David Shepherd, one of cricket's most genial and best-loved umpires, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 68 and leaves a long-time partner, Jenny, who he married last year.
Shepherd stood in 92 Tests between 1983 and 2005 and 172 ODIs, including three consecutive World Cup finals, advancing England's reputation, with Dickie Bird, for producing the finest umpires in the world. He was a romantic, sentimental man, especially when it came to cricket, and resented what he saw as examples of greed creeping into the modern game.
"I'm very sad and shocked it's happened," said Bird. "He was a fine umpire. We umpired together all over the world. He was a character, a great man, and a tremendous bloke. I've lost a friend. A great friend."
Born in December 1940 in Bideford, Shepherd was educated at Barnstaple Grammar and St Luke's College, Exeter, and his love for Devon never wavered. He lived in the North Devon coastal village of Instow and for many years supplemented what for the most part were meagre umpiring earnings by helping his brother run a small sub-post office.
Shepherd began his cricketing life as a rotund middle-order batsman for Gloucestershire, playing from 1964‑79, starting his county career in his mid-20s after a short period playing for Devon and working as a teacher. He played 282 first-class matches and made a hundred on debut. A modest average — a touch under 25 in the first-class game, and a little over 20 in 183 one-dayers — does not tell of his enduring popularity in the West Country.
"As an umpire he has always been a familiar and much-loved face, not only here but at cricket grounds around the world," said Gloucestershire's chairman John Light. "He was friendly, outgoing and straightforward. He believed cricket was a simple game and he took a straightforward approach to it in his cricket and his umpiring. He always put a smile on your face."
Shepherd was appointed as a first-class umpire in 1981, and within two years had graduated to the Test panel where his portly, ruddy features became instantly recognisable. He became well known for standing on one leg whenever the score reached 111 or a multiple of it — a harmless little routine, in response to cricket's superstition that 111 is an unlucky number — but it was the quality of his umpiring, immense fair-mindedness and good man-management skills that endeared him to the cricketing fraternity.
His lowest moment came in 2001 during a Test between England and Pakistan at Old Trafford. Saqlain Mushtaq's off-spin won the Test for Pakistan and Shepherd failed to spot that three of his four victims were dismissed by no balls. He briefly considered early retirement. "I'd like to block out the memory of that final day for ever,'' he later wrote in his autobiography.
'Shep', as he was universally known, was awarded an MBE in 1987 and made an honorary life member of MCC in 2006. In his later years he also became president of Devon, the Minor County club.
His last Test was between West Indies and Pakistan at Kingston in June 2005 and his final appearance in an ODI came at The Oval in July of that year. As retirement beckoned, he was praised wherever he went. He turned down the offer of a farewell Test at Lord's believing that the ICC should maintain its policy of neutral umpires, and in any case he didn't really need any fuss.
"Shep was not only one the greatest umpires of all time but he was also a friend to all involved in cricket," said David Collier, the chief executive of the ECB. "His cheery personality created a wonderful atmosphere at every match in which he was involved and he will be sadly missed by everyone involved in cricket throughout the world."