Adrian Holdstock takes a good 20 seconds before naming his best cricket mate. “Ummmmm, it’s Herschelle Gibbs,” he says. “He and I were in the same school team. Wait, is that the right comment to make? Or I’d rather say AB de Villiers is the man with a clean image!”
There’s laughter all around.
Thankfully for Holdstock, the media doesn’t ask him any ‘personal’ questions. Everyone wants to know about his maiden visit to India. The 42-year-old Johannesburg-born, Cape Town-bred former all-rounder is now an umpire. And he’s here to officiate in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal between Mumbai and Baroda at the Wankhede.
Holdstock is a beneficiary of the Indian cricket board’s ‘umpires exchange programme’ with Cricket South Africa. The BCCI has also inked a deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board. And that’s what brought Rob Bailey to these shores. He will stand in the Uttar Pradesh-Services match in Indore. Both men will subsequently officiate in the semifinals.
Back to Holdstock. The well-built Diocesan College (in Rondebosch) alumni — that’s where he and Gibbs schooled and played together — represented Boland and Western Province in first-class cricket. He vividly remembers playing with Mumbaikars Pravin Amre and Vinod Kambli in the 1990s (at Boland), but hasn’t met them since. He’s not sure if he’d have time to go around Mumbai, but would “love to as it’s part of the culture”.
Holdstock, who played 16 matches in a first-class career spanning seven years (1989-1996), took to coaching at the age of 28. “I had never given umpiring a thought. I wanted to study management. Then Cricket South Africa asked me if I was interested in umpiring. Then I thought, I had abused the umpires so much as a bowler and now the wheel has turned,” he says. More laughter.
Starting in 2004, he has officiated in three Twenty20 Internationals, and his ODI ‘debut’ will happen during the South Africa-New Zealand series later this month.
According to Holdstock, India is the “final destination” for an umpire. “The conditions and turning wickets are something we aren’t used to in South Africa. This trip will be very beneficial for me,” he says.
He’s never stood in a match involving Sachin Tendulkar before. “But it’s a huge opportunity. He’s done so much for world cricket. There’s even a stand named after him,” he says, pointing to the other end of the stadium.
So has he received any tips? “People tell me noise is one factor you have to adjust to. You look in the TV and are amazed at the number of people watching the game. The guys told me not to worry about the noise as there will be not more than 40 or 50 people watching (a Ranji game) but with Sachin playing, there will be about 200,” he says.
Holdstock has sure played on the bounciest tracks, but the grass cover on the centre wicket at the Wankhede amazes him. “I’ve never seen so much grass on an Indian wicket, but I’m told that there’s a protocol that groundsmen have to follow. There should be decent carry and seam movement on this one. From Day Three, the ball will start to turn as well. The turning ball could be a bit of a challenge for me. But I’m up for it,” says Holdstock, who will have S Ravi for company.
For now, he just can’t wait to say, “Play”!