Dickie Bird and the stories that made him a legend
Frank Chester, who umpired in England between 1924 and 1955, was once described as 'the most famous of all umpires'. There is no doubt that this accolade now belongs to Dickie Bird.
Harold Dennis Bird, popularly known as Dickie, turned 80 today. When he retired from international umpiring in 1996 at the age 63, his 66 Tests were a record and he was the only man to have stood in three World Cup finals. He was also the most famous umpire in the world, thanks to his idiosyncrasies and the explosion of television coverage the world over.
Here are a handful of anecdotes that we have culled together that tell of the man and his character:
The late Peter Roebuck tells a story about Bird umpiring a game between Somerset and Warwickshire. Somerset were chasing runs at home and the Warwickshire bowler wanted to slow down the over-rate before the last over began. So he bowled a deliberate no-ball by a couple of yards. According to Roebuck, "Bird was appalled. Furious, he called the next five deliveries as no balls, irrespective. Mischief was not allowed to prosper. In effect, Somerset were given an extra over."
Bird has told the next story himself more than a few times:
Allan Lamb once brought a walkie-talkie on to the field in his pocket. He asked Bird if the could keep the device but Bird declined because they were in the middle of a Test. But Lamb gave it to him any way and it soon buzzed, with Ian Botham on the line. Came the instruction crisp and clear, "Tell that Lamby to play his shots or get out".
There was the time Bird held up play during a Test himself:
During a test match at Old Trafford between England and West Indies he urgently wanted to go to the toilet and so stopped the match saying to the players, "I’m very sorry, gentlemen, but nature calls". He then ran off to the toilet to the amusement of the players and a tremendous roar from the crowd.
Another time in Sharjah, he took to walking around in circles, as Wisden reports:
Bird was in Sharjah for the first time. He was told to avoid looking at the pitch between deliveries because of the glare. To save his eyes, he should instead look at the grass around the pitch. "So after the first ball from his end, he set off on a crouching, circular walk, like someone searching for a lost contact lens within a 15-yard radius of the stumps, and kept that up all day. Afterwards, he thanked his adviser: "Me eyes were great, they were. Great they were, me eyes". The conclusion was that he was not performing theatricals but that it was "just Dickie"."
In the same Wisden tribute to Bird in 1997, Tony Lewis tells the following two stories. The first was about Bird's debut as an umpire.
"I have never seen anyone so nervous in my life," fellow umpire Charlie Elliott recalled. "I thought he would never make it to the middle let alone give good decisions. Then I saw something which was a clue to his future reputation. He gave Ray Illingworth out lbw. The bowler was the New Zealand seamer Bruce Taylor and he was bowling round the wicket. I thought from square leg - 'How can that be out? A seamer bowling right-arm round the wicket?' But I saw it later on television and I liked what I saw. Dickie was absolutely correct: the ball had moved back into Illingworth from the line of off stump. It was a top-class instant decision."
And there was this incident in Sri Lanka:
In Colombo Bird once got out of the car from the wrong side and found himself in the "middle of hooting Ambassador cars, fast bicycles, slow ox-carts, and listing Leyland buses, all bearing down on him. Suddenly everyone stopped. They began pointing and shouting: "Mr Dickie Bird". He played to the crowd and gave them his funny hunched run to safety, repeating louder than any of them, "Mr Dickie Bird. Mr Dickie Bird"."
And one not involving Bird but something he witnessed which we can't imagine happening again. The incident described in Bird's book, From the Pavilion End:
“Bomber” Wells, a spin bowler and great character, played for Glocuestershire and Nottinghamshire. He used to bat at No.11 since one couldn’t bat any lower. Of him, They used to paraphrase Compton’s famous words describing and equally inept runner; “When he shouts ‘YES’ for a run, it is merely the basis for further negotiations!”
Incidentally, Compton was no better. John Warr said, of Compton “He was the only person who would call you for a run and wish you luck at the same time.” Anyway, when Wells played for Gloucs, he had an equally horrendous runner as the No.10. During a county
match, horror of horrors…….both got injured. *Both* opted for runners when it was their turn to bat. Bomber played a ball on the off, called for a run, forgot he had a runner and ran himself. Ditto at the other end. In the melee, someone decided that a second run was on. Now we had *all four* running. Due to the confusion and constant shouts of “YES” “NO”, eventually, *all* of them ran to the same end. Note – at this point in time, the entire ground is rolling on the floor laughing their behinds out. One of the fielders – brave lad – stops laughing for a minute, picks the ball and throws down the wicket at the other end. Umpire Alec Skelding looks very seriously at the four and calmly informs them “One of you buggers is out. I don’t know which. *You* decide and inform the bloody scorers!”.
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