Loving the umpire's life
Mark Baldwin talks to both Rob Bailey and Chris Kelly about the rising standards of talented young umpires in English first-class cricket (this feature was originally printed in the programme for the NatWest Series)
When former England batsman Rob Bailey finished his illustrious 20-year playing career following the 2001 season he already knew what he was going to do next.
And Bailey, 45, is among a growing number of excellent young umpires who have come on to the first-class panel in recent years, alongside others such as Richard Illingworth and Richard Kettleborough.
Chris Kelly, the ECB's umpires manager, is delighted that recently-retired players are increasingly seeing umpiring not just as a natural next step but as a highly-rewarding profession in itself.
“It is a wonderful way for them to keep in touch with the game,” said Kelly, “and it is a most rewarding job to do. But that’s because it is also a very tough and demanding profession.
“The lifestyle is different to when they were players, and umpires are put under extreme scrutiny. It is a job which demands great awareness, focus, and astute man-management skills.
“Umpiring these days is becoming more of a science, and I find that the younger generation are very adaptable in taking new things on board.”
Indeed, the rapid progress being made by the likes of Bailey, Illingworth, Kettleborough and other relatively young officials such as Peter Hartley and Tim Robinson could soon force the ICC to build in more flexibility regarding the numbers of umpires from each full member country that they appoint to their International Panel.
Currently, England’s two ICC Elite Panel positions are filled by Mark Benson and Ian Gould. Gould’s recent elevation to that level has left England with just one of their two maximum International Panel positions filled, by Nigel Llong.
A second English umpire will be appointed to join Llong for 2010, but the standard being reached by many other umpires on the ECB first-class list may cause ICC to review their policy, especially as they want to appoint the best officials at international level.
Bailey said: “I love the job, and what I love most of all is that you stay in the game, see top cricket and also see good young players coming through.
“In the last three or four years of my playing career, I was doing my umpiring courses and thinking about it as another career. I think certain players who are now thinking about umpiring should also do that because when you start out doing the courses you don’t necessarily know whether you are going to be the right person for the job.
“Your lifestyle certainly is different in that, as a player, you play half your matches at home. As an umpire, you are on the road a lot more.
“I was appointed to the first-class list in 2006, having had three years on the reserve list when I officiated in University matches and county second XI games. And that has been very helpful not just from the angle of gaining more experience, because as a result of that time I’ve built up a rapport with a lot of the younger players coming through into the first-class game, which I feel is vitally important.
“You must have a relationship with the players – both those you played against yourself and the young lads coming through. As an umpire you always have a line to be drawn, but establishing a rapport with all the players is massive. It brings it home to you when you start umpiring lads like David Willey at Northamptonshire, for instance… I played with his father!”
Bailey, who played four Tests and four ODIs in the 1980s and scored 21,844 first-class runs at 40.52 for Northants and Derbyshire, with 47 hundreds, said that he views his former Northants team-mate Neil Mallender as an umpiring role model.
“He’s a fantastic umpire, both in his decision-making but also because his communication with the players on the field is so good. We watch how he works and if some of that rubs off on the likes of myself, Illingworth and Kettleborough then that’s great.
“As an umpire you want to try to improve all the time, as you tried to do as a player.”
Kelly, meanwhile, urges anyone who wants to get involved in umpiring – at whatever level initially – to contact their local County Board and ask to speak with their Association of Cricket Officials’ representative.
Details of training courses, and how to get on them, will then be given and, from there, the new umpire will be allotted games within that county. “Once you are officiating at local level, you will be known to us at ECB and will become part of the umpiring structure in England and Wales,” added Kelly.