Umpiring: How it all Began by David Jenkins
In any history of cricket umpires it is well worth reflecting on the role and the expectations which follow. In the modern game the umpire is seen as a trained professional, knowledgeable in the laws of the game, fully understanding of the relevant match conditions and totally fair and unbiased in the execution of his, or her, duties in regard to the making of decisions. It takes a certain type of person to take on the onerous task of being a cricket umpire in full knowledge that any mistake can be known, and criticised, across the world in an instant. Some things, of course, never change.
It is therefore interesting to note what AG (Allan) Steel wrote in his chapter on umpiring in the book Cricket, written in conjunction with RH (Robert) Lyttelton, in 1888:
If anyone were to ask us the question “What class of useful men receive most abuse and least thanks for their services?” we should, without hesitation, reply, “Cricket umpires.” The duties of an umpire are most laborious and irksome; they require for their proper performance the exercise of numerous qualifications, and yet it is always the lot of every man who dons the white coat, the present dress of an umpire, to receive, certainly no thanks, and, too frequently, something which is not altogether unlike abuse.
Over a century later these sentiments may ring true to a former New South Wales Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association President, Darrell Hair. It was Hair who first incurred the wrath of all Sri Lankan supporters with his no-balling, for throwing, of the man who eventually became Test cricket’s leading wicket-taker, Muttiah Muralitharan.
It was the same Darrell Hair who, with his umpiring partner Billy Doctrove, terminated the 2006 Oval Test between England and Pakistan in England’s favour when Pakistan refused to continue. The rule book was clear, even if the politics were not, and Hair immediately became the scapegoat. Blasted by Pakistan, with nodding approval from India and Sri Lanka, shunned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and not particularly supported by Cricket Australia, Hair was the only participant really punished for the outcome of that match. Certainly the Pakistan captain’s subsequent suspension from four One-Day Internationals (ODIs) seemed, to the untrained eye, manifestly inadequate.
Darrell Hair may well have wondered why he had ever become an umpire.
Of course, in cricket’s earliest days there were no umpires (how Pakistan might have enjoyed that). The game evolved without them and records of the first appearance of umpires remain thin on
the ground. As Steel wrote in his chapter on umpiring:
Nowhere can any notice be found in the history of cricket of the first appearance of umpires as sole judges of the game.
In early days the scoring was done by the nominated ‘notcher’ who stood close by, with a stick, into which he cut a notch every time a run was made. Presumably, it was also the ‘notcher’ who would be charged with handling any dispute which may have arisen in regard to the laws of the game.
What is known is that the arrival on the scene of umpires pre-dated the first known book of laws. In March 1706 a poem was written, in Latin, by William Goldwin called In Certamen Pilae (On a Match at Ball). The poem concerns itself with a rural cricket match and it is in this poem that we fi rst discover two umpires, “leaning on their bats” while off in the distance the scorers “sit on a hummock ready to cut the mounting score on sticks with their little knives”.
In those early days of umpiring development it was quite common for the umpires to carry a stick or bat, and the batsmen were required to touch the umpire through the medium of his wooden appendage to register a run. Over time, of course, this touching of the umpire seemed a little superfluous to requirements – a development which was no doubt appreciated by the umpires.
The earliest version of the laws of cricket was released in 1774. That document was titled, The Laws of Cricket, revised at the Star and Garter, Pall Mall, February 25th, 1774, by a committee of noblemen and gentlemen of Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex and London. We can probably assume the phrase “noblemen and gentlemen” refers to the fact that while all noblemen are gentlemen, not all gentlemen are noblemen. Either that or there was a very strict selection criteria for the noblemen.
By any defi nition though, that title is quite a mouthful. The use of the word “revised” also suggests an earlier version although this was not, apparently, documented. Perhaps any earlier laws were simply passed on by word of mouth which, no doubt, would also imply some variations from time to time. Hence, the newly-documented laws were intended to formalise the game and provide a sound basis for everyone to play it from that time forward. Certainly by 1774, umpires were well established as a key part of any game of cricket.
It follows that the game of cricket and the basis by which it should be played, was well documented and understood by the time the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788. While it can be assumed that cricket was played by those early arrivals from Great Britain we cannot be sure, since there has been no documentation yet found to support the claim.
The earliest known match in Sydney was played in January 1804 between officers of the ship Calcutta and soldiers of one of the resident army regiments. This match was reported in the Sydney Gazette on 8 January of that year. The report indicated that the weather had been so favourable for “the amateurs of cricket” that they had “scarce lost a day for the last month”. The clear implication of that last phrase tells us that cricket had been played before 1804 even if it had not been well documented.
It is not known who umpired this match but presumably, according to the practice of the day, each side supplied its own man to ensure some safety in the adjudication.
