BANGALORE (TIP): Umpiring legend Harold ‘Dickie’ Bird is someone who believes respect cannot be bought, but earned. While some of the cricketing world’s greatest stars like Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara surely have his respect, gaining entry into his all-time greatest Test XI is a tougher feat than they would have imagined. Picking the side for a British daily ahead of his 80th birthday on Friday, Bird suggested he has no issues leaving out Aussie legend Donald Bradman too. Curiously, the top-10 run makers in Tests don’t figure in Bird’s line-up. His team is captained by Pakistani pacer Imran Khan, whose knowledge of the game “was outstanding”.
Sunil Gavaskar is the only Indian in the XI as he “was one of the two best opening bats I saw”. The list has South African batting great Barry Richards and his countryman Graeme Pollock, three Australians in Greg Chappell, Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee, as many West Indians in Garfield Sobers, Viv Richards and Lance Gibbs and a lone Englishman – wicketkeeper Alan Knott. Apparently, Bird gave Barry and Pollock the benefit of the doubt, stating that both careers were cruelly curtailed by the apartheid.
Having said that, Barry’s stint with Hampshire in county cricket would have given Bird enough reason to pick him for his playing XI. That he has chosen to give the famed West Indies pace quartet – Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts – the miss too, is interesting, as is his choice of captain at the expense of Clive Lloyd or his own countryman Mike Brearley. His spinners – Shane Warne and Lance Gibbs – are doubtless world class but then his picks may lead to furrowed brows among Indians as the spin quartet of the 70s – Bishan Bedi, BS Chandrashekar, EAS Prasanna and Venkataraghavan – had held the world in a thrall.
Close to two decades after he hung up his famous white coat, the cricketing world can’t help but talk fondly of the Englishman who became the game’s first superstar umpire. His quirky antics as a “not-outer” and strong values while playing the “benefit of the doubt” card made Bird one of the most respected invigilators of the game’s laws. “You can’t buy respect, you have to earn it,” Bird was quoted as saying. “And I can honestly tell you I had not one problem with any professional cricketer. If I go to Pakistan, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad invite me round for a meal at their place. If I go to Australia the first man to ring me is Dennis Lillee. If I go to West Indies, the first man on the phone will be Garfield Sobers, the greatest that’s ever lived.
You’ll never see another like him, not in your lifetime,” the newspaper quoted Bird as saying. A former batsman who made only two hundreds in 93 first-class appearances thanks to his anxiety issues, Bird always fancied himself as a player and compared his skills with that of Geoffrey Boycott. Bird lamented in the interview the end of cricket’s glory days with technological invasion putting paid to decisions going unchallenged and players not having a bit of a laugh on the ground. “The characters have gone out of all sports haven’t they?” he was quoted as saying. Bird, however, admitted that his heart still belonged to the game. “It’s still the greatest game in the world, cricket,” he said.