Cec Pepper: Inimitable style of umpiring © Getty Images
Cec Pepper: Inimitable style of umpiring © Getty Images

June 29, 1964. Officiating in the Glamorgan-Warwickshire match was the colourful former Australian cricketer Cec Pepper. And his umpiring, apparently flawless, had some undercurrents of deception. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the hilarious incident.

During his playing days Cec Pepper wound up quite a few umpires.

Once even he himself realised that he had gone too far, with vociferous appealing peppered (on cecond thoughts, forgive the bad pun) with expletives; so much so that he uncharacteristically apologised to Harry Wood, that hardboiled Lancastrian. Wood told him not to worry, “It were all part o’t’game. Up here we like a chap to speak his mind.” When Pepper hit he batsman’s pad again and let out another air-splitting roar, Wood drawled, “Not out, you fat Australian bastard!”

But then, Pepper was himself wound up by umpires all his life. The brilliant leg-spinning all-rounder, who had been almost as big a draw as Keith Miller in the Victory ‘Tests’, appealed three times against Don Bradman at Adelaide, in 1945-46, and each one of the shouts died dismally against the immovable form of umpire Jack Scott. Sergeant Pepper shot off a series of colourful adjectives to graphically describe the quality of umpiring. As a result he never played for Australia, in spite of a claiming that he had sent an apology to the Australian Cricket Board.

Hence, he had to move to England, and ply his trade as a colossus in the Lancashire League. As far as his international contests were concerned, after capturing 6 for 33 for the Commonwealth side against Holkar in 1949-50 he returned early from the tour because the umpiring got on his nerves.

For a man so much at loggerheads with the officials, it was a scream to find him donning the white coat and trotting out to officiate himself. But come 1964, he was seen coming down the steps of Trent Bridge, Jack Crapp for company, standing as umpire in the Nottinghamshire-Leicestershire fixture. According to Stephen Thorpe of Wisden Cricket Monthly, “Much later he recalled he started umpiring to put something back into the game and (chuckling) ‘to find someone as good as me. I’m still looking!’ If he was intent on making an early impression he certainly had the desired effect. In inimitable style he introduced for the occasion a new line in sartorial elegance — specially-made cotton coats adorned with loops for bails, and set off by fetching tassled golf shoes.”

He had his unique way of umpiring as well, with the stump microphone still some decades away and the onus on political correctness not yet weighing down on the game. Once when Bill Blenkiron was replaced by the Barbadian Bill Bourne at the pavilion end, batsman Brian Hardie was informed in a confidential bellow: “Batsman, change of bowler … same action … different colour.”

However, by most accounts he was a fantastic umpire, diligent, scrupulous… perhaps slightly misleading once in a while.

The match between Warwickshire and Glamorgan at Ebbe Vale, in his very first season as umpire, underlined the quirky nature of his officiating.

It was moving around at Eugene Cross Park, and Pepper had spent the long first day watching Glamorgan struggle to put bat on ball against the sterling attack of David Brown, Jack Bannister and Tom Cartwright. They consumed 123 overs for 234. Pepper himself had once bludgeoned a ball out of the Sydney Cricket Ground into the Kippax Lake. And then he had won a bottle of whisky from wicketkeeper Arthur Wood for hitting Eric Hollies over the houses into Trafalgar Square at Scarborough, during his only First-Class hundred. Such a man obviously hated the tactics of the Glamorgan batsmen.

To be fair to the Welshmen, the conditions were really difficult and Warwickshire limped to 172 all out on the second day. When Glamorgan batted again, that spirited, but defiant, opening batsman Bernard Hedges seemed to grow roots into the pitch.

Cartwright dismissed his partner Alan Jones, and then did short work of Alwyn Harris. But Hedges was relentless in his blockathon. Finally, Pepper could not take it anymore.

Bannister was bowling and was being met by an infuriatingly inert bat offered by Hedges. At the end of the over Pepper moved across to hand him back his sweater. “Hit him on the pad, for God’s sake, and I’ll give the bugger out,” the umpire growled.

Bannister moved into the outfield with this promise ringing in his ears. However, he was soon replaced in the attack by Cartwright. Like a seasoned pro and good teammate, Bannister passed on the umpire’s message to his fellow paceman.

In ran Cartwright and moved it past the defensive prod of Hedges. The ball was going down the leg side by a good angle, but the appeal followed in all earnest and confidence.

Pepper’s face displayed derisive contempt. “Not out,” he said, shaking his head. “And don’t believe everything you hear from that bloody fool Bannister.”

He was a character, indeed.

For all the slow going, however, the match turned into a thriller on the final day, with Warwickshire chasing 215 for an outright win and ending at 202 for 9.

Brief Scores

Glamorgan 234 (James Pressdee 58, Alwyn Harris 43; Tom Cartwright 4 for 44) and 152 (Roland Miller 6 for 37) drew with Warwickshire 172 (Raymond Hitchcock 58) and 202 for 9 (MJK Smith 86, William Stewart 47; Oswald Wheatley 5 for 68, James Pressdee 4 for 59).

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)