It was common practice in the early days for cricket matches to be played for a purse. This, in turn, often influenced the ebb and fl ow of the game as money, and serious money for the day, was at stake. It was not an uncommon experience for umpires to be seen to favour one team over another. While the winning team rarely had an objection the same could not be said of the losing side. As a result, it evolved that each team would supply its own umpire presumably on the theory that any bias toward the opposition could be countered by a balancing bias. Not ideal but seen to be very necessary – especially as money was often at stake.
However, the umpire’s lot was never easy. There was one match, in September 1843, played at Parramatta between Parramatta and Liverpool. The match report in the Sydney Morning Herald stated that although Parramatta won, “… the Liverpool men complain of unfair play on the part of the Parramatta men, who it appears, acted in opposition to the decision of their own chosen umpire. The return match will take place at Liverpool in a fortnight hence, when it is intended to secure competent umpires, who will not allow their decision to be revoked by the players.” Even in 1843 everyone was a critic.
Things had not greatly improved by November 1857, when the Marylebone club did battle with Union. Again the Sydney Morning Herald reported, “Some unpleasantness took place during the play in consequence of the decision of one of the umpires. This proceeding is very uncricketlike; and we would recommend in future to secure the services of experienced persons, and, as a matter of course, respect their decisions, as it is not easy of any umpire to satisfy all parties.” Clearly umpires still came from the ranks of those who were simply available and prepared to do the thankless job.
These umpires were, however, often strongly connected to the team. On the last day of 1859 a report in the Sydney Morning Herald informed its readers that “At a meeting of the Intercolonial Cricket Committee objections were raised to the reappointment of Mr Tunks as umpire. The matter is reserved for consideration at next Thursday’s meeting.” Tunks, of course, had played in the very first match between New South Wales and Victoria and had umpired the previous two matches between the colonies. The objection, whatever it may have been, was obviously overcome because Tunks umpired the next match between the colonies, in February 1860, and also the match that followed a year later. Perhaps Victoria was concerned that Tunks was the NSWCA Treasurer at the time.
In the early/mid part of the 19th century, cricket in Sydney thrived and clubs appeared and disappeared with some regularity. There was no formal competition between these clubs, such as today’s Grade competition, and matches were organised on more of an ad hoc basis – but were hard-fought for all that.
In those days the clubs were less likely to represent a district, like today, although in fairly short order such clubs were formed. Many of the clubs were hardly clubs at all, more a collection of the like-minded or those with something in common. For example, one of the earliest recorded matches was between the Military and the Australians, played at what is now Hyde Park. The Australians, who eventually won the match, were all native-born youths, this being the only selection requirement. The Currency Club was another where the sole requirement to play was to be native born.
Games were played at Hyde Park, originally known as The Common until Governor Macquarie had it renamed in October 1810. There was also the Civil and Military Ground that later became the Sydney Cricket Ground which was, when required, used by the famous Albert Club.
In 1862 a match between the Albert Club and the National Club produced a result shrouded in controversy, a state of aff airs quite familiar for cricket in those days. The Albert Club scored 34 and 150 while the National Club made 49 and 6/120. The match ended prematurely when a National player, Newcombe, was caught while the Albert Club mistakenly had 12 fieldsmen.
The National Club captain objected but the umpires, setting the tone for several later controversies over the years, ruled in favour of the catch. In fairness, the Albert captain offered to let Newcombe bat again but he refused. Meanwhile, the National captain refused to allow the next man to the wicket, which meant a lot of standing around for the Albert Club fieldsmen. With ‘play’ having been called, and no batsman in sight, the umpires, after waiting the appropriate time, ruled the match completed with the Albert Club the victors.
By now, of course, matches between the colonies were relatively regular affairs. The first match which attained first-class status began on 11 February 1851 between the XI of Port Phillip and the XI of Van Diemen’s Land and was played on the site of the Launceston Racecourse. The teams were later officially recognised as Victoria and Tasmania.
The match was the result of an earlier challenge by the Melbourne Cricket Club to the Launceston Cricket Club. It seems odd now given Tasmania’s almost minnow status that the first three first-class matches in Australia should be between Victoria and Tasmania – and five of the first eight such matches.
New South Wales began its first-class history on 26 March 1856 – five years after Tasmania and Victoria – at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a match against Victoria. Although designated as a timeless match it lasted just two days with New South Wales winning by three wickets. Like the very first such game against Tasmania,this match was the result of a challenge by the Melbourne Cricket Club to ‘all comers’.
Initially, the match was to be played for a purse – 500 pounds was mentioned – but the visitors were having trouble just financing the trip, let alone the money required to cover the bet, so, in the end, it was agreed that each side should pay its own expenses. It was Richard Driver, as secretary of the committee set up to organise the response to the MCC’s challenge, who wrote and informed the Victorians that the idea of the purse was beyond the capabilities of the New South Wales committee and team.
The fluid nature of the relationship between players and umpires in those days was evident in this very first outing by New South Wales. The team travelled to Melbourne by steamer but when they arrived they discovered that their star bowler, Joseph Rutter of Parramatta, who had also been on the organising committee, had failed to materialise. He was supposed to follow the team on another steamer but simply did not turn up. Perhaps he was miff ed at the lack of a purse.
