David Shepherd: A life devoted to the spirit of cricket, not just its laws

The Test umpire, who died this week, will be fondly remembered by fans and players. Angus Fraser explains how his easy charm could transform the trickiest situations
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The Independent Online

It was always reassuring to see David Shepherd's name at the bottom of a scorecard on the first morning of a match you were playing in. Shepherd, who died on Monday at the age of 68 after a long battle with cancer, brought calm authority and fun to every game of cricket he umpired . Working with him was a pleasure, and not just because I was the beneficiary of a few dodgy lbw decisions.

Shepherd loved cricket. It was his life, and as a player, umpire and ambassador he epitomised everything that is good in the game. The ruddy face, rotund figure and cuddly, jovial Father Christmas-like appearance may have given many the feeling he was something of a soft touch. He was not. When standing, Shepherd insisted that games under his control were played in the correct spirit.

But he also realised that cricket was meant to be enjoyed by everyone, hence the notable little jigs when a score of 111, or a multiple thereof, appeared on the scoreboard. Nelson, as 111 is called in cricket, is historically considered to be an unlucky number, and the way cricketers attempt to counteract the moment is to lift their feet off the ground. Shep's little jigs did not go unnoticed by spectators and were always greeted with little cheers.

The manner in which he conducted himself was the principle reason why "Shep" was so well respected. Players want umpires to get decisions correct, and for many years Shepherd was as good as any – but players also want to have an enjoyable and healthy working relationship with the match officials. For a bowler, especially, five days is long time to have a frosty, edgy, niggardly battle.

At a time in sport when a smile from a match official can cause a back-page story, with a disgruntled and often defeated opponent making accusations of favouritism, it is hard to believe the relationship "Shep" had with players. Many umpires try a headmasterly approach but that was not Shep's way, and it is no coincidence that most major incidents occur under the supervision of the officious officials.

Players show little sympathy, and at times respect, for an umpire that is constantly on their case. Shep, however, worked with players. If there was any aggro he would have a quiet word with the aggrieved player as he walked to his fielding position at the end of an over. Unlike several modern umpires, who crave the limelight, Shep did not want to be seen wagging his finger in the centre of a ground.

Shep stood in my third Test appearance, at Trent Bridge against Australia in 1989, and he was brilliant with me. I had played under him in several games with Middlesex CCC prior to Trent Bridge and had a good relationship with him. The Test did not go particularly well for England – Australia scored 301 without losing a wicket on the opening day of the match, and 602 for 6 in total as they recorded an innings and 180 run trouncing over David Gower's side.

Despite the result I felt I bowled pretty well without luck: 2 for 108 in 53 overs. I remember Shep encouraging me as he gave me my sweater and cap back at the end of many overs. "Keep going Gussie, you deserve a bit of luck. Wickets will soon start to come your way," he would say in his West Country accent. Sadly, they did not in that particular game. I am sure he had similar conversations with batsmen too, when they were out of a bowler's earshot and struggling in difficult conditions.

The last time I met Shep was under The Mound Stand at Lord's during summer's second Test against Australia. He had lost a lot of weight and it did not suit him, but he was still as amiable as ever, chatting enthusiastically and laughing with myself and the other punters who recognised him.

Though an enjoyable encounter, it is not the image of Shep that I want to remember. The image I will always remember is that of him of him raising and shaking the index finger of his right hand in the direction of a batsman whilst uttering the words every bowler loves to here: "That's Out."

Player and umpire: Shepherd's career

David Robert Shepherd MBE

Born: 27 December 1940, Bideford

Playing career: Gloucestershire (1965-79). 282 matches, 10,672 runs at 24.47. 12 hundreds, 55 fifties. Highest score: 153

Tests umpired: 92 (1985-2005); One Day Internationals 172 (1983-2005)

First Test: 1-6 August 1985, England v Australia (Old Trafford)

Last Test: 3-7 June 2005, West Indies v Pakistan (Kingston)

Stood in three World Cup finals (1996, 1999, 2003) and five Ashes

'A wonderful, wonderful man': Memories of Shep

Dickie Bird

Former umpire and long-time colleague

"I will always remember Shep as someone full of fun and a wonderful, wonderful man. I have many happy memories of standing with him in Test matches and going abroad together. My favourite story about Shep, though, comes from his playing days at Gloucestershire. The players went on a long run during pre-season training but because Shep carried a bit of weight he was soon well behind. Or he was until a milk float came along and he hitched a lift to the County Ground and was there, drinking a cup of tea, when the rest of them puffed in."

Graham Gooch

Former England captain

"I knew Shep as a player and as an umpire, although obviously he was more famous as an umpire. He was playing for Gloucestershire when I played in my second first-class match for Essex, in 1974, and he was always a very amenable guy. Not only was he an excellent decision-maker as an umpire but he also carried out his duties in the right way in terms of how he handled the players and how he interacted with them. There was usually a smile on his face and he had the confidence and respect of the players. Shep was one of the top umpires of his generation and everyone in cricket will be mourning."

Mike Gatting

Former Middlesex batsman and England captain

"I suppose that Shep will always be best remembered for the little hop and skip he used to do when the score was 111 or 222 or whatever, regardless of the match situation. That sense of fun always came across to the players. He loved the game and he helped the players to love it through the way he umpired. All the players had a huge amount of respect for him. If there was a problem he would very quickly try to calm things down. He wanted to enjoy his cricket and he wanted everyone else to enjoy it, too."

David Green

Former Lancashire and Gloucestershire player

"I played against Shep for three seasons in the Sixties and then I had three seasons or so with him at Gloucester. He was a good player and he played a number of very important innings. I don't know what makes someone a candidate to be an umpire, but he loved the game and I think that is very important. And Shep found a lot of humour in cricket, which I think helped him with umpiring. If things on the field are getting a bit hot and you say something amusing it's very hard to stay angry. As a player he could keep people's spirits up with his enthusiasm and his good nature and I'm sure that was the same with his umpiring. It was hard to sulk if you were within earshot of Shep."

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