Herbie Felsinger a legend among cricket umpires | Daily News

Herbie Felsinger a legend among cricket umpires

Herbie Felsinger
Herbie Felsinger

Herbie Felsinger who officiated as a cricket umpire in an era where technological assistance for umpires was totally unheard of believed that umpires of his genre did a better job than the present ones.

“The present umpires when they have a doubt they always go to the third umpire. In our time if we gave out that’s it, the batsman went. If the ball pitches within the sticks and if it doesn’t’ vary much and the batsman misses, it’s out,” said Felsinger once in an interview.

His view is that the advent of technology has forced a lot of good umpires to retire from the game. Dickie Bird was one of them and later another top notch English umpire David Shepherd. “They were good umpires and when they made a mistake they admitted it. Umpires should be very bold in giving decisions. Technology has taken away the pleasure of umpiring.”

“I read the laws of cricket before every match and it is fresh in my mind.” What makes a good umpire? “First of all you must tell a prayer and walk out. You must give any decision, whether right or wrong, straight from the heart whoever the players is,” he said.

What made Felsinger earn a reputation as one of the finest umpires to don the white coat for his country was his experience as a cricketer.

“As a player I know I am out if the ball is pitched within the wickets and the ball hits me below the knee roll and I miss it. As an umpire the same principles apply. Playing the game makes it easier to umpire, especially if you are a good player. To be a good umpire you must play the game first and be well read and educated,” Felsinger said.

The standard of Sri Lankan umpires according in Felsinger’s opinion is ‘below standard’. “Sri Lankan umpiring standards have gone down from what it was during our time. The reason is more money. Umpires are always thinking of money not the game. They are keener to finish the match early and get the money.”

Another area which Felsinger felt the local umpires were lacking is the back foot no-ball. “Our umpires don’t look at the back foot because most bowlers cut the line with the back foot and they are not no-balled. The greatest offender is Sanath Jayasuriya. If the back foot cuts the side line it is a no-ball. The umpires only look at the front foot for a no-ball and not the back foot. We were taught to look for this. On television when the ball is bowled the camera focuses on the batsman and not on the bowler so no one ever sees it. Only if a bowler is no-balled it is shown in slow motion where the front foot landed.”

Felsinger was an umpire for two decades since 1971 until a stroke in 1991 left him partly paralysed and ended his career. “I spent one month at Asiri Hospital. They said there is a clot in my brain and I couldn’t be operated and that I would end up a vegetable. It took me about four years to recover from that illness. I couldn’t talk for one year but my wife (Mignnone) understood me,” Felsinger recalled. Even till his death Felsinger bore the scars of that stroke because he walked assisted by a walking stick and with a slight limp on his right leg.

Felsinger officiated in six Tests and 11 One-Day International matches between 1982 and 1986. Along with another umpiring icon KT Francis, Felsinger officiated in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test match against England at the P Sara Oval in February 1982. At the time they were paid Rs. 750 a day for a five-day Test and Rs. 5000 for an ODI.

“I didn’t feel any pressure at all although it was our first Test match. For me it was just like a normal game,” said Felsinger. “I no-balled Ian Botham from my end first and second ball. After the captain spoke to him he bowled a legal ball and he asked me ‘is that okay’. I said it was. You must speak to the players not stay glum. On the fourth day we were looking very good to win the Test but the batsmen ate it up.”

Felsinger also had the honour of officiating in the Centenary match between two traditional schools Royal and S Thomas’ in 1979 at the P Sara Oval.

Another incident which Felsinger remembers is helping Sri Lankan middle order batsman Ranjan Madugalle to score his maiden Test century against India at the SSC grounds in 1985.

“I was umpiring at square leg when the Indian fielders appealed for a run out against Madugalle, but I had to say ‘not out’ because one of the leg side fielders stood in front of me covering my vision. I couldn’t see anything. Madugalle was on 40 odd at that time and he went on to make a Test hundred only because I was unsighted. After the match Gamini Dissanayake, the Sri Lanka Cricket Board president came to me and said ‘good decision’,” said Felsinger.

On another occasion, officiating in a Pakistan v India ODI match at Sharjah with legendary English umpire Dickie Bird, Felsinger felt the Englishman imposed his authority on him as he was the senior umpire and was deciding on how the match should be conducted. But Felsinger who took everything in his stride had the last laugh when Bird miscounted and allowed a seventh ball to be bowled in an over off which Imran Khan, the Pakistan captain scored two runs. When the scorers were at a loss how to credit the seventh ball in their books, Felsinger stepped in and told them to take the two runs off the book and the game continued. “At the awards ceremony Dickie admitted that I was a very good umpire and he told me if I came to England he would help me anytime. When I went there a few years later I rang him up, he came and met me.”

