Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Harold "Dickie" Bird is born - the grand old man of umpiring
April 19, 1933 - No umpire before or after Harold "Dickie" Bird has commanded the level of respect which cut across nationalities. His celebrated life is rife with rich and amusing anecdotes.
In 1987, Australia were set to play England in the final of the Reliance Cup at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. By that time, neutral umpires were in vogue. Such was the respect commanded by umpire Bird across the board that Allan Border, captain of Australia, made an official plea for Dickie Bird to be allowed to stand in the final.
Son of a coal-miner, Bird was a better batsman that his First-class average of 20.71 might suggest. During his playing days, through most of which he was the 12th man, the Yorkshire team comprised of players like Fred Trueman, Bob Appleyeard, Johnny Wadle, Willie Watson, Frank Lowson, Jimmy Binks, Ray Illingworth, Don Wilson, Brian Bolus and Brian Close. Not a great set of names to be competing for a place in the XI.
That though did not prevent Bird from displaying his talent a few times. His 181 against Glamorgan in 1959 was probably the best knock of his First-class career. When he later moved to Leicestershire, he added 277 for the first wicket with Maurice Hallam against the touring South Africans of 1960. However, his high points were far and few and Bird retired from First-Class cricket at a fairly early age of 31.
It was former Middlesex and England fast bowler JJ Warr, who injected the idea of umpiring in Bird's head. While he had laughed it off initially, the idea grew on him, and by May 1970 he was officiating in his first First-Class match — between Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire in Trent Bridge.
Bird's philosophies of umpiring were profound and simple. One, if you make a mistake, and we all make one from time to time, put it out of our mind straightaway and concentrate on the next ball. Two, never try to even it up. If you do, that is two mistakes you have made.
Going from a player to an umpire though was not the easiest thing for Bird. In what was a hilarious incident, Bird ran from his position behind the stumps to the boundary and almost caught the ball in one of his early umpiring gigs between Surey and Hampshire at Guildford, when Richard Gilliat lofted a ball into the air. He stopped just short of catching it and sheepishly signalled a six.
In 1973, the Yorkshireman stood for his first Test match between England and New Zealand at Headingley. The third youngest umpire in the history of the English game at that time, Bird was notorious for being early. Such was his fear of being late for the game, he was often at the ground at seven o’clock and had to wait for the ground staff to arrive and let him in.
During his 22-year umpiring career, which ended emotionally at Lord's in 1996, Bird umpired in 66 Test and 69 ODIs, including three World Cup finals. During this time, he entertained with his wit and humour. In one such incident, when Bird signalled a wide during a game, a spectator shouted “Give the lad a chance.” Bird immediately took off his white umpire’s coat and offered it to him, thus winning the crowd over.
Bird followed all the matches of the 2019 World Cup and has strong opinions about the balance between technology and human wisdom in the game, "It’s difficult to comment on today’s umpiring standards because all the decisions are done by technology. The umpires today can always refer to technology and it gets them out of any problem, and they just (convey) that. With technology coming into all sport — be it football or rugby — things are getting vague. It takes all the authority away from the umpires. Let’s not forget, the umpires have been a part of the game."
Dickie Bird was awarded OBE by by Prince Charles, Prince of Wales on May 15, 2012 at an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London.
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