they just went. But it is good to see when players do walk, like Adam Gilchrist in the World Cup semi-final. Obviously they don't have to walk, but I think it would show more respect to their opponents, to the game and the umpires.
Having umpired in 92 Tests, do you have any regrets that you never played at the highest level?
Obviously whatever you do in life you try and achieve the highest level you can. It is every cricketer's ambition to play Test cricket. I never got that far, although I managed to play county cricket. It is the same with umpiring, I aspired to get to the top of my profession and I succeeded in that regard by umpiring Test cricket.
You are often seen bantering with players in the middle. How do you think you got on with them?
I'd like to think I had a good relationship with most of the players I umpired. I think it helped that I played first-class cricket, it helps you to know what the players are thinking and going through if they are having a bad trot. You know how they are feeling so you are able to talk to them and I think as long as you have mutual respect for each other that's everything. And to be fair most of the players I have dealt with over the years have been like that.
Your most famous mannerism is your hop when the score is 111, 222... How did this come about?
I've always done it, I've always been superstitious. In fact, if you had phoned tomorrow I wouldn't have spoken to you because it will be Friday 13! When I went into umpiring people said I should carry on doing the hop but I thought I would look an idiot. But I decided to go with it and when I did my second Test someone wrote in to Brian Johnston on Test Match Special and said he should watch this idiot as he'll jump about on 111.
Can you pick out a single match or moment from your career which stands out?
My three World Cup finals were a high point, but one other match that has really fond memories was the Bicentennial match in 1987 at Lord's when the MCC played the Rest of the World. It was a very good match, played in the right spirit and, although the last day was washed out, it was a very special occasion.
Have you made any plans for the future - would you like to help young umpires?
If they ask me to do something I will certainly think about it. I can't complain, I've had a wonderful career but I'd like to stay within the game if I possibly can. But I haven't made any specific plans except to play some more golf.