Felsinger’s cricket career at school and at club was a real mixed bag. He was never allowed to settle down in one place. “I went to Wesley College and studied up to the third standard when my father took me out and put me to Carey College. Playing for the Carey first eleven at the age of 14, I scored 202 (n.o.) opening the batting against St John’s, Nugegoda. That score is still a record today. I broke the previous record of 173. After two years I was back again at Wesley where I played as an opening bowler and opening bat. I never got to bowl after the seventh wicket went down because they preserved me for my batting, but in one match I managed to take five wickets.”

Felsinger’s club history was almost on similar lines. He joined Moors SC as the first non-Muslim when Procter MAH Fuard (father of Sri Lanka off-spinner Abu Fuard) was president of the club and in his first season (1952-53) etched his name in the record books by putting together an unbroken opening partnership of 351 runs with Makkin Salih. While Salih went onto make a double century (237 n.o.), Felsinger’s contribution was 118 not out.

“In my first match I scored 70 runs and in my second, we got this record partnership against Notts CC at the Moors SC grounds. I was adamant not to get out. I always pushed the single and gave Makkin the strike. Makkin was in good form and he hammered the ball all over and scored faster than me. He came and told me ‘Herbie I am only scoring why not you?’ Then I started hitting out and soon after I got to my hundred, I gave him most of the strike and we carried on till we had put on a record 351 runs for the first wicket,” Felsinger recalled.

“Makkin and I used to put on 100 runs for the first wicket at any time. The Moors batting strength was in the first three batsmen – Makkin, myself and MA Cafoor and then came Cabraal thereafter followed all the hard hitting batsmen. If the top order scored 200 runs Moors would still be all out for 225,” he said. That year Felsinger and Salih were picked to represent Ceylon CA in the inaugural Gopalan trophy match against Madras (now Chennai) in India.

The division I first wicket record stood for nearly 30 years before it was broken by Tamil Union opening pair Athula Samarasekera (192) and Wayne Jansz (115) who put on 352 runs against Police SC in 1981-82.

From Moors SC, Felsinger joined NCC and then after a few seasons there he crossed over to Saracens where he opened with another famed Sri Lankan opening batsman Abdul CM Lafir. Felsinger eventually ended up playing Sara trophy cricket for BRC where he met Major-General BR Heyn, a stalwart of the club who was to change his career from cricketer to umpire.

“Major BR Heyn who was administrator at the Cricket Board one day told me that I would become a very good umpire because I was cool and had a good temperament. He said everything in me was correct and that he had been watching me play cricket for one year. He told me ‘you can play in the second division and umpire in the first division,” said Felsinger.

“My first match was between NCC and SSC. There was a catch attempted by the elder Ranatunga (Dammika) who scooped and caught the ball, but at once my heart said no. They appealed and I said ‘not out’. At the end of the over the fielders were crossing over and I overheard them say ‘that was a good decision, man’. At the end of three days, I got a good report and Major Heyn told me to come for all the matches and that my playing days were over.

“He was the one who kept me going for a long time as an umpire. After every match he would come to me and say ‘well done’ and he would also ask for the umpires’ report and if he found that I had erred somewhere he would say ‘don’t do that’. Whenever I couldn’t obtain leave he would give me a letter to release me from work.

“I enjoyed my career as an umpire although I experienced some difficulties with some of my partners. They were an unscrupulous lot and never wanted to co-ordinate when umpiring. Only a handful of umpires I liked to umpire with were Errol Seneviratne, MO Gunaratne, Dooland Buultjens, a lawyer chap called Dissanayake and Elmo Gunasekera. These guys I appreciate,” Felsinger said.

Although Felsinger admitted he enjoyed umpiring his heart was more on playing cricket. “I enjoyed playing cricket than umpiring because playing cricket was my first love. I dreamt of playing my shots and I give due credit for it to Capt FT Badcock, the former New Zealand captain who came on a coaching assignment to Sri Lanka in 1946. He taught me how to hook and the cut shot. Those were my main strokes where I got a lot of my runs from,” Felsinger said.

Felsinger worked in the banking sector having joined Mercantile Bank (later known as Hatton National Bank) straight from school as a clerk and retiring after 20 years as manager of Outer Bills department. He played and captained the bank in the inter-bank tournament where their main rivals were Hong Kong Bank.

What makes a good umpire: “I will first watch his attire, secondly, he must walk to the grounds very boldly and look around and thirdly, the way he makes his decisions. If he takes a long time to make a decision it’s all wrong.

His heart must instantaneously say whether the batsman is out or not out once the appeal goes up. A maximum two seconds and then the decision should be given. Some of them don’t adhere to all this,” said Felsinger who passed away on Sunday at the age of 87.

His remains lie at his home in Mirihana and the funeral will take place (today) Wednesday at Borella Cemetery.


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