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Ian Gould: 'Modern umpires have thrown away their egos because they understand DRS'

The former international umpire looks back at his career: the Ajmal lbw decision in the 2011 World Cup, two ball-tampering scandals, watching Steyn v Tendulkar, and more

Ian Gould inspects the pitch, Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2nd Test, SSC, Colombo, 4th day, July 3, 2012

Ian Gould: "The daftest thing I ever did was write a book - because I didn't like talking about cricket!"  •  Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images

Ian Gould retired from the ICC's panel of elite umpires in 2019, after standing in more than 250 international matches over a 13-year career. He has since written a book, My Life in Cricket, covering his time as a player for Middlesex, Sussex and England, his subsequent spell as a coach, and then the switch to umpiring. While on one of his regular walks along Hove seafront, he spoke about his experiences as an umpire, the importance of building relationships along the way, and his hopes for the season to come.
You were set to be returning as an umpire on the county circuit this summer - but that must all be up in the air now?
I love umpiring. I really enjoy it and I owe it to the ECB because I've had 13-14 years swanning around the world and they've been looking after me. So I felt I deserved to come back and show my mettle that I want to carry on. Because whatever people talk about the Hundred, over the years I've been in the game, I've seen the 60-over game, the 50-over game, the 40-over game, and I remember doing the first T20 game at Bristol, and everyone said, "Well, this is just pub cricket." Now we look back on that. It's moved on very, very quickly.
I was actually really looking forward to it [the Hundred] and I feel very sorry for the boys at the ECB that took some flak leading up to it. Now it's wait until next year, but I'm sure it will take off.
But you're still keen to continue?
Oh yeah, without a doubt. I finished [as an international umpire] on July 6 and there was a big come-down. But then I went back to county cricket in the first week of August and I thought, hang on, I really do love this job and I really love the people involved in it. And it got me going again, so I'm not going to be sitting on me backside. I'm preparing for some cricket in late July. Whether that happens or not is two different matters.
Due to the Covid-19 situation, the ICC has signalled a "short-term" move to using local umpires in international cricket. Does that mean you could make a comeback, if the ECB succeeds in its plan to stage matches?
We've been warned it could happen. I think they'll be looking at younger people than me. But I'd love to do that again. It was a proper stage and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
But we've got a great group coming through. We've got the four boys [from England] at the elites - been strengthened now by Michael Gough replacing me. Michael is just going through the roof with his umpiring, and so are the other boys. Richard Illingworth, umpire of the year, Richard Kettleborough, three-times winner, Nigel Llong, very steady. I think they have appointed Martin Saggers, David Millns and Michael Burns, so if we do play any international cricket here, the game's in real good hands.
"Umpires are not going to catch players [tampering with the ball]. Unless you do it right in front of my face, I'm not going to catch you. But cameramen will catch you"
In your book, you say that increased use of technology might lead to the end of neutral umpires. Do you think the ICC should look to make this a permanent change?
I have started to believe, probably in my last two years, that it might go down that road. Though I think the players would like it to stay neutral - that when everyone can travel again, we go back to where it was.
I was lucky enough to go to the Under-19 World Cup this year, and I saw some outstanding umpires coming through. That was also at the same time as the Women's T20 World Cup, so there's another group of 12 there. The only difference will be that the guys that are here now have had 60-70 Test matches. Some of those other guys have maybe done two Test matches and 20 ODIs. But quite a number of those do the IPL with 80,000 screaming at you.
I don't think it'll be a major problem, but the way the players are talking, from what I understand, they want to go back to how it was. I think there's a fear factor. [The players] don't know these other guys. People are saying there's not four in South Africa. There are. There's not four in Bangladesh. There are.
I think they are talking now about six Test matches in nine weeks [as part of England's reworked schedule], plus a few ODIs? So the four elite who are likely to do it, plus the three other lads, are going to have to be in lockdown for probably nine weeks. That is going to turn you stir-crazy.
