I’m a new female umpire: This is my story

Thursday 9th March 2023

I’m a new female umpire: This is my story

A future Dickie Bird, I hear you say! And why wouldn’t you? Dickie was one of the most famous umpires of all time (certainly my time!), whose name springs readily to mind along with Billy Bowden, Steve Bucknor, Aleem Dar, Rudi Koertsen, Simon Taufel and David Shepherd.

As an Asian girl growing up in Northwest London just down the road from my regular haunt, Lords, it was difficult to identify with these titans of the field. The problem was that there were no female umpires in sight, and as the old saying goes: you cannot be what you cannot see!

Today, we have a different reality and we are seeing increasing numbers of excellent, professional female umpires across the globe. From our very own Sue Redfern to Jacqueline Williams, Claire Polosak and Shivani Mishra, this growing cohort is proving that female umpires really can be.

My own cricket journey began playing in the park with my brother. I am now an All Stars Activator and Level 2 coach at my club, I play female club cricket and I am passionate about doing more to help develop female cricket.

With this in mind, last year I was given the opportunity of umpiring an U11s pairs game at my club. It was here, while wearing a remarkably unpractical frilly summer dress, which had no pockets to hold either my pocket knife or the six old ha’pennies I was using to count, that I realised I needed to get to grips with proper umpiring! I decided that my next goal was to train to be a female umpire, helping directly to increase the number of females occupying the best seat in the house.

This was not without a significant amount of trepidation! What was I letting myself in for? How would I deal with the signals, how would I remember how many balls had been bowled? How would I remember off side from on side? What was a guard? And worst of all, how to decide on an LBW appeal. I must have been crazy, especially with all these questions in my head and the utter fear of whether I could take on such a pivotal role in a cricket match; one that has traditionally been a male preserve.

However, I decided that if I was going to be a role model for females entering the sport and to show that cricket is a sport for all, irrespective of gender and labels, I’d bite the bullet.

This was made easier in January of this year, when the Kent Association of Cricket Officials (ACO) ran a female-only Stage One Umpiring Course and I leapt at the chance, reserving my space even before the booking link went live.

Having attended a female-only Level 1 coaching course as a trainee tutor, I knew the benefits of a similar opportunity in umpiring: the thought of looking and sounding stupid next to a male counterpart who had eaten, slept, and breathed cricket his whole life and got LBW as easy as they got the offside rule, would have been daunting. Knowing I would be learning with other females, my peers in the game of cricket, made me feel much more at ease taking this first step.

The tutors on the Stage One course were both male and female and all knew their stuff. It was educational, fun, engaging and the nineteen attendees were all eager to learn and were each pretty impressive. One tutor even said how teaching females only was a breath of fresh air compared to men!

The course allowed us to develop much more confidence in ourselves and as we shared our own concerns on challenging areas, the tutors focused in on those areas and helped us understand the key points while sharing important tips to help us along the way.

After the course, the female lead set up a Kent-wide female-only umpires’ group to help mentor us and guide us on our journey. This has been a godsend and is helping make our journeys to full-on umpiring feel doable.

I signed up immediately for the Stage Two Umpire Course the following month which was a different kettle of fish!
This time, it was a mixed class and this caused my own fears to resurface, making me question my abilities again, taking me out of my comfort zone. However, my colleagues and tutors were once again really supportive, explaining everything in detail and giving us time between sessions to talk through difficult topics and the contacts we made during the course are helping us all gain opportunities to put our learning into practice.

I went away from both courses feeling super-positive, proud, and realising that I actually know more than I give myself credit for. I’m pretty sure many of us females felt like that. Sometimes it’s the worries and over-thinking that stops us from grabbing the bull by the horns and, in this case, just getting out onto a field and umpiring. The fact that a new umpire gets to stand with an experienced colleague is excellent at calming the nerves and gives us an opportunity to learn in real game time from the experts.

I’m super excited at where this extra string to my cricketing bow will take me and together with my coaching, scoring and playing, I’m in a great place to be a strong female role model in the game.

I would say to anyone who is unsure about becoming involved in cricket officiating, just go for it! What have you got to lose? Watch matches, online and live, get in contact with your ACO through your county’s website, ask to shadow another member at your club or reach out to your network to help create supportive and friendly opportunities. The more of us that are visible on the field, the more it becomes normal to see female umpires.

I’m looking forward to my coming season. I’m currently applying for my membership of the ACO, I’ve already approached my club with regards to umpiring opportunities across the junior sections and I will get in touch with my county to arrange some umpiring at county age female matches to help promote female umpires across the female game. All being well this season, my next goal will be to seek accreditation.

One day I will be the next Sue Redfern, I just won’t be umpiring at a World Cup Final because England Women will be playing in it! And winning!

Story: Sonya Dey | Photographer: AMSteel

If you would like to find out more about umpiring or scoring in Kent, you can visit the Officiating webpage & e-mail the Kent ACO, who would be very happy to answer any of your questions.