My Test Match
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Damian Herft is a former member of the Cricket Victoria Umpire Panel and current member of the Cricket Australia Supplementary Match Referee Panel. As an umpire he officiated 397 matches, including 227 in 1st grade, 2 state 2nd XI matches, 2 WNCL matches, 8 CA National Championship matches and 4 ICC Emerging Nations matches. As a match referee he has officiated 52 matches. He is a member of the Cricket Victoria 200 club.
It was a day just like any other; I was at work when my mobile rang. The incoming number was 96531100 so I knew it was cricket – anything that started with 9653 was from someone in Cricket Victoria. I answered, and it was Richard Patterson, our Umpires boss. He said “you haven’t umpired on the ‘G before have you”?, to which I answered “no, but I’d love to”. Then he told me the words that I’ll remember forever, “well, you’re going to”, and that set me off towards one of the greatest days of my Umpiring career.
Approx. 12months prior to that day, I had discussed retiring from Umpiring with Richard. The aim at that stage was that I’d do one more season on-field and then focus on video assessments off-field. In that discussion I had mentioned to Richard that I would have loved to have gotten onto the MCG just once in my career, but thought that that was not going to be. When I first joined the Umpiring Panel, we were all asked about our ambitions. Most people said that they’d like to umpire a Test Match on the MCG; I said that I’d like to umpire a 1st XI Match at Arden St, because that’s where I had broken my leg a few years earlier and ended my playing career. That game at Arden St eventuated, but I had long forgotten thoughts about Test Matches. When Richard told me that I’d get to umpire on the MCG though, my first thought was .. this is my Test Match.
I had umpired whilst playing, then started ‘officially in Dandenong on local ovals, then on some really nice Sub-District Grounds. I had umpired on Premier Cricket Grounds – Punt Rd, Windy Hill, Albert Ground, Frankston, Casey – all of them, I had umpired National Championships in Sydney, in New Zealand where 3 grounds intersected each other – but I’d never even set foot on the grass of the mighty ‘G. Players of the ilk of Bradman, Ponsford, Lindwall, the Chappells, Ponting, Warne, Hobbs, Tendulkar, Richards, Botham, Hadlee, Umpires Smyth, Bailhache, Davis, Isherwood, Taufel, plus footy players Barassi, Whitten, Baldock, Reiwoldt – all of them had stepped on that grass. It had taken me 18 years – and this was going to be my 394th match as an Umpire, and now I was going to get the opportunity to step on that same piece of earth.
This wasn’t a Test Match, it wasn’t even a Shield match and not even a State practice match – it was the Regional BBL Final, where Clubs in each of the Renegades and Stars Conferences play each other and the winners of each Conference play each other in the Final at the MCG. This match was between Cranbourne (Stars Conf) and East Belmont (Renegades Conf) – it was to be played on Feb 8th 2017, and I was partnered with Jeff Diamond-Smith. I remember the days leading up to it, I checked and rechecked the weather forecast; the last thing I wanted was a washout. I remember even putting on a Facebook post, saying that I hope that it doesn’t rain. Things were looking good, 34degrees forecast and no rain, so the day dawned and even after almost 400 matches, I was as nervous as I’d ever been. I drove in, parked underneath (that was the start of the privileges), then ventured to our rooms. I had heard the State/National Panel Umpires talk about these rooms for years, as if it’s common-place, but for me, this was the MCG, and I was actually in it. I put my bags down, met my partner, looked around under the bowels of the mighty ‘G and then started my walk towards that hallowed turf.
As we walked up that concrete ramp towards the grass itself, I remember saying to myself that ‘this is it, this is it ..’, and then as I got closer to the grass, I made a conscious effort to specifically think about that very first step. And then it happened – I took the step and I felt the grass under my feet, and it was awesome. It might have been only one small step, but for me it felt like the culmination of 18 years of umpiring, and I actually got to step on the hallowed grass of the MCG.
Jeff and I walked together towards the middle of the ground, the groundstaff were doing final preparations on the pitch, and I remember feeling just a little envious of them, that they got to go to work at the MCG every day. We got to the middle and the 2 Captains came towards us, the MC/Ground Announcer then joined us in the middle, and we talked about playing conditions.
We tossed the coin (I can’t even remember who won) and then after taking a few minutes to soak in the atmosphere a little bit more (and take a few photos of each other), we went off to get prepared for the match. Jeff and I came back onto the ground later, and I remember looking up at the scoreboard and seeing our names on it. A short time afterwards, the match started and I remember the 1st ball from my end – and thinking that I’m now actually umpiring a match on the mighty MCG. Then my thoughts turned to the players, the families, their friends and supporters – for all of these people, this was probably also the 1st time on the MCG for them. I reflected on what an awesome experience this would have been for everyone, and for everyone there that day, for a little while, this match, the 2017/18 Stars v Renegades Conference Final was the most important cricket match in the world.
The game itself was a blur and I don’t even remember who won. I stood at the Southern End and I remember looking around at times and noticing what an almighty colosseum this place was. I found myself thinking of all the famous people who has set foot on this piece of earth, but I also had to ensure that I didn’t drift off the game too much. I couldn’t help occasionally pinching myself to help me realise that I was umpiring my Test Match. Runs, wickets, boundaries, sixes – all just went in a blur. I remember seeing a group of schoolkids on the boundary, obviously part of a MCG Tour. I found out later that my niece was one of those schoolkids. She didn’t know that I was one of the Umpires, but took a photo of the action anyway – a small world indeed.
The game ended, Jeff and I were presented with little medals to mark the occasion, and the players were presented with their trophies. The biggest trophy for me though, was in my memory. It took me 18years and 394 matches, but I finally got to umpire my Test Match.
The point of all this though is that, no matter which match you umpire, the match on that day is THE most important match in the world for every single one of those participants. It doesn’t matter if it’s an under-age, open-age, male or female, Community Club, State or National– they’re all important. Cricket is one of those sports that draws people together, whether they’re players, umpires, administrators, volunteers, parents, friends and every single one of them is important. It incumbent on us as Match Officials to ensure that we do everything humanly possible to ensure that the game is played fairly and within the rules etc, but also to know that this match is important for every single person there.
So that was my Test Match. 18 years / 394 matches of umpiring and it became a reality. The lessons here are two-fold. Firstly, keep at it and keep working on improving to become the best Umpire you can be. Secondly, remember that the match you’re at is the most important game in the world that day for all those participants. Don’t underestimate the significance of that match that day for those participants, and the role that you play in that match.
Cricket is a wonderful game, and we have a wonderful part to play in it. Appreciate it, understand the privileged part we play as Match Officials, work on it, and as a result, you and the game will be the winner