Test cricket umpire Evan Watkin talks to about giving Brian Lara out, being the registrar of electors and Billy Bowden’s antics.
Test cricket umpire Evan Watkin talks about giving Brian Lara out, being the registrar of electors and Billy Bowden’s antics.
What takes up your time these days?
I’m compiling statistics on women’s cricket in New Zealand for cricketarchive.com. I thought it was something that might while away some time, and now I’ve got snowed under with it. I have found a scorebook from the first example of women’s interprovincial cricket in the country, in 1932-33.
What is it about cricket statistics you find so fascinating?
I have a passion for the game, always have, and statistics, numbers and records are an essential part of the sport.
How much time does your research take up?
All day, every day. The internet has been great for contacting people and associations about scorebooks, names, games and records. I also use Papers Past and three out of four Saturdays a month I go to the National Library.
How long were you an umpire?
I was one year short of 25 years at first-class level, from 1989 to 2013. Where do you come from? I was born in Te Aroha, in the Thames Valley, where the family had a dairy farm. I was there till I was 10, but neither my brother or I were going to go into farming, so we moved to Katikati, then Tauranga. I played cricket with all the five Bracewell boys at different times.
What did you do after leaving school?
I became a post office clerk. When it came time to apply for more senior positions, you just went for everything going in all parts of the country. I was told I was going to Wellington, but wasn’t that keen to come down this way at 19. I remember being on the sidelines for a rugby match in 1971, when the British Lions were playing Wellington, and the Lions were thrashing them. We were cheering because we loved hearing the capital was getting well beaten.
Did work bring you to Porirua?
Yes. I was promoted to manage the postmaster’s office here and became registrar of electors in 1980. We’ve lived in Whitby for 34 years.
Being registrar of electors must have been a busy role?
It was and in the 1980s there was a lot of electoral reform, with the post office taking over the electoral rolls, which were a shambles before 1980. The peak times of course were at elections, which were usually held before cricket season anyway.
Did you play cricket in Wellington?
I was boarding in Newtown, and turned up to try out for the Kilbirnie club. Back in Tauranga, there were one or two rep players in the club, but at Kilbirnie there were six in the first team with the likes of Don Neely, Barry Sinclair and Richard Collinge. I was overawed to be around those guys. I got my shot in the first team when Collinge was called up for tests against the West Indies.
How far did you go as a player?
I was a decent swing bowler, but only ever a club player. I had half a season in Kilbirnie first team and then played for Naenae, where I got to know Chats [Ewen Chatfield], and Upper Hutt, where I lived. Your best day with the ball? We played Midland St Pat’s on the Basin Reserve in December 1971 and at lunch they were something like 140-2. Collinge, Mike Coles and Bruce Smith, all first-class players, all had figures like 0-40 and I had 2-13. I wish I’d had the nerve to take a photo of that scoreboard.
When did umpiring come along?
I played until I was about 30. At Maidstone Park one day I was hit on the head by Ewen Chatfield. That led me to giving away playing and taking up umpiring.
When did you make the A panel for first-class umpires?
I had two seasons on the B panel and the season 1989-90 was my first year on the A panel and December 8 was the first game. I remember in my first game having words with Chris Pringle for running on the pitch. It was blatant.
How hard was it to balance work with family and umpiring?
There was a bit of travel and it wasn’t easy being away from family. We got about $75 for every day we umpired, so we weren’t becoming rich and there were no central contracts or retainers.
Your highlight umpire?
My three test matches. I stood in the two Boxing Day tests at the Basin Reserve [1998 v India, 1999 v West Indies] and was at square leg when Simon Doull took those wickets in the first hour against India. Matthew Bell was on debut and he stood next to me and we wished each other good luck. My third test was in Napier in 2009, when Billy Doctrove fell ill and I was third umpire, so I replaced him on the field. That was the test Jesse Ryder got 201.
Would you like to have officiated in more tests?
Absolutely. Billy [Bowden] was around, so I didn’t get a look in on the international panel. It came down to timing and luck. I was the No 2 in the country for a while and am thankful I got the chance.
What do you think of Bowden’s antics as an umpire?
He was not like that when he started. But Danny Morrison had a benefit match in Auckland in 1997, Sky Sport were showing it and it was that Max cricket format. Billy told me he practised his signals in the mirror. It wasn’t
an something I was a fan of.
How many first-class games did you umpire?
I got to 135, the most in New Zealand domestic cricket.
What do you think of the new technology like Snicko, Hawk-Eye and Hot Spot?
It takes the pressure off umpires. When I was umpiring for matches on TV we had replays to check run outs and boundaries. Technology is good in most respects except for Hawk-Eye and the way it tracks the ball after hitting the batsman. It’s often not what would have happened.
Could the review system have helped you with any big decisions?
I gave Brian Lara out caught behind off Dion Nash in the Boxing Day test in 1999. Nash was convinced, there was a big sound and [wicketkeeper Adam] Parore caught it in front of Fleming at first slip, so there was obvious deviation. Lara shook his head straight away, but I gave him out. He wasn’t happy. Nash later told me that Fleming and the other slips didn’t think Lara had hit it. I later discovered that the Windies bowler Reon King had made a hole or a hollow, right where Lara swung at Nash’s delivery. He may have hit that hole. In 2015, Lara would’ve challenged my call and may have been given not out. Any other sports you enjoy? I love all the majors in tennis and golf. I really enjoyed the drama of the US Open last week, which Jordan Speith won. What an incredible golf course. Once a week I’m down at Porirua School for the Tawa Table Tennis Club for our club night. I enjoy watching my grandsons playing cricket, of course. Do you still umpire? I’m restricting myself to premier youth grade and women’s cricket now. I’ve pulled out of men’s club cricket after I reported a player for dissent in January and he was found not guilty, which was ridiculous.
Umpire Evan Watkin takes control of a State Shield match at the Basin Reserve, in 2004.