Umpeye goes Namibian
Namibia in summer is not something that a European umpire will get used to quickly. At 6000ft above sea level and no humidity it's a different type of heat, as the locals smugly reminded us, along with, "Well it's only going to get hotter today, probably 36- 38 Degrees, but it'll rain at 5pm."
Strangely enough the heat came but the rain stayed away, oh we had dust storms that held up play, sand funnels passing behind the score board, and squirrels that sat at mid on oblivious to the game.
The venue, United Cricket Club was superb with views across the whole of Windhoek, looking down on Olympia the sporting centre of Namibia with the National Rugby stadium next door.
It all started in early October as I received an email from the ICC in Dubai, again one of those nano second decisions when asked if I would be available to officiate in the ICC Intercontinental Trophy Semi Finals from the 23rd - 25th of October. Well you don't get an offer like that every day, so bags packed with copious amounts of sun cream I departed via Dusseldorf and Frankfurt for Windhoek.
Arriving in Namibia I was met by Geoff Luck, who I had stood together with 4 years before at the ICC Trophy in Toronto. We waited for the 2 members of the ICC International panel, Tony Hill from New Zealand and Russell Tiffin from Zimbabwe, to arrive on the next flight. I was due to stand with Tony, and Roger Dill from Bermuda the other member of the ICC Associates and Affiliates panel, with Russell.
Geoff drove, no let me rephrase that, raced... ralleyed... no, still too traumatised to explain properly! Anyway we were in Jeff's truck on the 40 mile journey from the airport and were taken the scenic route and given a superb panoramic view of downtown Windhoek, however, by this time we were not able to keep our hands from shaking long enough to take a clear photograph although that could also have been through nicotine deprivation after the 9 hour flight!
We arrived at the Windhoek Country Club Resort, our meagre accommodation for the next week to find our rooms would not be ready until 2pm, bearing in mind that it was now only 11am what could we do? Well the only thing that umpires can do- retreat to the nearest bar, escorted by Jeff, and begin what is euphemistically described as a 'Team building exercise'. The team rapidly moulded their hands around the first cold bottle of 'Tafel' beer and it was the last one we touched until after the Semi Final.
Well ok, maybe there was one more, but as Tony was to remind us throughout our stay, "We're only here for the Cricket!"
We met up with Chris Briers from the ICC and got ourselves organised and took some light refreshment, understandably because of the altitude and possible dehydration during the flight.
The team management meeting was scheduled for 2.30pm and the umpires meeting for 1.30pm the following day. I retired to my room, once it had been allocated to get my head down.
Later in the evening Roger and I chanced our arm at the Chinese restaurant in the hotel and were pleasantly surprised by the food. Overlooking the casino it was an education to watch people feeding the machines and tables with money, and we both decided that it really was a mugs game and decided to call it a night.
Our intrepid explorers made their way into town to explore the mysteries of Africa. It turned out to be more like any European town that you could wish to mention. Classy shops selling diamonds and jewellery at inflated prices, Manchester United and Arsenal shirts on display in every sports shop, hanging next to them South African rugby shirts and all the other merchandising that you would expect.
There were the street traders selling their wares handcrafted by their old and infirm grandmothers who were unable to sell their wares for any less than the advertised price, until you started to walk away, then the price miraculously dropped!
We made it back in time for the team meetings at the hotel and then Tony and I were driven across town to the United ground where we inspected the pitch and made a few suggestions to Chucky the grounds man, which he promised would be implemented in time for our arrival the next day.
Then it was back to the hotel and preparation for the gala dinner at the Wanderers club. This ground would be used for the semi final and final, whereas the ground that Tony and I were based at would be used for the semi final between Bermuda and Kenya and then 2 one-day games between the hosts Namibia and Bermuda.
Those 2 fixtures seemed to indicate the hosts' belief that Bermuda would not reach the final, as was pointed out at the dinner by the ICC Vice President Percy Song. This speech has been reported on at length by much more respected scribes than myself, so I will leave it to them, but I would suggest that for further detail you turn to the Bermuda Royal Gazette and the reports by Dan Rutstein their travelling reporter.
Sunday - Tuesday
The day dawned fair and cricket was on the agenda. The heat was immense and winning the toss would be vital. It is not right to, nor should I comment on the match apart from to say that it was a pleasure to umpire, it was played within the Spirit of the Game and although it was played hard, it was also played fair. Steve Tikolo batted effortlessly for his double hundred, Clay Smith responded with his own captains innings and the bowlers toiled on a pitch was more to the liking of the batsmen than bowlers.
One strange conversation on the first day, Modi faced his first ball and scored a single, and came to my end. "My Dad says hallo!" he said, it took some further explanation, Subash Modi of Kenya is also on the Associates and Affiliates panel, the penny dropped eventually!
The scorers did a marvellous job, bearing in mind they were both from the host nation and it was no easy task to tell the players apart under their helmets and other protective gear.
The match was effectively over by lunchtime on day 3 but Bermuda persevered, and eventually the captains decided between them to call it an honourable draw. It truly was a gentlemanly thing to do and fitting that the game should end in such a way, with both captains shaking hands on a gentleman's agreement.
All the umpires and scorers retired to 'Joes Biergarten' for light refreshment- do you notice a trend here? We were treated to the likes of Zebra, Kudu and Crocodile on a spit- fantastic.
It's that time again, the match is over, the bags are packed and my flight was due to leave in a few hours time. Just enough leeway to dive into town for some last minute shopping and return for some light refreshment at the Golf club before departing for the airport.
Reflecting on the previous 6 days I can honestly say I learnt a lot, standing with Tony was an education in itself. Having the opportunity to listen to him and Russell chatting about where they had been and what they had seen on a cricket field was a further lesson. There was the first NZ vs. GER umpires golf match- well ok, chipping on the driving range- but Germany came out victorious and plus 2 huge blisters that prevented further NZ umpire humiliation!
Everything was going so well until the return flight home was delayed for nearly 7 hours and a stop in Angola for fuel, and at Frankfurt airport my bottle of Namibian wine survived an explosives test- what a relief!
Thank you Namibia it was great fun!