What We Have Lost

When I was young the rubicund features of David Shepherd were a central part of the Gloucestershire team which won the Benson and Hedges Cup in 1977 under the inspirational leadership of Mike Procter.  Shep was never a great cricketer – although he had a lengthy career in the English first-class game at a time when standards of fitness weren’t as exacting at they are today – but he became one of the best and most well-known umpires in the world during the 1990s.  And the Devon cricket community was rightly proud of the fact that one of its sons was recognized from Adelaide to Antigua.

I wrote this when he died in October 2009.

David Shepherd, who died yesterday, was a son of Devon.

Instow, in the north of the county, isn’t an area that I know well, despite having lived in the county for nearly twenty years, although I have been to the sublime ground among the dunes where Shep learned his cricket, and have also visited the post office which used to be run by his mother and brother.  From memory his brother served me, and his mother may have been around.  Shep, of course (for it was late summer, 1993), was away umpiring, something he did as well, and with as light and sincere a touch, as anyone in the world in the last couple of decades of the twentieth century.

The Devon cricket community is a small, tightly-knit, proud one.  Proud of its team’s regular triumphs in the English Minor Counties competitions over the last twenty years; proud of the achievements of such men as Chris Read, who, despite the vicissitudes of his England career, remains one of the outstanding county cricketers of his time; proud of Shep, a modest county artisan who never troubled the attentions of the national selectors but later proved himself an umpire of world renown.

Even after he left the world stage I used to see Shep around.  At Exmouth, watching Devon play on the day the umpiring world hit the buffers [the Oval Test between England and Pakistan in 2006; Darrell Hair and all that]; most recently, in the spring of 2008, at a memorial service in Tiverton for one of the unsung heroes of Devon cricket.

At the time I noticed that he’d lost a lot of weight, something which I naively put down to a post-umpiring fitness regime.  I later learned from the grapevine that he was a very ill man.

Which brings us to today. As Simon Taufel, who knows more about umpiring, and Shep, than I ever could, said:

‘A true gentleman, a kind spirit and a great bloke’.

Different Shades of Green, 28th October 2009