Philip Boylan, an Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers Instructor, and Independent Newspapers correspondent talked with Test umpire Darrell Hair during his 1999 visit to Ireland.
DARRELL HAIR has spent more than a month among us in two visits over the last couple of years, bringing with him the experiences of life as an umpire in the furnaces that are the Test arenas of today's world. His trips have been under the auspices of the European Cricket Council, that relatively new body which comes under the umbrella of the ICC, but which is already making its mark in spreading the gospel on all fronts.
Umpiring and related matters are for the first time receiving due attention from the ICC and the burly Australian is perfectly happy to trade his views on everything from erecting electric fences as a deterrent to habitual transgressors under Law 24, or No Ball to the everyday world.
Electric fences? Well, he said it with a smile, but then fellow Australian Crocodile Dundee also made some weighty comments with a smile up there on the big screen before causing panic among those who overstepped the mark, so to speak.
A year on from his first visit, Darrell Hair still feels strongly that the foot-faulting under the No Ball law needs attention. "I've thought of all kinds of radical things. A penalty in runs does not seem to work; the free hit at the following ball that I've seen in one competition (English county one-day) is taking things a bit far. Perhaps have an intermediate crease, and then introduce (like fast short-pitched bowling) a caution, final warning and you're off. I'll bet that Test players would soon be landing six inches behind."
Hair is a really a humanitarian, I hasten to assure you. He has been telling groups of umpires on each visit that it was vital to oversee the game in a spirit of goodwill, but matters like habitual no-balling demand serious attention and he draws on the illustration of an electric fence merely to illustrate that when something needs to be done he is prepared to face up to any situation.
People in Cavan and Monaghan think that they are the only ones with rough roads to negotiate but having travelled the highways and byways of the cricket world Darrell Hair can empathise with them, as he has found it similarly impossible to motor smoothly along. That fact that he admits that he does not get that many offers of holidays in Sri Lanka underlines the point!
Darrell was over here last July to cast an experienced eye on the international umpires among us and was suitably impressed by the general demeanour, noting only the odd idiosyncrasy which would be discussed at a personal level. Man management is the name of the game as he sees it. The questions flew; the answers flowed. Here are some of the many worth noting.
How do our umpires compare with the world scene?
"From what I've seen, your top umpires compare very well with those anywhere; there are just the odd rough edges to be smoothed here and there. In fact, very often both players and spectators will judge an umpire more on his control of the game, rather than his decisions.
"Demeanour and management of situations is very important. It is just matter of them being given the correct encouragement. I'm not here to judge them on decisions."
What have you observed of the half-dozen or so of our internationals (this was during the series against the South African Academy squad)?
"I think they need to be very confident about their decision-making. I don't mean you have to be arrogant about the decision; you need to get over to the players that you have observed all the factors that have gone into making your decision. We are all susceptible to pressure and I think that handling that pressure could be worked on."
"You've got to stand your ground, but the ones who take a bit of time before making their decisions are generally held in high regard. Turning your head away and just saying out or not out could be seen as arrogant," said the man. Taking your time like Steve Bucknor, I enquired? He has to live with him, so to speak, so I suppose diplomatic laughter was as much as I could have expected from that one.
You would have seen that a couple of the umpires have mannerisms which telegraph pressure of one degree or another: were they aware of it?
"No, they were not aware of it. Whilst they may be completely comfortable about the way they go about their umpiring head movement does matter if they move their heads or feet or shoulders, for that matter."
Are there instructors at Test level?
"No, not really. Rightly, or wrongly, the ICC takes the view that we are nominated as the best in their countries and they let them get on with it. There is no formal instruction, or anything like that, but I think the matter probably needs to be addressed because everybody says they want consistency in umpiring.
"There is no general instruction about how you should help your mate. They say this umpire should call No Ball but don't have any set instruction about how we should go about the matter (co-operation leading to a good decision). They are not involved in instruction or technique, and I think they should be."
Have you got any loosely-knit body among Test umpires who could assist with this and other matters. I am thinking about the recent World Cup?
"There was, of course, a pre-tournament meeting at which a number of issues were brought up. I certainly learned during discussions with Peter Willey that the light issue over here was not just a case that you should be able to see a white ball against a black sightscreen so you should be able to get on with playing. The light can be very different here."
Do you think that light should be offered to fielders, too?
A nervous laugh, in so far as anything could induce nervousness in Darrell Hair, and then: "I think there shouldn't be that imbalance, but I don't know how you could redress the situation. There is, of course, the proviso that we (umpires) can always suspend play when we consider the situation unreasonable or dangerous.
"I can say to the batsmen that I have been standing at square leg and can see why the ball is beating the field, and I am having trouble picking the ball up as well, so that while I can understand you wanting to stay out we are off until the light improves."
It is every umpire's nightmare, or daymare, to lose sight of a ball shooting off pad or bat, so has it happened to you?
It was nice to discover that he was only human: "Oh, yes. The eye can only take in so much. It will generally only happen near the end of the day or a Test when you are getting tired".
Since we spoke last year, have you seen anything you would like to change about the game: have you got the same antipathy towards wearing pyjamas, for instance?
Peals of laughter "I must admit that I'm not all that thrilled about dressing umpires up in strange gear but I think that has improved a little and it's more conservative now."
While he makes no secret of the fact that he much prefers the Test scene to One Day Internationals, he sees the very positive aspect of the one day game as a great training ground.
"Just like everywhere else, I can see it out there (nodding towards the Ireland v South Africa Academy match) too: so many things can happen with every ball that it sharpens the reflexes.
"No question about that. That's the way a Test umpire comes through. In Australia, an umpire will never go straight from Sheffield Shield (Pura Milk Cup) to Test cricket. He will always do One-Day Internationals first."
Hair recognises that the speed of the game now has prompted a re-appraisal of what has long been gospel in umpiring technique regarding positioning for run-out decisions. Unlike many, he does not have the entrenched view (allowing for sun, runners, etc) that you should always go to the side to which the ball has been played. With fielders taking a shy at the wicket from virtually every ball picked up in the circle he has changed his opinion.
"For the first ten years of my umpiring career, I believed that the traditional side was the right side, but now I think that the wrong side is the right side," said Darrell, breaking out in laughter at the apparent contradiction.
"Although young umpires are still taught to go to the side to which the ball is played, the rule is not hard and fast in Australia, now. Being in the comfort zone is recognised as very important." One of his few criticisms about umpires here was the fact that some of them stood more than thirty yards from the strikers end wicket.
"Apart from being too far away from the action sometimes, you have to take into consideration that you can find yourself walking an awful lot extra every day."
What about crossing over when the wicket-keeper is up to get a better view of the batsman's foot in relation to the popping crease?
"Again it is a comfort thing. I don't have a hard and fast rule. And there is the additional consideration that you could easily be holding up play and annoy the fielding side if there are a succession of quick singles. It is not a question of taking the easy option, but you can use up an awful lot of energy that you could better use running the game properly."
What about the state of the game here?
We are looking out at the European Colts final, and he observes that there is obviously talent on the Irish scene, but notes "that mental toughness is often the reason why Australians triumph at all levels. They obviously have recognised that you have to get the players ready at an early level. I noticed in yesterday's Under 19 match that when a few balls were hit a few heads went down. You wouldn't see that in an Australian team."
On returning from Kenya in 1994, Ireland's first involvement in the ICC Trophy, I observed in that year's Annual: "If we are to cope with the growing competitiveness of the international calendar, there is no doubt in my mind that people with the mentality of the prizefighter must be in the majority in future Irish squads." That mentality is still not high enough up on the agenda.