That also seems to be an argument for increasing the pool of eligible umpires.
The other side of it, not even in lockdown, was, we always thought it was a little unfair there was three Aussies and four English on the panel. It left five [who could officiate] when an Ashes series came, which is a massive series. I think three or four of those have done five or six [Ashes] series. Marais Erasmus, Aleem [Dar], Kumar [Dharmasena]. At the end of it, there's just five of them. That makes it very, very difficult.
I think the best umpires should umpire the biggest games. Whether it's an Englishman at one end, say Richard Kettleborough, and Bruce Oxenford at the other end, or Rob Tucker, whatever way you want… because DRS now is not letting you go. If you're making a mistake, you're making a mistake. The only worry I think the boys would have is when you've got umpire's call. You know, you can give an umpire's call to England if you're a Pom and not give it to Australia.
You don't want it going back to people saying, oh, this is biased. You can't have that.
You've written about the episode of burnout you suffered in 2016, in part due to the amount of travel and time away from home. Is that something the ICC should be taking into account?
I think it is. It was a very difficult time for me, and I pray that I don't see [it happen to] anybody, but I do believe there's been one or two that have not been their normal self. And there's always this fear of [showing] weakness - "You shouldn't be talking about this."
I'm listening to young Dominic Bess now. He's a very bright, nice kid. And he's openly saying: don't have a fear of talking to people. If I bump into someone now, I say, "Are you are you okay? Look, mate, I've got an hour. Come on, let's chat it out." Whereas a year ago, I don't think I would have said that.
Putting your passport in the fridge after returning home was a sign to you that something was wrong. But how long did it take to confront the issue and talk about it?
Six weeks, eight weeks, maybe longer. Once I got on the field, I was integrated with some great players and really fantastic people. But it's when you went back to your hotel room and you just thought, "Well, what am I doing?" Or a car comes to pick you up to take you to the airport. "Why am I doing this?'"
I was going for a trip to the West Indies. St Lucia, Barbados, and somewhere else, somewhere beautiful. And I didn't want to go. I'm looking at myself: "What you thinking here, Ian, you've got six weeks in the Caribbean. In February, when it's freezing in London." I didn't want to do it. But once I got on that flight and got there, it was a different story.
I was walking down through Hove and I was jumping into shops to avoid people. I didn't want to hold a conversation because I knew someone would look at me and go, "What's your problem?"
I listened to Marcus Trescothick on a podcast talking about it. I spoke to Michael Yardy about it. Suddenly I was talking to people about it, and it was like, well, that's me. The awareness now is much greater. We're lucky that we have the ECB, who were outstanding when I sort of blurted it out. Chris Kelly [the ECB's umpires' manager] was unbelievable. He rang me every other day. Dennis Burns, my coach at the ICC, people that I really trust, just rang me and rang me and talked and talked, recommended books I should read and told me to stop drinking like a lunatic.
"I think the best umpires should umpire the biggest games, because DRS now is not letting you go. If you're making a mistake, you're making a mistake"
On the subject of scrapping neutral umpires, you would presumably have loved to umpire an Ashes Test?
I was speaking to Richard Kettleborough about it. Richard's very quiet about things, but when we started talking, you could hear that little bit of joy in his voice. You could almost hear his mind ticking. "Well, how great would that be?" Immense amount of pressure, but he can turn around and say, "Look, I umpired a Test against Australia at Lord's" - or Birmingham, or wherever.
We're lucky because we've got so much county cricket to gain experience, and that's the biggest thing within the group now at ECB and international, is habit. England, April 1, the season starts and you just get in that routine.
What do you think about adding an extra review, to deal with concerns from players about neutrality?
I don't see any harm in it. I don't think it's going to make any difference. I think people now go along to watch Test cricket and they are waiting for a review to come - it's a highlight of the day. People are putting pints down. I went last year to watch a game and there was a review. I even put my own pint down and watched the big screen. It's now part of the game.
What did you think the decision was going to be?
