Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Simon Taufel Reminisces about the past and talks about umpiring

"The best way I can describe it is that umpiring chose me. I didn't choose it."

- Simon Taufel, renowned former international cricket umpire and former member of ICC's elite panel of umpires.

Having spent over a decade as an ICC umpire, Simon Taufel is now semi-retired and recently spoke to Betway, over Skype from Australia, about his career, what he is up to currently, and how he feels umpiring has changed and can be improved going forward.

Taufel stood in 74 tests, 174 ODIs and 34 T20Is resulting in the best part of his life spent on the road. This trip to Australia however, is for pleasure as he is there to watch is daughter compete in an Under 12s regional tournament.

“When I pulled the pin on my international career," he says, "I sort of thought that I'd lost a lot of my two boys growing up, and I didn't want to lose my daughter."

Taufel was just 29 when he umpired his first Test in December 2000 between the West Indies and Australia.

He estimates that, for each of his 13-and-a-half years as an umpire, he spent an average of between 60 and 70 days officiating, and another three days away for every one that he was on the field. That is about 180-210 days a year!

That is a total of over five years spent away from family.

"It's not easy and it's not for everyone," he admits.

Taufel was only looking for some "handy pocket money" when he took up a friend's invitation to enroll in an umpire's course before starting university in June 1990.

His friend, Dave, failed to achieve the 85% required to pass, but Taufel, managed it.

"If anything, I was always probably a little guilty of over-preparing," he says. "I'm a bit of a checklist freak."

By the time Taufel reached International level, he was reviewing and summarizing six different laws every day to refresh his memory of the cricket rule book. He studied bowlers and batsmen, he reviewed previous series, and he attended net sessions to watch teams train.

He also prepared for contingency by reading up on local airports and alternative hotels in case of emergencies.

All this was before the cricket had even started!

"I think I probably went further than most, simply because I wouldn't describe myself as a natural umpire," he says.

"I had to work harder at my game to feel that I was ready and that I deserved to have a good day out there, rather than just turn up and it be OK."

Such dedication saw Taufel win the ICC David Shepherd Umpire of the Year award for the first five years since the award's inception, though he's since given all but one of the trophies to people that supported him along the way.

"I did feel embarrassed and uncomfortable with those awards," he says, "because umpiring is a team sport and we were singling out one person."

Talking to Taufel, the importance of teamwork between umpires is a recurring theme.

After retiring from umpiring in 2012, he moved to the head office to work as the ICC Umpire Performance and Training Manager, where he supervised the development and implementation of additional resources to support umpires on the field and in the television booth, including the deployment of umpire coaches to all international matches.

“If I did my career again, I would probably want to talk more about my mistakes," he says.

"To share my shortcomings more with my colleagues after a day's play, rather than keep them to myself and have to deal with them on your own in your hotel room."

One would think that DRS would have helped ease the burden on umpires but Taufel, who experienced only 4 years, out of his 13.5 year career, with technology thinks otherwise.

“I don't think DRS has necessarily made umpiring easier or more difficult," he says. "It's just made it different."

“Pre-DRS, you'd deal with the error later. With DRS, you've got to deal with it at the time.You hear your decision dissected in your ear piece, in front of millions of people, and then, after 90 seconds, two minutes, you have to publicly change your decision and somehow regather your thoughts. You can feel a bit embarrassed and humiliated. It's really tough to move on and focus on that next delivery.”

As was made clear in March this year, when Australian batsman Cameron Bancroft was caught using sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball in a Test match in South Africa, technology has become increasingly important not only in aiding decision-making, but also in helping to manage player behaviour.

"The third umpire, quite easily, has got the toughest job out of the whole umpiring team," explains Taufel.

"Their job is to watch the TV as their primary focus. There should be nothing that goes out to people in their lounge rooms that is missed by the third umpire.”

But, the sandpaper gate, which led to Bancroft, his captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner all being banned, proved that this is not always possible.

"I think it's fair to say that nobody would have expected what happened in Cape Town to unfold before our eyes as it did. As much as you try to simulate different scenarios in a training environment, sometimes there are things that you just think: 'Wow, is this really happening?'"

Taufel was working for Cricket Australia, in charge of umpire selection and match referee management, at the time, and has sympathy for officials that are put in that position.

"The game of cricket is now more commercialised. It's a different type of animal at Test and international level. There are a lot of people who push the envelope to try to get the result to go their own way. I've got no problem with players playing the game hard, no problem at all," says Taufel.

Not many know that Taufel also played some cricket before he went on to become an umpire. He captained his first team at secondary school before going on to play for New South Wales Schoolboys Under-19s alongside Adam Gilchrist and Michael Slater.

He laughs “I played the game pretty hard. I appealed for just about everything I could. I don't think I ever got into trouble with the umpires, but I do remember getting a bit of a bollocking from my coach for swearing on the field. For me, behaviour is a captain, a coach and a team issue. At the moment, people seem to abrogate that responsibility of managing player behaviour through code of conduct or umpires.”

Yet Taufel, who remains the only umpire to have ever been invited to give the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture, believes that the episode can serve as a turning point for the game as a whole.

“I hold the spirit of cricket close to my heart. Results come and go, but who we are and how we play really defines us. We are guardians of the game of cricket. We have to leave it in good shape for the next generation. The only way that we can do that is through adherence to the laws and to the spirit of that game." 

This is where Taufel believes that players and coaches can learn from umpires.

“You can't change what's already happened, it's part of history now. But, like a cricket umpire who can't change the ball that’s already gone, you can certainly do your best to get the next decision right,” he says.

“That's what I would say to Australian cricket and that's what I would say to the global game: learn from what's happened and use the opportunity to make the game stronger than it's ever been before. That's something that everyone can look at. Not just one country or one player or one captain, it's up to everyone to play their role."

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