How to stand firm under appeal
Sunday July 28, 2002
Umpires have an important leadership role, but I call their role 'invisible leadership'. It is not leadership in some obvious sense, telling people to do things, waving their arms about directing them. Some parents manage it; the kids play more or less amicably, and their rows are often settled by them. A math teacher at my school had this gift. He would teach a topic from the front of the class for 10 or 15 minutes. For the rest of the period, the children would be doing problems on their own. There would be a buzz of productive conversations, and the teacher would be available, especially for those who were in difficulties. A visitor would not know instantly who was in charge, who was the leader. The role of the umpires and referee is similar. They, too, facilitate an atmosphere in which an activity - a cricket match - can go on in a good spirit, or in which the animosities are nipped in the bud and do not intensify. When they are successful in this, there is clearly a mutual feeling of trust and respect.
For better or for worse, respect is not automatic these days. It doesn't come with the office, or because of past pre-eminence. Deference is a dead duck. We live in a more questioning, challenging, envious, litigious society. So how is respect earned?
For the umpire, it comes first and foremost from good decisions. Players trust someone who gets things mostly right. But it is also earned by an attitude lived out by the umpire, an attitude that communicates such qualities as honesty, impartiality, fair-mindedness, integrity, directness, and openness.
It is important to cultivate a love of truth and justice. When Dickie Bird gave me run out in a Test at Birmingham in 1978, he came closer in towards the stumps from square leg as the ball was thrown in from long leg. When he actually gave me out he must have been no more than seven or eight yards away.
I noticed the grin on his face. But this was not a sadistic grin, or a grin of triumph; it was the expression of joy at having seen clearly and truly the truth. When players get a sense of this attitude they will give you the benefit of doubt in marginal decisions. They know that you will be consistent. There will be less shenanigans from them, less acting up, deviousness, and pressure. A benign cycle will occur. Your integrity will lead to respect, will lead to less pressure, will lead to better decisions, will lead to respect.
Another element in gaining the respect of players is how umpires negotiate their position of authority. Ideally they will occupy a middle position, in which they will be authoritative and firm rather than authoritarian and rigid; relaxed and calm rather than lax, turning a blind eye, and indolent. They will be moral rather than moralistic. Most of the top umpires are poachers turned gamekeepers. They should not forget that when they were players they did, or were tempted to do, many if not all the things that today's players get up to. Which means that they can tell when players are up to no good.
One important source of true authority is the ability to take no nonsense, but not to appear punitive, aloof and superior. When we speak from this human stance, knowing that we are not absolutely free from temptations to cheat, or to react to disappointment or incompetence with rage, say, we are less likely to act like martinets. And when we have achieved this humanly authoritative stance, players will be able to take a quiet word, or a warning, or even a reprimand or a penalty, much better.
Umpiring and refereeing are quite lonely jobs. Moving into these roles takes individuals away from the comfort zone of being one of a team. You feel on your own when a team, a crowd, or the media show their irritation, contempt, even dissent.
But umpires are part of a team, especially in Tests: two umpires on the field, and one off the field, following the match closely on TV. There is also the match referee. Just as there is a unique bond between the 11 players who have gone through a five-day Test marathon together, so there must be between the officials. Clearly there are issues about how best they can help.
The question may arise: should umpires aim to create a team-spirit with the players? After all, there are 26 people specially involved in these five-day Tests, 22 players, three umpires and a referee. The answer is yes and no. Yes, in that all 26 share an aim, that is to have a proper, straightforward game of cricket. Part of an umpire's leadership role is to enlist the players' better selves in the way they go about things. No, in that there is an inevitable conflict of interest between players and umpires, as for example there is between each group and the media. Players look for team and personal success, and are under their own great pressure to perform well. Umpires are interested in justice and the overall spirit of the game. So, the aim of creating a team with the players is only partially realistic.
I recall an example of an umpire who was familiar with the players in a way that had bad consequences. In the days of home umpires, there was an English one who had a Cockney sense of humor. He could be quite cutting, and used throwaway lines. Behaving in this way in a Test match, he put the backs up of a visiting team, because they felt he was acting in some sort of collusion with the home team. In the subcontinent the occasional conversations between home umpires and the home players in, say, Hindi, had a similar impact on visiting players. Maybe there was nothing to be suspicious of in either case but the umpire needs to create a feeling of being on the same side with both sides impartially, not give one side a sense of being outsiders.
Decades ago, as a young county cricketer, I was in effect talked out by the moaning and scorn of the Surrey close-fielders. My sense of my own ability was undermined, and I became almost paralyzed. I missed a straight, medium-paced ball, and was bowled. I more or less gave my wicket away. I'm not proud of this failure.
A few years later, I was batting in a representative match abroad in front of a large crowd. There was a loud appeal from about 40,000 people and the umpire gave me out, caught at the wicket down the leg side. The ball had in fact hit my pad strap. That evening, the umpire sent me a message saying he was sorry about the decision, but he felt his arm going up and couldn't stop it.
