“We do have plenty of support here, most of it low-key, in the true, Scottish, Calvinistic way”

8 May 2019

Ian Ramage officiating an international match. Photograph: Cricket Scotland

The recently retired umpire Ian Ramage talks about his passion for cricket, the challenges of his profession, his best memories on-field, cricket culture in the country and more

It’s not easy being a professional cricket player in Scotland. Officiating at matches is even harder.

“The desire to remain involved in the game,” replies Ian Ramage, 61, when asked why he wanted to become an umpire.

Born in Edinburgh, Ramage took to the local park at a very young age to play cricket along with his dad who played for a club in Leith. From primary through all his school years he chose cricket, and at the age of 14, he stepped up to junior club cricket. Before starting on his umpiring career at 44, he had played senior club cricket in Scotland for 25 years.

“I was no more than an average club cricketer but loved my cricket and took it very seriously – probably too seriously at times!” Quips Ramage.

Ramage is the first umpire from Scotland to have been appointed to the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Associates and Affiliates Umpire Panel in 2009. The panel was established by the ICC in 2005 and consists of a select number of umpires from its associate members to officiate international matches.

After representing Scotland for 10 years on the panel and 12 years in international cricket, he retired in March 2019. It was his close association with cricket that prompted him to take up umpiring. He officially debuted in 2002 at the beginning of the Scottish cricket season, in a domestic club match in Boghall -although he had been a makeshift umpire in several matches during his playing career.

“I found I enjoyed my stints, would do more and more overs and thought about taking it up,” he says.

Umpiring, however, throws upon you its own set of challenges – only patience and perseverance will serve you best for a prolonged career. When asked about the challenges of the profession, he said: “It’s a big question.”

Prior to his heyday, his biggest challenge was juggling cricket and a professional career. “It wasn’t possible to accept every appointment due to work commitments and there were times when I was away umpiring and having to work in the evenings or on days off,” he recalls.

Challenges remained constant throughout his career, but their nature changed as he began globetrotting to officiate matches. He says umpiring in unfamiliar conditions and dealing with people from different cultures on and off field can be daunting – “the heat and dust of Mumbai or the humidity of Colombo can make for difficult days for someone from Scotland.” Adapting to various conditions is key while umpiring away from Scotland, he believes.

Cricket witnessed breakthrough technological advancements in the last ten years. The introduction of the Decision Review System (DRS), a technology-based process for assisting umpires with their decision making, improved the quality of umpiring decisions vastly. 

Decision Review System Explained. Video: International Cricket Council

Ramage admits that the pressure to make the right decisions on field has increased due to technology. Players and spectators can instantly view on screens within stadiums if an umpire has made the right decision. Every umpire on the panel – both elite and associate – goes through a stringent appraisal process annually; low performers suffer relegation. Add to that the additional scrutiny by media – television, radio, social media and other online streaming platforms.

“I’ve not done a lot of televised cricket but the matches I have done have been quite nerve wracking,” he acknowledges.

Despite the unsolicited pressures, he welcomes the deployment of DRS in matches: “The introduction of technology has had a positive effect, not just in getting more correct decisions, but also in that, as players accept and trust DRS, the animosity around contentious decisions has been massively reduced.”

The recent controversies around poor umpiring decisions on field in international cricket have raised questions about umpires’ excessive reliance on technology. Allegations are rife that umpires are vulnerable to overlooking front-foot no-balls due to the sense of comfort technological assistance provides to review a decision should a wicket fall or be appealed for.

Ramage dismisses such allegations. He states that the ICC protocol makes it high risk to call a marginal no-ball and low risk not to call and correct it subsequently, for good reason. Umpires stand a good 15 feet away from the popping crease and are bound to miss marginal ones. He sympathises with his counterparts who brave all odds in high pressure matches and yet put the best ‘foot forward’ to make the right decisions because they know one wrong decision can change the course of a match.

“We are human, and make mistakes, and occasionally some of us make the odd big mistake,” he confesses.

He doesn’t perceive technology as a threat to delivering umpiring duties: “We embrace new and improved technology in all walks of life and sport should be no different, as long as it improves the experience for the players and the spectators without making the officials’ job impossible.”

One may feel umpiring is a thankless job but Ramage brings great memories home from his umpiring days. He had the best seat at the Grange, Edinburgh when Scotland beat world number one ranked England in an international one-day match in June 2018; he witnessed history being

created,  standing behind the stumps. The emotions were flying around the stadium among players and spectators that day, but for Ramage emotions had to take a back seat, part of the ordeal of being an official.

“The majority of umpires aren’t really emotional people – emotions need to be kept in check to stay calm and focussed and keep the body language consistent. Once the post-match debrief was over and the enormity of what had happened had started to sink in, my overriding feeling was one of pride that Scotland had won and had successfully delivered a DRS match – I believe that was the first DRS match delivered by an Associate nation,” he recalls.

He was also on-field when Scotland beat Bangladesh, a full member of ICC for the first time in a T20 in the Netherlands in 2012.

Ramage had travelled extensively from greenfield nations to countries where cricket is a religion as part of his job. When asked to draw comparisons between fandom in Scotland and other countries, Ramage says cricket in Scotland, surprisingly, has a substantial fan base, partly because a large number of people play the sport.

“I can’t see it being like England where cricket has always been a much bigger part of the culture and, in many areas, a big part of the community. And I’m sure it will never be like the sub-continent where cricket is far and away the number one sport and everyone is fanatical about it. But we do have plenty of support here, most of it low-key, in the true, Scottish, Calvinistic way,” says Ramage.

However, he is hopeful of Scotland Men’s team breaking into the full member category soon:
“I’m sure the current players, given more experience, could play Test cricket, if that’s the route Scotland want to go.”

As much as there are opportunities to grow the sport, the challenges it faces in Scotland cannot be brushed off. Cricket in Scotland is competing for attention, participation, and funding. On top of that cultural changes in society and demand for instant gratification among the newer generation is not helping slow-paced cricket.  

Cricket Scotland has to find a way of getting kids to play a game that lasts for several hours. The vagaries of the Scottish weather don’t help, either.”

Post-retirement, Ramage secured a contract with the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for the current year. He will also be working with top 12 umpires from Scotland to help them qualify for the ICC Panel.

“I’d like to think I have a few more years in me yet,” he concludes.

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