'Dickie' to bow out at Lord's Test

Cricket: Hugh Bateson on a retiring umpire to whom strange things happened
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Cricket

The man who almost made a career out of bad light will be disappearing into the shadows in June. Harold "Dickie" Bird, for years considered the best umpire in the world, will stand in his last international match when he takes charge of the second Test between England and India at Lord's.

The 62-year-old Yorkshireman, one of the few sports officials to emerge beyond the boundaries of his game as a personality, has brought a unique blend of the exotic and the excellent to each of the world-record 65 Tests and 92 one-day internationals he has officiated in since 1973.

His exaggerated gestures and his look of constant harassment at being in the middle of high-pressure international sport made for wonderfully entertaining television, and even turned him into an object of ridicule at times. But they disguised an absolute grasp of the game and a remarkable ability to get hairline decisions correct.

In recent seasons he has begun to prove fallible, however, and although he will continue to stand in the county game, he is retiring from the international circuit. "I always said that I want to go out at the top. I want to go out gracefully and I want to be remembered," he said. "I don't want to go on too long and people to say that Dickie Bird's slipping and I think it's the time to go."

Bird's standing in the game, with players, spectators and commentators, is guaranteed. The editor of Wisden ers' Almanac, Matthew Engel, said: "Dickie's retirement will be a terrible loss for Test cricket in the sense that he has been so much more than an umpire. He has contributed hugely to the humour of the game."

Stories about Bird are legion. Allan Lamb and Ian Botham played the most famous prank on him (which Bird tells against himself in his regular after- dinner speeches) when Lamb entrusted Bird with his mobile telephone while he was batting in a Test match. Bird dutifully put it in his pocket, and was startled when it started ringing in the middle of the game. Botham was on the line asking Lamb to play a few shots.

He also seemed to attract the unusual in Test cricket. In last summer's Test between England at the West Indies at Old Trafford, Bird had to halt the game because of too much sunlight when the reflected glare off a glass door was dazzling a batsman.

And he was in charge at Headingley in the 1987 match, between England and the West Indies, when water mysteriously began emerging from underground, forcing another lengthy postponement. A drain was blocked.

Lord's will be awaiting his swan-song with some trepidation.

England's space race, page 27

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