Shep, the favourite uncle, ambles gently towards the sunset

When David Shepherd departs the international stage next week cricket will lose a principal part of its extended family. Shep is everybody's favourite uncle, the genial cove with a gentle smile and a wise word who stands on one leg when the score reaches 111.

Otherwise known as Nelson (as in one arm, one eye, one leg, hence the reason for standing on one) this is a number feared by the game's English fraternity of a superstitious bent. Everybody knows that about Shep. It has helped to make him an institution.

What is also recognised is that he has been a great umpire. Respected by the players, cherished by the public over 92 Tests and what will be by next week 174 one-day internationals, more international matches than anybody else.

It is a measure of his true stature that the day he remembers above all in a lifetime in cricket was his worst: "It will stay with me forever." Talking about the last session of the Second Test between England and Pakistan in Manchester four years ago, his cheerfully bucolic cheeks seemed to glow a little ruddier.

Somehow, Shep missed a series of no-balls from the Pakistan spin bowler Saqlain Mushtaq, three of which resulted in wickets. England lost a match they should have drawn and drew a series they should have won. (It should also be pointed out that they batted like clowns.)

When the mistakes were pointed out to him, Shepherd was distraught. "I was ready to hand over the white coat for good." He was talked out of it by family, friends and strangers. Letters arrived from all over the world imploring him to stay, one from a chap with whom he had been at school 40 years before and had not seen since.

The International Cricket Council, reflecting the esteem and affection in which he is held, would have allowed Shep, 65 in December, to stand an extra year. When he declined, they offered to bend the regulations so he could umpire in the First Test of the Ashes series at Lord's.

"The game is for the players," he said. "There would have been a fuss over me and that would have deflected attention from what was important." So after yesterday's NatWest Series final he will umpire in one more inter-national, the NatWest Challenge at The Oval between England and Australia, and finish for good after the county season ends in September.

Shep still lives in the village where he was born, Instow, on the Devon coast. The sub-post office which has been in the family for 90 years has just been sold. The constant travelling from there as one of only eight umpires on the élite panel has worn him down a bit lately. "Only eight of us; I always say even the Good Lord needed 12."

He loves cricket, its camaraderie, the way it has of unearthing a man's character, but still there are occasional doubts and regrets. "Sometimes I wonder if it's all been a waste, having my life so tied up with something like cricket when there are so many other valuable things to do in the world..."

But he has adorned his game. His dad, who had only one eye, umpired in local matches ("See, I come from a line of one-eyed umpires"). He had 15 years with Gloucestershire, playing with the likes of Mike Procter and Zaheer Abbas, but a century on his first-class debut did not lead to an illustrious career.

After nearly 300 matches he finished with an average in the mid-twenties. Unfulfilled. Umpiring completed him. He took to it quickly because he recognised the game needed to be respected. He is in favour of technology to a deg-ree, but it is telling that he has the same counters - six small red barrels - that were given him by the old umpire John Langridge in his first season.

Shep has carried his super-stitions and his routine with him. They have been known to coincide. After close of play each day he will always say: "If I get run over by a bus the ball's in my bag so the game can continue." Each Friday the 13th he will tape a matchstick to a finger so he is touching wood all day.

On one such occasion he was umpiring at Lord's and at close of play removed his matchstick to take a shower. He immediately slipped, landing on his back and was briefly in some pain. His fellow umpire, Graham Burgess, put his head round the cubicle and said: "Where did you say the ball was?"

No question, Shep will be missed. And what of the Ashes now he is not to be part of it? "I haven't seen much of England lately because of the job, but I've seen a lot of Australia, and England will do magnificently if they win two," he said. And he was not being superstitious.

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star