Umpire appeal

 Vern Payne
Vern Payne

Old cricket players coming to the end of their innings should grab a white coat and do some umpiring.

Marlborough umpire Vern Payne makes that call this week when talking about his 50-plus years on the pitch. He played at club level for 25 of those years and then, after injuring his back, put up his hand to be an umpire.

For the second summer in a row, Vern was named one of six national finalists in the Specsavers' Favourite Cricket Umpire competition. He wasn't the overall winner but Vern still received two pairs of Specsavers glasses, a cricket bat signed by Black Caps B J Watling, Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill, tickets to the fifth One Day International (ODI) game at the Wellington "Cake Tin", plus return flights to get there and a night's accommodation in the capital city.

Vern is honoured to have twice been nominated for the "favourite umpire" title and says it was Dave Paterson, himself a leading Marlborough cricket umpire, who put his name forward.

As well as umpiring around the country at national tournament, Dave also trains new umpires and is the man to see for players looking for the next challenge.

Standing behind the stumps is the best position on the pitch, Vern says. And while an umpire's total neutrality is paramount, they can help lighten the mood between teams.

Fiery remarks from players can be defused by an umpire's clever quip, and friendly banter exchanged with players on the field reminds everyone that cricket is a game that is best enjoyed when having fun.

Horton Park, where senior matches are played in Blenheim, has the right atmosphere for a relaxed afternoon's game, Vern says.

"It's lovely, and well-respected.

"And there are very good groundsmen at Horton Park," he adds. They keep the pitches well maintained and ensure each is properly marked before a game saving the umpires, who volunteer their services, valuable time.

Games usually start at 11.30am and umpires are expected to arrive at least an hour beforehand, Vern says.

A bag he carts to each game contained the stumps he must drive into the ground and a bottle of water he moistens the soil with so it settles around them, holding them fast.

He brings rescue gear for players, including band aids, safety pins and sprig tighteners; and the cricket clothes he must wear himself: special umpire boots, black trousers, a white top or red top, depending on which colour ball is being used and, for cold and wet weather days, a jersey and a jacket.

The 71-year-old isn't sure how long he will keep his name on the Marlborough cricket umpire registry list but he isn't expecting this summer to be his last.

Senior cricket has a serious competitive side, he says, but there is a lot of shared fun.

The Marlborough Express