ACA Interview with Shawn Craig
SHAWN CRAIG INTERVIEW
Shawn, congratulations on your appointment to the National Umpire Panel; what does this mean for your career?
It’s the culmination of 4-5 years of hard work. I retired from cricket, had a year off and then started umpiring. It was all (former Cricket Victoria Umpire Education Manager) Bob Parry’s fault – he kept asking me what I planned to do (post-playing). He’d actually approached me a couple of years earlier when I was still playing at St Kilda. I think I said, “Get lost! Why would I want to be one of you blokes?” but I also said, “Look, you never know; ring me when I’ve retired.” And he did.
An opportunity came up to apply to join the Cricket Australia Project Panel (CAPP), and after a chat with Sean Cary, I did. A few months later I had an interview and three days after that I got the nod that I was in. That weekend I stood in my first game – St Kilda versus Camberwell in the Third XI (with Paul Jennings) out in suburbia, and having never umpired a game of cricket in my life!
I saw it as a great opportunity. I was also a member of the CV Premier Panel and I knew I’d be able to umpire (solely) on weekends for the first year or two to see - one, if I was any good and - two, if I enjoyed it. Turns out I loved it; I loved being involved. I wasn’t very exciting to watch when I batted so I’m used to being out there for long periods without doing anything!
Were there moments when you were out there thinking, “This is a far cry from the MCG or the Gabba”?
I played my last game for Victoria in 2001 and didn’t start umpiring until 2010-11 so I’d had a fair break from it. I’d had a wonderful 7,8,9 years playing Premier cricket; that’s where you start, that’s where you finish, that’s where you play if you’re not playing for your State. So if you don’t love Premier cricket, then it’s going to be a hard slog and you’re not going to go far. I didn’t play regularly for Victoria so I loved Premier cricket playing for St Kilda. I managed to umpire a Second XI grand final in my first year and soon found myself umpiring in games with players I’d played against.
I think that fact that a lot of the players knew me helped to generate a little bit of respect. This was a massive confidence boost, especially in an environment where the challenges are a lot like playing. You need to be able to concentrate for long periods, make good decisions, and move on from any bad ones in much the same way as if you’ve dropped a catch or nearly been dismissed.
From the time you started your playing career until now, have you noticed any change in the way players view umpires?
Without question! I have not experienced (as an umpire) what I would have subjected an umpire to when I was playing. We used to be pretty hard on them but the landscape’s changed, as have the rules and regulations regarding player behaviour. I believe this has improved things for umpires and improved the game as well.
What your highlights from your playing days?
Playing alongside guys like Shane Warne, Dean Jones, Matthew Elliott, Brad Hodge, Ian Harvey, Darren Berry, David Saker, Damien Fleming, Paul Reiffel among others - as well as against players of similar calibre like Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer, Steve and Mark Waugh, Brett Lee, Brad Haddin, and Simon Katich.
I was a bit star-struck in that environment as I was always battling to get a regular game. I continued with my work (outside of cricket) and looked at other options for when my time was done.
I was lucky enough to play in a team which one the Mercantile Mutual Cup in 1998-99 against New South Wales on the MCG.
Through (former Victorian coach) John Scholes I watched as a successful team culture was built and took Victoria from a talented side to one which was both talented and successful.
I played in a number of premierships for St Kilda; we won something like nine flags from eleven finals across all the competitions.
Who have been some of the key people in your umpiring career?
The CAPP have been brilliant. Bob Parry is the Umpires’ Educator at Cricket Australia. Denis Burns, Bob Stratford, David Levens, Daryl Harper, Steve Bernhard, Sean Cary, Simon Taufel – their experience on and off the field have provided a wealth of knowledge to draw upon. The Cricket Victoria umpires’ pathway is excellent. I’m lucky to have a group of mentors, each with their own strengths.
Getting appointed to the National Panel has been the highlight of my career so far. Last season I was also fortunate to umpire an ODI as part of the Women’s Ashes on the MCG and was Third Umpire for a Ryobi Cup match as well.
There’s been a steady increase in the number of ex- first-class cricketers taking up umpiring; has that help make it a more appealing pathway?
Oh, no doubt. There’s a big commitment in umpiring. You’re taking maybe 20-30 days a year off work, exhausting your annual leave, and throwing a lot of time and energy into it. Any support – including financial – is vital. I’ve got three kids to help juggle and a remarkable, supportive wife.
Work is difficult to manage for anyone on the Panel. It requires a lot of flexibility and sometimes you’re frightened to ask for leave because some people perceive it (umpiring appointments) as a holiday.
I’m a National Sales Manager with Dexion. We manufacture and market logistics and storage products. I’m fortunate in that our new CEO, Paul O’Keefe, has a strong sporting involvement (as a mentor with Geelong Football Club) and he understands and supports what I’m doing. My current manager Andrew Angus (Executive General Manager – Commercial) was also a great support.
The introduction of DRS has helped highlight how good umpires are and how many decisions they get right. I think that has helped change people’s perceptions of what we do.
What’s your biggest challenge at the moment?
Finding a way to balance work, family and umpiring. On the field, the challenge is to be like an AFL umpire or a wicketkeeper: manage the match but go largely unnoticed.
It’s incredibly challenging to concentrate for six plus hours a day for 2,3,4 days in a row.
As a player, you were renowned for having strong concentration and spending a lot of time at the crease. What’s harder – batting or umpiring?
I think they’re similar. As an umpire you have to concentrate like a batsman; focus on the ball like a bowler; know the field positions like a captain; and know all the rules and playing conditions. You have to be able to switch on and off; know all the players from both teams; communicate with the captains; potentially deal with broadcasters and also get your performance reviewed every week. It’s a lot of work that looks like you’re just standing there.
It’s an immensely challenging but therefore rewarding occupation. I never understood how much effort was required until I did it.
Who do you regard as exceptional within umpiring ranks?
Simon Taufel is excellent and someone who understands umpiring and how to educate umpires. Coincidentally, he umpired me when he was coming up through the system. Part of what I’ve learnt from the likes of him is that better people make better umpires. Developing skills in areas like emotional intelligence, psychology, becoming a better people manager or husband, etc all help you become a better officiator.
There’s no question that umpiring has helped make me a better person.
Are you surprised that it has had such a profound impact?
Yes, definitely. I was a very introverted person from a playing perspective. I was sometimes seen as arrogant because I didn’t communicate with people. I saw it as a weakness or a way of dropping my guard so I was never a communicator and that’s certainly the impression the opposition would have had of me.
So it’s helped bring you out of your shell?
Some people will find that hard to believe because I was a big sledger, but yes! It’s also helped me in my work. In personal testing I tended to rate lower in aspects like emotional intelligence and empathy than in other areas, so the umpiring journey has helped bring those things out more and improved my skillsets.
As I’ve grown as an umpire I’m become more forthcoming. I’ll go into the opposition change rooms now, which I never would have done as a player, which was to my detriment. I’m more relaxed now and a better person.
The Cricket Australia Project Panel umpire opportunity is available to any retired Australian first-class cricketer, and has paved the way for distinguished former members including Rod Tucker and Paul Reiffel, who now sit on the ICC Elite Panel.