The chief organiser, Richard Driver, had been invited to travel with the team as their umpire for the match. In the absence of Rutter, Driver was quickly added to the XI and a Mister JB Bradshaw, then living in Melbourne but originally from Sydney, was called in as the replacement umpire. Driver, who was only 26 years old, had played regularly with the Australian Club but was considered to be just an average player – hence his original role as the team’s umpire. Drama was on hand immediately when it was discovered that the umpires had tossed and Victoria, on winning, had elected to send New South Wales into bat.
The New South Wales players objected on the grounds that tradition had it that the visiting team had the choice of batting first or not. After much discussion back and forth the Victorians decided to concede the point and it was they who batted first. Victoria was all out for 63 and New South Wales replied with 76. Driver, batting at number 11 and coming in with the score at 9/40 made 18, the equal highest score of the innings and the match, to lift New South Wales to a narrow lead. Victoria’s second innings 28 left the visitors to get just 16 to win. Win they did but not before seven batsmen had been dismissed in the chase.
Richard Driver, who travelled down as the umpire and returned home the hero, is thought to have never bettered his score of 18 in any level of cricket – in the second innings he had batted and made a duck. Given Driver was also the single biggest financial contributor to the tour, he proved to be, without doubt, the most significant person associated with that first-ever match for New South Wales.
As first-class cricket got a foothold in the Australian cricket landscape it was common for the colonies to bring with them a designated umpire as part of the touring party. No doubt, this was a natural fallback position given the history of the game to that point in time. Unlike today, with much angst and horror at the discovery of gambling on the outcome of cricket matches, the game began as a prime subject of betting and personal wagers.
Knowing a result in the pocket may well depend on not getting stitched up by some less-than-honest umpire(s), the organisers of games decided discretion was the better part of valour. They simply picked their own umpire as a counter to what they assumed would be bias from the other fellow – a vague sort of honour among thieves where it was hoped the threat of retribution might keep both umpires relatively impartial. A time-honoured principle taken to the edge by both the USA and the USSR during the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s.
Taking your umpire with you eventually just seemed the normal thing to do even when the threat of financial loss had been diminished or even removed. Certainly it was the normal practice in the early days of Australian first-class cricket even after the advent of the Sheffield Shield.
Foundation days of the New South Wales Cricket Association
Whereas in the early days cricket clubs had appeared and disappeared at regular intervals the arrival of fist-class cricket began the formalisation of an agreed club competition from which representative teams would be selected. This, of course, required the creation of an administrative body to oversee the competition and one to which the constituent clubs would be compliant. The New South Wales Cricket Association (NSWCA) was formed in 1859 to administer cricket in the state.
In truth, of course, this was primarily in the Sydney region but at least it was hoped there would now be some structure to the game.
It took some time to get people to accept the idea. Notices had been placed in the Sydney Morning Herald inviting the “Secretaries of the various cricket clubs” to a meeting to discuss the formation of an association in late April and early May of 1859. Nothing had happened particularly by December when another notice appeared, submitted by Richard Driver and William Tunks, calling for yet another meeting of interested parties. As it turned out, both Driver and Tunks failed to turn up to the meeting they had called but, in their absence, they were elected joint secretaries with the instruction to call another meeting! Some things never change. Eventually the NSWCA took hold and established itself with Tunks being the first Honorary Treasurer.
Driver and Tunks had both played in the historic first match for New South Wales, prior to the association being formed, and for both it proved to be their only representative outing. To further enhance the similarities between the two men, when New South Wales returned to Melbourne nearly two years after that first (1876) and Western Australia (1885) and, finally, Victoria (1895) were all duly formed to assume the responsibility for administering cricket in their particular colonies.
The NSWCA had been primarily established to manage the inter-colonial contests and to organise the teams and grounds to facilitate these matches. One stated aim was to raise the standard of play within New South Wales but the motivation for this was the recent failures against Victoria. The Victorians had won the previous two encounters –they would win the next three as well – and there were those in Sydney who thought enough was enough.
The NSWCA was the first such body to be established in Australia. The Southern Tasmanian Cricket Association (later the Tasmanian Cricket Association) began in 1866 followed by the rest of the mainland states. The associations of South Australia (1871), Queensland (1876) and Western Australia (1885) and, finally, Victoria (1895) were all duly formed to assume the responsibility for administering cricket in their particular colonies.
Foundation days of the New South Wales Cricket Association
Curiously, despite the formation of their respective cricket associations, the step up to the first-class scene was delayed for many of the mainland colonies. South Australia played its first match in 1877, after the first two Test matches, while Western Australia and Queensland both debuted in 1893. Even more strange is the fact that Tasmania, one of the original two first-class teams (with Victoria) and the second oldest association, was a distant last to join the Sheffield Shield competition. Perhaps the time and effort required to travel to and from Tasmania was a factor in them being ignored but Victoria had a long and established history of matches against the island state.