I got it wrong. I said it was out. It was missing by a foot. It was one of those things.
Did you ever read what people wrote about your performances as an umpire?
I know one or two would read it, but I certainly didn't. The daftest thing I ever did was write a book, because I didn't like talking about cricket! There's enough people around who text you or say, "You'd better go and have a check on Cricinfo." But I've never minded journalists. All I've ever said is, say the truth and make it not personal.
There's some brilliant people around writing at the moment and some of it is very, very interesting to read. Some of the stuff - and I've been in the game for 40-odd years - some of it I didn't even think of, and I think that's well worth reading. But talk to the mental-health people and they say, "Don't just read it when you've had a good day. You've got to read it when you've had a bad day too."
If you're an international umpire, the one thing that's going to tell you one way or the other is a 90ft screen at every ground. You've got to put your ego away. And I think this group of modern umpires have thrown it away because they understand DRS. They understand the one that just flicks the glove they're never going to see. But if [the additional review] makes the game a better place, well, so be it.
You write in your book that you were "pretty hostile" towards DRS at the start.
Oh yeah, I kicked the stumps over in a West Indies-Zimbabwe game. Both teams had walked off the field. Straight ball by Dwayne Bravo, hit [Chris] Mpofu on the foot, he's turned round, limped off. Everyone's gone back. I'm standing there with my partner. There's a review just because they had one left. We had to bring them all back.
That was in the old days. Talking to Paul Hawkins [inventor of Hawk-Eye] about it - some of the things then weren't as good as they are now. You can watch it now and there'll be the odd one you go, "Hmm, wasn't sure about that", but a high percentage of it is spot on. I remember being told, "HotSpot can't work because it's too sunny, too hot." What do you mean by that? But that was back in the dark ages. Now you don't get any of that.
Speaking of technology at the outset of DRS: your decision to give Sachin Tendulkar out lbw to Saeed Ajmal during the 2011 World Cup semi-final - subsequently overturned on review - is still subject of debate today.
Don't go down that road. I get teased about that. People send me pictures of my reaction after I was told in my ear by Billy Bowden that it was missing leg stump. It makes me laugh. It didn't make me laugh at the time, I can assure you. But I'd give it out again with my back to the wall. It was dead. I don't know what happened.
Given the level of support they attract, were India the hardest team to officiate?
It's intimidating. Not the players. The players are outstanding people. I've done seven, eight India-Pakistan games and the guys are real good people. They get on with each other. If you allow a crowd to get to you, all that noise and Mexican waves, or whatever, can distract you. Then you start missing bits and pieces and it's a difficult place to be. But, you know, a couple of lads, last year or two years ago, did Bangladesh-Sri Lanka and there wasn't one seamer picked in both sides. That would have been pretty difficult.
You write that turning pitches were the hardest to umpire on. Did you have to learn to pick spinners' variations too?
Yeah, you just went to the nets. I think some of the younger generation are missing out on that. They don't want to go to nets. One good thing about the four English guys is, they go as routine. We've always done that and it's been brilliant. Suddenly there's a guy making his debut. If you don't go to the nets, you're never going to have seen him, so you're now guessing. I just think it's a big part of being professional. It's something we've learned from David Constant, David Shepherd, Peter Willey. They set such a high standard. We didn't want to fall away.
" I'm looking at myself: 'What you thinking here, Ian, you've got six weeks in the Caribbean, in February, when it's freezing in London.' I didn't want to do it"
Gould on struggling with mental-health issues
What were the hardest decisions to call on the field?
Left-arm over, pitching outside leg stump. Those are the ones you've got to try and get right. You had people like Mitchell Starc - if it was his day, it started off stump and swung - whoa, you knew you were in business. But then when he didn't quite get his action right, you weren't sure whether it pitched on or not. Same with Mitchell Johnson.
Probably one of the most difficult is the legspinner in the subcontinent where it has pitched in line. But once you got used to Hawk-Eye, with seamers, you knew that with a certain part of the pad, it should be going over the top of the stumps.
