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Remembering Shepherd – The Bloke

By Himanshu Shekhar | Last Updated: Monday, November 9, 2009 - 17:30
Himanshu Shekhar
The Compulsive Pilgrim

Shep is no more. Last week he took the long walk back to some unknown place from where he can never watch cricket matches on planet earth. David Shepherd – the burly built umpire lost the battle against cancer at the age of 68.

To categorise Shep as just another umpire, who stood in 92 Test and 172 one day internationals would be grave injustice to the charming personality, who also has the distinction of featuring in three back to back World Cup finals.

His hopping and skipping on a Nelson score (a superstitious belief meaning that the digit 111 was ill-fated) was centre of talk in the commentary boxes worldwide and made people watching the game interested. Crowds were enthralled to the sight of this colossal white-coated person hovering delicately on one leg, or jerking rapidly from one to another.

Shepherd was a friend on the field who commanded huge amount of respect among cricketers for his sheer ability to take the right call.

Exaggerated appeals from the bowlers and prawling fielders were turned down with a canny smile that even the most passionate players failed to show any signs of resentment. Fellow colleague umpires, who stood with Shepherd often, were lucky to find themselves with a companion who faced sternest of tests with a smiling face and a brave heart.

His demise has left an irreparable hole in the umpiring world. One of his juniors, and a man who himself commands a lot of respect for being ICC’s best umpire, Simon Taufel recalls, “My fondest memories of Shep will be of the man -- a true gentleman, a kind spirit and a great bloke. We'll miss him dearly and we are all better umpires for having had the opportunity to work with him.”

Tributes flowed from all quarters after his death, be it Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Caribbean Islands or his home nation England, Shepherd was loved and just loved. England’s Angus Fraser while writing a tribute for him in <i>The Independent</i> , truly explains that feeling. Fraser writes, “Shep loved cricket. It was his life, and as a player, umpire and ambassador he epitomised everything that is good in the game. The ruddy face, rotund figure and cuddly, jovial Father Christmas-like appearance may have given many the feeling he was something of a soft touch. He was not. When standing, Shepherd insisted that games under his control were played in the correct spirit.”

At a time when world cricket is facing a serious technological face lift, the role of an umpire has especially come under the scanner. Any wrong decision or difference in centimeters can be a huge front page story with some serious accusations of favouritism. Shepherd showed how one can be friendly and neutral. I just wonder what would have happened if the much publicised and controversial Oval Test was officiated by David Shepherd and not Darrel Hair.

Shepherd for a moment looked worried on the increased use of technology on cricket field as he once famously said, “I hope we are not heading towards a situation where umpires stand only for counting six balls.”

Shepherd, along with Dickie Bird, was among the best of umpires that the cricket arena will ever see and their friendship was a talking point and for many dressing room discussions. Where Bird with his grim and cold look often desisted players’ from doing anything against rules, Shepherd at the other end, ensured that he lived-up to his reputation of being the father like figure with communication lines always open.

A glowing tribute came from David Green, former Lancashire player. Green said, “I don't know what makes someone a candidate to be an umpire, but he loved the game and I think that is very important. And Shep found a lot of humour in cricket, which I think helped him with umpiring. If things on the field are getting a bit hot and you say something amusing it's very hard to stay angry. As a player he could keep people's spirits up with his enthusiasm and his good nature and I'm sure that was the same with his umpiring. It was hard to sulk if you were within earshot of Shep."

David once famously told a journalist on all the preparations he did before coming on the ground on a five-day Test match.

And for all those who might be apprehensive that only cricketers had their kit ready before turning up in national colours, just take a look on Shepherd’s kit.

Here is a lesson to all cricketing umpires across the globe. This is what Shepherd replied to the scribe:

“In terms of what I take on to the field, there's a pair of scissors, a penknife and some plasters, all in case of mishaps to players. Sometimes I also carry a pocket respirator in case of injury. I use a set of miniature Watney Red Barrels to count the balls; a lip salve for hot weather; pen; notebook; a rag to clean the ball in wet conditions; a light meter; a copy of the rules pertaining to the competition in question; a spare ball similar in wear to the one in use; a card to fill in the number of overs if it's a one-day game; and, finally, as recommended by all players, a pair of specs.”

Shepherd was a perfect example of what cricket stands for. His on field discussions with Sachin Tendulkar often worried Australians, especially when sledging was intended but that too did not bother them as they enjoyed great chemistry between themselves.

Shepherd the bloke will be always missed in the cricketing world and by all those people who knew him and were associated with him.

First Published: Monday, November 9, 2009 - 17:30

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