We may laugh, but I think that all of us, on cricket fields as in everyday life, know on occasion something of the feelings that led in one case to paralysis, in the other to purely reactive, impulsive behavior. However much we have generally mastered these tendencies, we all know them in ourselves. Afterwards we are nonplussed at what we did, or failed to do; at our states of mind, which led to such parodies of decisiveness and action. We feel that the way we acted did not really come from us, in a personal way; we do not recognize it as fully ours. We act out of character, we 'lose it' in the same sense that we 'lose' our tempers.
In both cases - paralysis and impulsive reaction - what we lose might be said to be our minds, Pressure on umpires comes from players, crowd, media, and above all from inside ourselves. Imagine this scenario: There are several appeals for lbw over a short period of play. They are respectable appeals, but all are turned down by the same umpire. Bowler and fielders become increasingly frustrated, incredulous, angry and scornful. Such behavior is partly the natural expression of emotions.
But we all know that it is also meant to make the umpire feel bad, both as punishment and to soften him up for the next appeal. Such behavior is emotional action, as well as emotional expression, and as such it has a tendency, when directed at umpires, to affect them.
How? One possibility is that they react angrily, either with a hostile look, or with a longer-term stubbornness. Both of these tend to elicit more bad feeling and bad behavior from the players. A second possibility is that the umpire becomes upset, offended, taking on the view of himself that is being expressed: he feels incompetent, worthless. He may then appease - give the next appeal out, or become falsely nice. Or again he may become wooden and unable to function properly. All of this elicits more acting up from the players, who can be astute at sniffing out weakness or vulnerability and ruthlessly exploit it.
There are of course other modes of applying pressure. Players sometimes use the opposite tack. They flatter, congratulate, play a longer game. The aim is to get the umpire to feel he and the bowler are much of a mind. 'I am not the kind of bowler to insult your intelligence by appealing unless I'm pretty sure it's out, and then you, Mr. Umpire, will agree.' This is a less crude pressure, but nevertheless real - a kind of seduction. We are all vulnerable to such flattery if it is subtle enough. In one series I was surprised to hear Geoffrey Boycott address the umpire as 'Sir' when asking for guard; I was more struck by the number of times he was given not out.
Another pressure enters because of the stage of the game, or the status of certain players. Like players, umpires like to play themselves in quietly, get a sense of the bounce of the ball, and of the degree of swing and movement.
The impact of technology is bound to create anxiety among umpires. The umpire's fear is of being exposed as second-rate by replays shown on large screens at the ground. Mistakes, which are inevitable, now become instantly verified and public. And there must be apprehension about being made redundant, or a mere cipher, by the relentless march of technology.
Can umpires embrace technology rather than, or more than, fear it? If you have a desire for the truth, and for getting things right, and for self-improvement, then technology could be a tremendous aid. I am strongly in favor of the plan to give umpires a CD dossier on the decisions they made in any particular day or game. This will be similar to the help that players can get from videos of themselves batting, bowling or fielding.
There are two main benefits. One is to improve one's performance by learning from mistakes, especially when what the umpire discovers is a pattern of mistake - for example, over-estimating the effect of the angle of delivery on lbws, or failing to give sufficient emphasis to the angle at which a ball is rising. The second advantage is that of reassuring the umpire, by reminding him how good he is. A recent experiment in Australia suggested 93 per cent of the decisions in a Test series were probably correct - a finding that needs to be given more publicity.
Pressure comes from outside, then - and there is more of it with technological advancement on television. But in the end this becomes realized only if it receives some echo from inside the umpire's mind.
For pressure to become a factor it must, as with trauma, have some impact on the individual. As human beings we are all liable to be affected more or less by the kinds of pressures I have been alluding to. But the important thing is the 'more or less'. There are people for whom felt pressure comes more obviously from inside themselves. For instance, some of us have an attitude to ourselves that converts a mistake or two into a wholesale character defect. We are in effect reduced or destroyed by our own severe self-judgment, which must also come into play when the obvious pressure is from outside. There is also the opposite situation, when an inner voice tells us that we are perfect, infallible. I suppose this might lead to an occasion when, say, an umpire declines to call for the assistance of the third umpire, and the camera, to adjudicate on a split-second run-out call.
I remember a Test at Old Trafford when England were in a strong position against Australia on the last day. John Emburey was bowling, Dennis Lillee batting. I was at silly mid-off. My shadow fell on to the very edge of the cut pitch. Lillee complained to the umpire, David Constant, who said: 'You've always got something to complain about, haven't you? Why don't you get on with your batting, let him field and me umpire.' Constant knew perfectly well Lillee was trying it on.
In the end, it's a matter of integrity that counts. No one can make decisions except ourselves. We rely on who we have become, or the better part of who we are.
Adapted from a speech given by Mike Brearley to the international panel of umpires
earlier this year