The ball pitching outside is probably the most disappointing, and the legspinner over the wicket to a right-hander. Has that pitched leg stump? Has it spun too much? Those are the ones that are difficult. If it clips the glove, you've got no chance. That's not a problem. But once you see the ball-tracking on the 90ft screen and it pitches outside, that's a little hard to take.
Did umpires have to change the way they assessed lbw appeals after DRS came in?
Yeah, your mindset changed completely. And you go the other way also, thinking, don't forget [the stumps] are only nine inches wide and you've got umpire's call on leg stump. There's probably times you'd give that out in the old days, but you say "not out" now. Come on, Hawk-Eye, prove me right. The standard rate of umpiring under DRS is in the 90s. That is phenomenal. If you went to a racetrack and got 90% of winners, you'd be doing handstands.
You write about the importance of relationships with players. Did that come from experience?
If I walk into a pub, someone says hello to me, I say hello back. Don't turn your back on them. I think that's crept into the game where maybe one or two umpires are a little bit unsure of a player. The English guys, we go to the nets, we talk, we practise. I was obviously louder and more boisterous than the other three, but people knew who I was, they knew they could go and have a laugh and it would get to a certain level. But they knew when it went past that level, I would come down on them like a ton of bricks. Some very "nice" things were said about me afterwards and that shocked me a little bit, because all I was doing was my job.
Virat Kohli was one you often shared a laugh with.
He's a funny man. Yeah, he batted like me a couple of times. I had to tell him off for slogging it. He's a charmer. He's one of those guys who's got, a bit like Sachin Tendulkar, the whole of India on his back, but you wouldn't know. You could walk into a restaurant and sit and chat with him for hours. He's a very worldly boy. When you look at Virat, you're thinking male model, pin-up boy, but he knows about the game inside out, the past, history. Lovely guy.
He had his run-ins with authority in the past.
I can see why. But he's learned to be respectful. He could have continued his career like that and people could be talking totally the opposite about Virat. He's a nice man and the India boys are very, very good people, very respectful.
You were the third umpire in Cape Town in 2018 and have said that Australia had gotten out of control in the lead up to the sandpaper episode. What was wrong with their general behaviour?
Laddish. Jack the lads they were. Now they are a completely different team. It's probably the greatest thing that happened to them. You know, they were going through these pay talks. That would have been grinding people down. But there was only a few of them that were getting a bit hostile and in your face. I have spoken to some of the players and they probably didn't see it, like me with my mental illness. But if there's a few of you doing the same things, part of you thinks, "Well, that's all right." It just got out of hand.
Had you seen anything like players bringing sandpaper on to the field before?
No, not even in my social life. Not even someone stealing food from the tuck shop. I'd love to meet Cameron [Bancroft] again. Justin Langer is good friend of mine. He's a great bloke, and he says, you've just got to meet this kid. I met him for about five minutes [at Newlands]. It was horrible for him. But I'd just like to sit opposite him and have a beer and talk it through. Because he's got a great story. But I think he won't be saying it until his career's finished.
A few weeks later in the Caribbean, you were on the scene of another ball-tampering controversy. Dinesh Chandimal denied a charge of altering the condition of the ball - but was later found guilty - and his team refused to take the field on the third morning of the Test. Why did that incident blow up in the way it did?
St Lucia. It was crazy. We tried asking the question. The thing was, Javagal Srinath, a brilliant man and very good referee, spoke to both teams before, concerning what happened in South Africa. Umpires are not going to catch players. Unless you do it right in front of my face, I'm not going to catch you. I've said this a million times and people look at me stupidly. But cameramen will catch you, so if you think you're not going to get caught, I can guarantee you are going to get caught, because one camera will be designated to watch where that ball's going all the time. I didn't get why Sri Lanka were so hostile.
"Umpiring is now a young man's sport. The players are expecting a lot more of you, to be a lot fitter"
You say in the book that Sri Lanka "got away lightly" and that you would have abandoned the Test and awarded it to West Indies.
