We have been deprived of a rare opportunity to see one of our world class performers in action on a cricket field this spring. Ian Gould has been an international umpire for more than a decade, which means he has seldom been in action in England during that time. He retired from the international panel last year and at the age of 62 he was about to embark on a full season of domestic cricket this season – in part as an act of gratitude for how well the England and Wales Cricket Board has looked after its umpires over the years (we can be tormented by some of its other decisions but the board is reckoned to be an excellent employer by the vast majority of umpires).

Gould will certainly be missed on the international circuit by his peers and the players, who respected his umpiring and enjoyed the no-nonsense asides delivered in the manner of an irrepressible cockney, albeit one that grew up around Slough. Virat Kohli, no less, gave him a hug as he left the field after his last game, at Headingley in the 2019 World Cup.

Gould has been immersed in cricket ever since the Arsenal manager Bertie Mee concluded that he was a bit too small to be a top-notch goalkeeper. He joined Middlesex in 1975 at the same time as Mike Gatting, with whom he was forever linked; he played for Sussex from 1981; he returned to Lord’s for a decade as a coach and second-team captain in 1991. Then he opted for umpiring and it was not long before he was a regular on the international circuit. It’s all documented in a Brighton-breezy, witty way in his autobiography, which is published later this month.

Self-isolation does not suit “Gunner”; he has always been a gregarious man, as I discovered when touring with him on the 1982-83 Ashes tour (I roomed with him for a fortnight but we seemed to work to slightly different timetables so I did not see that much of him). He was rarely without a smile or a quip, which explains how positively he views the end of two phases of his life when he was employed by Middlesex CCC. “They did me a favour twice” he told me. “Once when they signed Paul Downton [in 1980] – they did not bring him to Lord’s to play in the second team – and then when they sacked me as a coach in 2001. Gatt [the head coach] had an appointment at 10am; I had one at 11 and we were both sent packing by noon”.



Ian Gould tells off Mohammad Hafeez after he had a slanging match with Stuart Broad. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Both these sackings led to fertile pastures new. Gould fell in love with Hove very quickly off the pitch and on it where he would be standing in the middle distance when keeping wicket to Imran Khan and Garth Le Roux. Before long he was vice-captain to John Barclay at Sussex and they got on brilliantly. “Hardly surprising really since we were at schools only a mile apart”, he explains. Barclay went to Eton, Gould to Westgate Secondary Modern just outside of Slough.

He played for England in 18 one-day internationals , which included being a semi-finalist in the 1983 World Cup but he may be best remembered for a flying catch at cover to dismiss Greg Chappell when fielding as a substitute in the thrilling Melbourne Test of 1982, which England won by three runs. In his book he recalls, “Graeme Fowler was struck on the toe by Jeff Thomson and couldn’t field and the 12th man options weren’t great. Vic Marks wasn’t much of an athlete; Jackers [Robin Jackman] could only do fine leg at both ends and Geoff Cook was struggling with a rib injury. That left me and I loved it”. This tallies, I’m afraid. My recollection is that we bundled him out there. Back at Sussex he would succeed Barclay, which might have added a new dimension to the team talks and he led the Sussex side to victory in the Lord’s final of 1986. His victory speech consisted of “Watch out, Soho”.

After the Middlesex sacking he was encouraged by the old brigade of umpires such as Alan Whitehead, David Constant, Merv Kitchen and Jack Hampshire to have a go at umpiring. And he soon discovered that he was good at it and that he liked it. “My motto was “I want to umpire in the way I wanted to be umpired as a player”, which meant that there was a constant stream of communication.

A measure of his standing is that he was asked to umpire India v Pakistan seven times in international tournaments, potentially the most incendiary of fixtures. This was because he had the respect of the players and was capable of defusing any tricky moments better than most. “I did one of those at Edgbaston quite recently with Richard Kettleborough and told him ‘Don’t worry about the players; they get on fantastically well but the noise at those games is something else’”.

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He gained the reputation of being calm and trustworthy in a crisis, like one of his English predecessors, David Shepherd. At Cape Town in the notorious ball-tampering match of 2018 in which Cameron Bancroft was exposed by the TV cameras, he was the third umpire and it was his job to inform the on-field umpires, who happened to be his mates, Richard Illingworth and Nigel Llong, what was about to be shown on the screens. He kept them on an even keel, beginning with “They’ve got some pictures for you and they’re not of Table Mountain”. In fact Gould often carried a gauge for a women’s cricket ball in his pocket so that he always had the option of changing the ball without too much kerfuffle. He knew that a men’s ball would never pass through this gauge.

He has always had an idiosyncratic way of giving batsmen out, raising his arm way above his head Aussie style and that came about because of his mother, who came to watch him early in his career. “You were pointing your finger at that man – and that’s rude”, she said so Gould dutifully adopted a different technique which soon became automatic. That became one of his hallmarks. Let’s hope we see it again before too long.

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