Road much trav­elled for man in mid­dle

Chris Gaf­faney is a glo­be­trot­ting um­pire, writes Chris Rattue.

Herald on Sunday - - SPORT - Chris Gaf­faney was out of the coun­try 243 days last year.

From Chit­tagong to Cen­tu­rion, and many points in between — that’s been the life for Chris Gaf­faney, New Zealand’s world class cricket um­pire, whose as­sign­ments have in­cluded the re­cent Ashes se­ries.

Since join­ing the ICC’s elite 12man panel three years ago, he has um­pired in Aus­tralia, Bangladesh, Eng­land, In­dia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emi­rates and Zim­babwe. The 42-year-old Gaf­faney talks about his jour­ney from an overly ner­vous bats­man for Otago dur­ing 11 sea­sons to a key fig­ure in the world game.

Was there a mo­ment or in­ci­dent which made you de­cide to um­pire?

I hardly thought about it as a player. I played cricket be­cause I was able to — it wasn’t some­thing I par­tic­u­larly en­joyed. I was never able to mas­ter my nerves. I put too much pres­sure on my­self and ended up play­ing a lot of my ca­reer in a men­tal state not ideal for suc­cess. So I never thought I would stay in­volved once I stopped play­ing.

While out run­ning about two months af­ter my last game for Otago, I thought about giv­ing um­pir­ing a go. My wife laughed ini­tially and then fully sup­ported my de­ci­sion. I con­tacted Brian Aldridge (NZC um­pires man­ager) and at that stage, NZC were run­ning a fast track pro­gramme for for­mer play­ers. I was in­vited to a spin­ners’ camp at Lin­coln Univer­sity where Brian watched me um­pire and of­fered me a con­tract. The rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Where did the um­pir­ing be­gin? Did you aim for the top from the out­set?

My first match was a se­nior club game at Culling Park in Dunedin, Al­bion v Univer­sity Grange. I was part­nered with John Hen­der­son, the god­fa­ther of um­pir­ing in Dunedin. I was re­ally ner­vous and to­tally un­der­pre­pared. I knew the laws as a player but not as an um­pire should. I got through un­scathed . . . it was freez­ing cold.

Ini­tially I thought the ceil­ing was maybe a one-day in­ter­na­tional or T20. Do­ing a test or be­ing a mem­ber of the elite panel seemed out of reach. To be do­ing test matches around the world is a tremen­dous hon­our.

What was your ca­reer high­light as a player?

It would have to be last year when I was third um­pire in a test match in Hyderabad between In­dia and Bangladesh. Scott Styris was on com­men­tary and in a quiet pe­riod, he started talk­ing about my ca­reer and was strug­gling. He then com­pared my ca­reer to one of the greats — Su­nil Gavaskar. It was hi­lar­i­ous lis­ten­ing to Scott try­ing to get out of that. Great . . . but un­for­tu­nately not a great com­par­i­son.

What about your 194 against Auck­land at Caris­brook in the mid-1990s — agony or ec­stasy?

Miss­ing 200 didn’t re­ally worry me at the time . . . it was more about help­ing us win that game. Look­ing back, get­ting that mile­stone would have been nice.

Do you have any tricks or tech­niques to main­tain­ing con­cen­tra­tion for the long hours in the mid­dle?

Um­pir­ing is sim­i­lar to bat­ting. It is im­pos­si­ble to con­cen­trate for six hours solid. It is about rou­tines; work­ing out what works for you, and stick­ing to it — be­ing able to switch on at the key mo­ments and switch off when you are able to between balls. If you can mas­ter this process, it goes a long way to help­ing your um­pir­ing.

How do you re­act to crit­i­cism over a mis­judg­ment and keep your con­cen­tra­tion go­ing in matches and se­ries?

Like play­ing, um­pir­ing is between the ears. You need to be men­tally strong and have trust in your pro­cesses. Um­pir­ing in to­day’s en­vi­ron­ment is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult and de­ci­sions can be right or wrong on mil­lime­tres. To sur­vive, you need strong rou­tines. If you get one wrong, you can’t let it af­fect you and need to be ready for the next de­liv­ery, over or day.

How long are you on the road and what’s it like?

Last year, I was out of the coun­try 243 days. It is very tough and can take a toll men­tally and phys­i­cally. Um­pires don’t get a sum­mer at home like play­ers due to the neu­tral­ity re­quire­ment, so we travel all year. There are lots of pos­i­tives but also plenty of neg­a­tives. I’m ex­tremely lucky in hav­ing an amaz­ing wife who

keeps our fam­ily op­er­at­ing while I’m away for long pe­ri­ods. We have young chil­dren, so it isn’t as easy for the fam­ily to travel, but when we can, they travel with me.

Are you su­per­sti­tious? Do you have any par­tic­u­lar rou­tines?

No. If I started go­ing down that path, I’d be in trou­ble.

What is the ca­reer ex­pectancy of a top um­pire these days? What are your long-term plans? Would you re­turn to the po­lice?

Peo­ple see the glam­orous side but there are lots of hours in air­ports, planes or ho­tel rooms. I’m rea­son­ably young for an um­pire, so we’ll see what the fu­ture holds. I had 10 years in the po­lice and did and saw some amaz­ing things. Never say never but I don’t think I’d go back.

What’s bet­ter — be­ing third um­pire, or out in the mid­dle?

Both have pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives, but noth­ing beats be­ing out in the mid­dle among the best play­ers in the world. Be­ing in the mid­dle of the MCG in front of a big crowd or walk­ing through the Long Room at Lord’s is a tremen­dous buzz. I have to pinch my­self some­times.

Is it an ad­van­tage for an um­pire to have played first class cricket?

All the elite panel are for­mer first class or test play­ers. I be­lieve this gives you a feel for the game and may give a good start to an um­pir­ing ca­reer. But there are plenty of ex­cel­lent um­pires com­ing through the ranks who did not play cricket to a high level.

What’s the best ad­vice you’ve ever re­ceived?

Early on in my um­pir­ing ca­reer, I was told to fo­cus on the pos­i­tives. Gen­er­ally, the only time um­pires are men­tioned is over an er­ror or ground/weather/light is­sue. If

you get caught up in all that, it can de­stroy your con­fi­dence and ul­ti­mately un­der­mine your um­pir­ing abil­ity.

Any ad­vice for a bud­ding um­pire?

En­joy­ment. If you don’t en­joy what you are do­ing, you will find it very dif­fi­cult to suc­ceed.

Um­pire Chris Gaf­faney (left) says noth­ing beats be­ing in the mid­dle of a big game.

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