An ideal wife is any woman who has an ideal husband. (Booth Tarkington).
A few months ago while having dinner with Mrs Umps and our younger 20-year-old son, I recounted a telephone conversation I had that day with someone I knew through work. He told me he had a relation who worked at the Donald Bradman Museum in Bowral, Australia. My son asked: Who is Donald Bradman? I politely placed my cutlery on the plate, digested a portion of Mrs Umps’ delicious flan and answered: The greatest cricketer of all time, to which my son replied: That’s why I’ve never heard of him.Despite originating from a distant land with no cricketing culture (there is however a thriving recreational League which I played in), Mrs Umps did know something about Bradman. Maybe she had looked at our bookshelves or remembered vignettes from my cricket banter with mates. You know the moral-high-ground warriors I am referring to, railing against Sky Sports getting the rights to broadcast but happy to watch the action on someone else’s TV, conveniently ignoring the fact that I had been donating a monthly fee to the Murdoch clan. And being a far kinder soul than myself, Mrs Umps always provides a cuppa and plain chocolate Digestives for the guys (I draw the line on her sharing her sumptuous apple crumble).
Regularly featured in these missives, Mrs Umps has deserved this posting dedicated to her. And this particular baton has been passed onto me by Lieutenant Columbo and his iconic television detective dramas in which Mrs Columbo is always lurking, but never actually seen.
It became the joke of the neighbourhood. If the umpire ruled me out on a bad call, I’d take the fake eye out and hand it to him. Peter Falk, who played Columbo, was of course referring to baseball with this quote. But I sometimes wonder if the cranky detective with his grubby raincoat and clapped-out car would have made a decent cricket umpire. I imagine a blouson that had never been washed, a white shirt that was allergic to irons and six cheap cigar butts as ball counters. And despite his floundering persona, I am confident that the Lieutenant’s umpiring decisions would be forensically watertight with him adding his catchphrase just one more thing as he gives a disgruntled bowler his cap at the end of the over: Sir, with the angle you’re bowling from, no LA cop is going to give you an LBW.
Unlike Mrs Columbo, who in my humble opinion should have been more proactive in improving her husband’s unkempt demeanour, Mrs Umps understands the connection between a scrubbed-up official and good decision-making. She ensures I turn up to each murder scene (calm down, it’s a club cricket match, ed) looking like a dapper George Sanders with a pressed shirt and slacks. Given the number of times I have forgotten a watch, extra bail, ball counter, sun cream and scorecard, she has instigated a pre-match checklist (not having a clue what each item actually is, let alone what it is used for). And because she is a stickler for these things, she will also make sure that the blouson pockets are emptied after the game. (I have nothing to hide, and anyway, would I be stupid enough to put the telephone number of the racy tea lady from a certain club in my blouson pocket?) Lieutenant Umps would see right through that kind of ruse.
As I prepared for the Level 1 ACO examination all those years ago, it was Mrs Umps who navigated the Holy Bible of Umpiring to ensure I was preparing the right answers (and while I am on the subject, the LAPD would be all over the lousy graphics that came with the test). Post qualifying, in the early days when I’d get home after a fraught session with a touchy captain, Mrs Umps would be fussing over the cottage pie after pouring me a glass of the very best white purveyed by Aldi’s top sommelier.
Why do you put yourself through it?
Because I love cricket.
Sometimes I think you love cricket more than you love me. (Long pause).
I would hazard an informed guess that ninety-nine per cent of the umpires on the panel are in the fifty-five-plus age bracket. The largest cohort are made up of umpires like myself who have done a lot of marriage time so anything said in the changing room (think broom cupboard) comes as no surprise.
One hearty soul I occasionally stand with has no post-match cottage pie and wine welcome – his regular Saturday Night Fever is a Chinese takeaway purchased with a portion of his match fee. Other umpires have stories about having to do the cooking themselves with their wives trotting out the ubiquitous If you’re out all day enjoying yourself then I’m going out to enjoy myself (as if anyone would dream of stopping them). I never get wound up by that kind of thing. I love cooking anyway, but if Mrs Umps is out, I can be sure something enticing is waiting to be heated.
So thank you Mrs Umps, the intelligent, creative and cultured woman I married all those years ago. Like Mrs Columbo, you are not seen or heard but without you and thousands of other cricketing wives, League cricket would simply not survive. As for my younger son, the apple has fallen in another orchard and it was when I chauffeured him and his mates to a gaming exhibition that I understood my life had become totally meaningless.