Tribute reduces Bird to tears

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The Independent Online
The momentary, stunned hush around Lord's that greeted the dismissal of Michael Atherton, lbw to the fifth ball of the England innings, was as much for the man who adjudged him out as it was for the captain's early demise. The ball certainly looked destined for a tangential collision with leg stump, but in the past, the old stagers reckoned, umpire Dickie Bird would have given the benefit of the doubt to the batsman.

Not this time. On his 66th and last appearance in a Test match the 63- year-old Bird was unwavering in his certitude and Atherton, who in any event had been rooted on the crease, afforded himself a wry smile on his way back to the pavilion.

It was there, minutes earlier, that Bird had been accorded a moving tribute. There had been fears that the emotional Bird would succumb to the highly charged atmosphere of Lord's, but the umpire fought back the tears and, as he threaded his way through the throng of members packed tightly and expectantly in the Long Room, the only sign that England's favourite umpire was coming slightly unravelled was the white handkerchief he brought to his eyes at the top of the pavilion steps.

The crowd, including the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, stood as one and Bird's every step was echoed by the cheers echoing from the usually more sober Long Room. He walked through a tunnel of players, shaking the occasional hand before the Indian captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, was moved to give Dickie an impulsive hug.

This all took place half an hour after it had been scheduled. But this came as no surprise to anyone. If it was going to rain on anyone's parade it was going to pour on Dickie's, since he seems to have been dogged by dodgy weather during his 26 years as a first-class umpire. In fact it did, although it was more of a drizzle which delayed events by half an hour, than a downpour.

Bird admitted he had woken up in the middle of the night following a nightmare in which he had to give a decision on the England captain. When he woke up and saw the weather he said: "I saw the clouds and thought `Oh no'. Then the bad light ended play and I thought `Oh no.' But it was fantastic today. It must be the first time an umpire has been clapped on to the pitch by both teams. I don't mind admitting I broke down and cried. I couldn't hold back the tears and there was a lump in my throat."

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