They disrupted two and a half hours of international cricket. If everybody looked back on that, then I think there would be different decisions made. But that's life. Those were the decisions made, those sanctions [a one-match ban for Chandimal] were in place at the time. I still can't get my head around why they were so hostile. The manager and the coach were as hostile as I can remember. Dinesh Chandimal I knew reasonably well, but they started to say he doesn't speak good English. Well, we did well not to giggle because we'd just listened to a post-match interview that he'd done in broad, fantastic English. I just think that if we went back on that, a lot of things would have been done differently.
One other high-profile umpiring incident of recent times came during the World Cup final, when Ben Stokes deflected Martin Guptill's throw to the boundary and was awarded six runs. Did you know the exact wording of the law on overthrows?
I'd be lying to say that I knew that. I had no idea. I know about the law, but the problem is that you're looking at getting into position for prospective run-outs. Rod Tucker was third umpire and I don't think he would have had enough time to be thinking that way. Thank god I wasn't there. I was sitting on Brighton beach watching it. It all blew up later in the evening. Just some clever clogs went through a law book and it all came out.
I think it was unfair. At the end of it, it's going to be hard work trying to sort that all out. It's split-second, and it's a World Cup final as well. I should imagine the fourth umpire was scrambling around trying to find the balls that would be bowled [in the Super Over]. I can only imagine it.
That World Cup was your last involvement as an international umpire. Do you miss it?
I miss the buzz. God, I miss the buzz. It was great fun. I just met some fantastic people, and I was so, so damn lucky to meet these people, and they were so kind, I'm just very grateful.
Since you were in possession of the best seat in the house, who were the three best batsmen to watch during your time?
Jacques Kallis. I loved watching Jacques. He was a very, very fine player. Sachin. And probably Virat. I was unlucky in some respects. I didn't see the best of Ricky Ponting. He was an outstanding character, outstanding captain, such a proud Australian. But his career was just starting to wane as I came on the scene. But he was incredibly helpful, so I'm disappointed I have to leave him out. Jacques Kallis, I could sit and watch all day, Virat, the same. And Sachin, if you want someone to bat for your life, he was the man.
And bowlers?
Mitchell Starc on his day. Mitchell Johnson on his day. He bowled some very, very quick balls. And probably the one who gave me the biggest heart attack throughout my years - Saeed Ajmal. Lovely man, but he bowled all sorts of balls. On wickets that spun - I think Saeed would tell you he wasn't the biggest spinner of a ball, but when you could get it going both ways, that's tough. So Saeed, yeah, he was a very fine bowler, very clever bowler.
What was the best batsman-bowler duel that you stood for?
Steyn versus Tendulkar, Cape Town. That was fierce but fair. That was as good as it got. I was stood there with a brilliant umpire, Simon Taufel, and the two of us came off and said, "Wow, we'd pay for that." Dale bowled very quickly and Sachin just had the railway sleeper in his hand and kept patting it back at him. Fantastic.
Is umpiring something you would recommend to younger people take an interest in?
The job's changed completely. I was talking to someone yesterday, about an old photo of Frank Chester - he had a trilby on, coat down to his ankles, and a pair of brogues. All he needed to do was take off his umpire's coat, put on a blazer and go straight to the pub. He didn't need to change.
I think the more people get to read books like mine, listen to podcasts with Richard Illingworth and Richard Kettleborough, and what's written by the press - umpiring's a very good job now. It can be exciting, exhilarating. I found umpiring, the day went quicker than playing, because you're always doing something. It is a worthwhile occupation. At the ECB, we've got James Tredwell and James Middlesbrook, both ex-players, coming through at the right age. Because it is now a young man's sport. The players are expecting a lot more of you, to be a lot fitter. It's not the sort of job [where you can] play county cricket till you're 42 and think, "Do you know what, I'll go and do a bit of umpiring." You'd have missed ten years of fun. On my behalf it's a must, something that people should really look into.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick