Road much travelled for man in middle
Chris Gaffaney is a globetrotting umpire, writes Chris Rattue.
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.