Cup Match Legends: George Francis
This week, our cricket-loving readers are asked to reflect on the often forgotten stakeholders; the men in the middle, the umpires, who play such a significant role in the gentlemen’s game.
Isn’t it interesting to note that the players may drop catches, misfield, bowl wide or wayward balls, even full tosses, get clean bowled but yet the umpires are expected to officiate for seven-plus hours at times and be error-free or, as some may term it, perfect.
Isn’t it amazing that, even with two or three replays on the television, it is still difficult to determine whether a batsman may be run out, yet we expect our domestic umpires to invariably get it right with only the use of the naked eye.
After umpiring a 50-overs match at the beginning of this season, this individual, upon completing the game, laboured over the drive home, apologised to his house guest and, after devouring his Sunday meal, immediately plunged his fatigued frame into bed.
Needless to say, I have developed a greater appreciation and respect for all umpires.
Name: George Colin Francis.
Date of birth: August 23, 1948.
Start in cricket: I played cricket while at school in Jamaica. I liked batting.
Length of cricket career: I umpired for 28 years. My first Cup Match was in 1988 when I was the standby umpire. I was on the elite panel for the Americas region. During those 28 years, I served as the president and secretary (twice) of the Bermuda Cricket Umpires Association.
Childhood memories of the game: My best memory was of the 1965 game between West Indies and the Australians. West Indies had in that line-up Gary Sobers, Seymour Nurse, Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte and Lance Gibbs. The Australians were led by Bobby Simpson.
Teams played for: I initially played for Somerset Bridge and later moved on to Willow Cuts.
Favourite local match officiated in: That would have to be my first Cup Match that was held at Wellington Oval. I was extremely nervous and did not sleep at all the night before the game. Wes Hall and Gary Sobers were here for the game. [St George’s wicketkeeper] Allan Douglas came over to me and said: “You seem nervous, George.” I replied, “Yeah, I feel nervous.” I told my umpiring partner, Dennis Raynor, that I wanted to take the first over so that I could get rid of the nerves. He commented: “How do you know which end the first over is coming from?” I told him, “I don’t care, whichever end it comes from, that’s the end that I want.” I can recall that on the third ball of that over, Arnold Manders was struck on the pads, in front of the stumps. I was so relieved when the ball rolled into the stumps, as it meant that I did not have to give him out lbw. My other favourite match was the Cup Match of 1992 when I umpired the game when the Smith brothers both got centuries. This was enjoyable, as it seemed like a Test match.
Best international feat: I have had the pleasure of umpiring all over the world — Argentina, Dubai, Barbados, Canada, Kenya and Jamaica (I enjoyed doing the Red Stripe Bowl games). The team I most enjoyed umpiring was the Allan Border-led Australians.
Favourite venue: Overseas, it had to be Sabina Park in Jamaica. I recall asking my partner to let me oversee the rolling of the pitch there. It was special, as I reflected on the fact that back in 1965, I was watching West Indies play Australia on this very same ground and here I was, years later, officiating on the very same ground. Locally, it was St David’s. You are so far away from the crowd so you can just concentrate and get on with your game. My lasting memory there was umpiring while Craig McDermott, the Australia quick bowler, commented to me, when Clay Smith edged a Chinese cut down to fine leg, “Does everyone here in Bermuda play that shot so well?” The next ball was a half-volley that went like a rocket into the cover boundary. Clay Smith indicated to McDermott, “Sorry bowler, that’s where the last one was supposed to go.”
Favourite international player: Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai. The latter played so straight.
No 1 supporter: My wife, who is no longer with us.
Pre-match routine(s): I would go to bed early and get my rest. I would not eat much; just a little fruit. It was important to me to get to the venue early, at least a half-hour to 45 minutes before the game. This was very important to me, as I wanted the players to see that I was prepared. It was a key part of being professional and ready for the day.
Favourite dish while playing/umpiring: I didn’t eat meals during the game. I’d just have a little fruit. I preferred to spend the time reflecting on what had transpired during the preceding period of play.
Biggest regret in your career: Once when I went back to Jamaica, George Prescott told Steve Camacho, the secretary of the West Indies Cricket Board, about my officiating, encouraging him to find a place for me on the West Indies panel of umpires. Unfortunately, I was informed by Mr Camacho that, as I was officiating in Bermuda, I could not be considered for the post.
Any superstitions: None.
Funniest thing you have seen in cricket (A hearty laugh precedes the story): While in Jamaica, I was asked to umpire a match between the Army and the Prison Officers. I was told that I was needed, as they did not trust the usual umpires. One of them did the square-leg umpiring. While I was at the bowler’s end, a spin bowler came on and he deceived the batsman into coming out of his crease to have a go at the ball. The batsman missed the ball and the wicketkeeper leant one way and stumped the batsman and then again hit the stumps a second time as he leant back the other way. The umpire acknowledged that he had seen the wicketkeeper stump the batsman out, but then stump the batsman back in as the batsman’s foot was back in the crease when the stumps were hit the second time.
Hobbies: I enjoyed jogging on the beach.
A key to your success: I was dedicated to the sport. I was very reflective and after matches would always complete a self-efficiency form. This would entail reviewing my thoughts on how I performed. I would never stay behind after a game and have a drink at the bar. I would sign the scorebook and leave the ground right away. If the game was in the eastern end of the island, I would go to somewhere like John Smith’s Bay and sit and fill out my self-efficiency form. I indicated whether or not I felt that I made a mistake during the match. No one would see this form but me. Another big key for me was having people such as the late Luther Wilkin to lean on. I could go by his house at any time and discuss the game and be tutored on the laws. Similarly, Dennis Raynor, Randolph “Shorty’ Spencer, George Trott and Randy Butler provided help to me.
Advice to today’s cricketer: Respect the umpires. To the umpires, respect the players. Things may happen in a game and emotions may get heated. It is important that after a few moments that the umpires let that go and move on. (Francis also indicated that players should show greater integrity. He believes that it is cheating when players knowingly appeal when a catch has first hit the ground or a batsman has edged a ball on to the pad during a close leg-before appeal.)
Motto lived by: Be self-efficient and confident.
In closing, I recall joking with Francis about whether or not he would give Vivian Richards out leg-before when he was about to visit Bermuda with the Antigua team. He smiled and laughed, then indicated, “Don’t you realise that people want to see Richards bat.”
He finished by informing me that once the Pakistan great Inzamam-ul-Haq was batting at Lord’s in St David’s when Arnold Manders struck him on the pads. The first time he was adjudged not out. When he was again hit in front of the stumps by a straighter one, Francis raised the dreaded finger. The world-renowned batsman refused to walk. Francis says that he turned his back on Inzamam. Later, when asked by a Pakistan administrator why he did this to the batsman, Francis informed him that “I gave him plenty of time to walk”.
As we stated at the onset, what a thankless job umpiring can be. To George and all umpires, thank you for your contributions to our great game.