Q&A: New breed of umpires

2011-10-26 12:59

Rob Houwing

Rob Houwing chats to Adrian Holdstock, the former first-class cricketer who has turned to umpiring - part of a generation of fairly young ex-players to do so - and debuted in a Proteas match recently.

Are you one of those people who have specifically wanted to remain in the game after retirement as a player?
Cricket has always been part of my life, even if as a player I probably missed out on realising the potential I was given. (Holdstock was a Wynberg and Bishops-educated fast bowler who represented SA Schools and later WP and Boland between 1989 and 1996 – Sport24). I did look at some other avenues too but always enjoyed coaching, and did so at the University of Stellenbosch for some six years. I was also director of cricket at Paul Roos for a few years. In about 2003, Cricket South Africa asked me if I’d ever consider umpiring, although even two years before that the bug bit a little: I sat in on an umpiring course at Stellenbosch involving the late international umpire Wilf Diedricks. At the time I was a bit repelled by the thought off “aargh, all these exams again”, but eventually (overcame that fear). I came to realise that as a coach I’d probably never take charge of South Africa, and might have a much better chance of representing my country as an umpire ... and eight years on, I got my opportunity the other night. (Holdstock stood in the Twenty20 match at Newlands against Australia on October 13).

Is it a gentle, patience-requiring rise through the ranks?
Yes, I did my couple of years of time at club level, then went to the various cricket weeks in South Africa and in about 2006 I did Club Champs, followed by a couple of years on the Emerging Panel, where you get involved in things like the Provincial Challenge. You work your way through the system, which is a good thing. I’ve been fortunate to be fast-tracked in a way into the franchise-level game, perhaps because of an active desire to get former first-class players involved. Throughout the world at the moment, there are quite a few umpires who have played the game at high levels ... in England there are many former County Championship players standing, and Australia have a guy like Paul Reiffel who has even played internationally. I think that’s the way they’re looking to go.

Just how advantageous do you think it is to be an umpire who also played first-class cricket?
It definitely does help. The important thing for me is that you’ve got some idea of the sort of pressures on the players, even if in my case not at international level. And perhaps the players also respect you a bit more, in a way. It’s important not to impose yourself too much in your umpiring role ... I have always been a fairly laidback character and I think that’s what they may quite like in me. Don’t force yourself onto the game; 99 percent of the time you don’t need to interrupt the free flow of a game. Once you gain the respect of the players, I think it makes things much easier for you. They also realise that human nature means you will get things wrong from time to time, and won’t be too hard on you. I think it helped in the Twenty20 international that I’d already umpired the Rusty Therons, Colin Ingrams and so on at other levels ... you kind of come through the ranks parallel to them. So you have a bit of a bond with these guys. I think CSA are doing a good thing with this ex-player quest in umpiring ... I hope more guys follow suit.

South Africa v Australia before a full house at Newlands constitutes a fairly rigorous debut, yes?
Ja ... I was asked if I was nervous. Maybe in the on-day hours leading up to the game, because it was a day/nighter! A natural butterfly or two. But as I walked onto the ground with Marais (Erasmus) I wasn’t nervous at all. You get into the zone and forget about the crowd and so on. At the end of the day, my job is to manage 22 yards effectively. Having an established, calm guy like Marais as my colleague helped enormously as well ... we played together at Boland, became quite good friends, so it was fitting to start my international career with him. The intensity level was certainly apparent, as you always get when South Africa play Australia. I thoroughly enjoyed it and all the players were very nice to me. Certainly the SA guys would have known it was my debut, and possibly a couple of the Aussies too. The game itself was pretty easy to manage ... I can’t complain.

Can you name any other ex-players currently contemplating following your route?
I’m not aware of too many specifically. I’m sure there must be one or two. At one point Andrew Kirsten (brother of Peter and half-brother of Gary) of Western Province was trying to make his way through the umpiring ranks but his school coaching commitments probably got in the way. You have to sacrifice quite a lot, certainly from a financial point of view ... only when you get the very top level (the ICC Elite Panel – Sport24) does it become pretty viable from an income point of view. At my current level you have to have some other things on the go, too, although I’ve never been too driven by financial considerations. Hopefully if you do the job well, a stab at the Elite Panel one day becomes possible ...

Are you more Marais Erasmus in umpiring personality than Billy Bowden?
Definitely! I’ve never met Billy, though I’ve seen him do his thing on TV. I’m more in the line of Marais; calm and quiet and no fancy signals or anything like that. As I said before, players like it if you’re not too in their faces ... a couple if franchise players have mentioned that very fact to me, which you obviously consider encouraging to know. Generally speaking, I think South African umpires are held in high regard globally: it started with people like Rudi Koertzen, and Marais is now right up with the very (best) on the Elite Panel. Johan Cloete and Shaun George are on the International Panel now, as well.

What are your thoughts on technology?
I have no qualms with technology in general. You want the correct decision, ultimately. But you also need to guard against cricket becoming too drawn out. Look at Tests: you have 90 overs in a day and they often don’t even complete them in the extra half hour given! So with already slow over-rates you’ve got to be careful not to delay things even more. I think for line decisions and stumpings and so on, it’s pretty straightforward: TV will show whether it’s this side of the line or that. Personally I suspect Hawk Eye is not 100 percent accurate, but you can’t obsess too much about technology. If it’s there, it’s there, and deal with it. You can’t worry too much about it; just aim to get your own decisions as correct as you possibly can.


  • paul.penzhorn - 2011-10-27 08:00

    Well done Adrian.

  • carmenmossholdstock - 2011-12-22 13:41

    Great interview!

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