ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Craig Thomas is a member of the South Australia State umpire Panel. He has officiated 317 Premier Cricket matches, including153 1st Grade matches and incredibly, the last six 1st Grade Finals. At Cricket Australia level, he has officiated 14 Second XI matches, 14 WNCL matches, 27 WBBL matches, and has represented South Australia at the NICC (Imparja Cup), U18 Female Championships, U17 Male Championships and U19 Male Championships. He has been President of the SACUSA and is currently a serving member on the SACUSA Executive.
I am sure we have all heard that ‘Failure to prepare, is preparing to Fail’, and I cannot think of a more valuable quote to remember where umpiring is concerned. It is so important to have everything in order when you are heading out the door to umpire - your umpiring bag; uniform; directions to the ground; knowledge of where to park; knowing who your umpiring partner is; strong familiarity with Playing Conditions; the list goes on…
Umpiring cricket is the best seat in the house, and to experience the most enjoyment from this spot, you must first understand the laws and Playing Conditions of the match you are assigned to. The best way to do this is to study the Laws of Cricket through not only playing the game we love, but by reading the little blue book. This process can be helped by attending all the trainings and Laws Study programs that you can physically get to. Being able to absorb the intricacies of our great game by bouncing ideas off other umpires, learning from more experienced ones, and listening to our trainers and mentors, cannot be valued highly enough.
To umpire, we must be capable of standing for long periods of time, and of moving to position when required. We must maintain our concentration throughout, so to do this, our body and mind must be ready. Keeping fit by regularly exercising is important - I find long walks with the dog extremely beneficial, especially during pre-season, to get some kilometres into the legs. Eating food that will sustain your energy for extended periods in the days leading into the match, and drinking plenty of water, will also assist your mental and physical alertness.
Ok, so let’s say we have attended all of our Panel meetings, Laws Study evenings, done our on-line trainings, have the best understanding of the Laws and Playing Conditions of the match, and we are physically fit for the game that has been appointed to us for the weekend. If I haven’t been there before, I start by making sure I know how to find the ground and where to park. Google Maps is great for this and will also highlight any potential holdups in traffic (ie: festivals, pageants, etc). Next, I doublecheck my umpiring bag to make sure everything is there and in working order. Then, I make sure I have the correct uniform, on-field shirt, off-field shirt, etc.
The day before the match I contact my umpiring partner, usually starting with a simple text to check the time we are arriving at the ground, and which on-field shirt we will be wearing, and I communicate that I’m looking forward to the game. This can develop into a phone call to clarify, if needed, and is a really important step to building your teamwork for the match. As I found out recently, it can also be an opportunity to get to know your umpiring partner better. We all know how COVID-19 put a premature stop to the 2019/20 season. In South Australia, it was the Tuesday before our Semi-Finals in Premier Cricket and our allocations for these games had been published on MyCricket. We were all notified Wednesday that all cricket was to be definitely cancelled. On the Friday before the game, I received a phone call from Dhaval Bhatt, who was to be my umpiring partner for the cancelled Semi-Final, saying how excited he was to be doing his first 1st Grade Semi with me the next day!! I had to say, “Mate, you know the game is canned,” thinking he had not seen the cancellation. This was met by raucous laughter from Dhaval on the other end of the phone. Of course he knew!!
The night before the game calls for a good meal, one last check that you have all your clothes ready to go for the next day, and then a good nights’ sleep.
The morning of the match should be kept as simple and easy as possible. Leave with plenty of time to get where you need to go - the last thing you need is for all your prep to go down the drain by rushing to get there. Make sure, when you arrive at the venue, you appear calm and in control, because you do not get another chance to make a good first impression. Be courteous to all stakeholders, and make sure you make them feel you are happy to be there. Always do a thorough ground inspection with your umpiring partner, making sure to notice if there are any reasons why play may not be able to start on time. When back in the changeroom before start of play is a great time to discuss wide interpretations, soft signalling and any other fieldcraft techniques that you both think may add value to your teamwork throughout the match.
While organising yourself to be game ready, it is important to remember the people around you: life partners, kids, friends and co-workers can provide essential support to us so we can be free to pursue the passion of umpiring.
To sum up, if you prepare well and be good to the people around you, you will be able to ENJOY your view from the best seat in the house.