Star names help umpire Michael to lay down the law
It's not just the Ireland international players who get the chance to rub shoulders with the big names, as umpire Michael Foster proved last week.
Freddie Flintoff, Jimmy Anderson, commentator David 'Bumble' Lloyd and the world's number one ranked umpire were all up close and personal with Michael at Old Trafford during the working trip of a lifetime
Foster is this year's recipient of the Trevor Henry Bursary which pays for an up and coming NIACUS (NI Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers) official to attend a county game, observe the umpires in action and help develop their knowledge and skills.
Henry was just one level away from making it to the big time when he was fatally struck down by cancer and this bursary, in his memory, is considered one of the top honours for anyone who dons the white coat.
Lisburn member Foster, a lawyer in the Department of Finance, is in his fourth season of umpiring, a willing and obvious candidate to stand in the middle after playing for every team in the club.
"I was on the Firsts for eight to nine years until I dropped down to captain the 2nds in 2001. In those games I did at least 20 overs' umpiring every week, as you rarely get umpires in that league, and as a laws man, it wasn't a difficult transition," admits Foster.
"At the time the NCU was encouraging every club to provide at least one umpire and myself and Gary Blair were funded for the Level One course by Lisburn, who were keen as a club to support that initiative. I started standing a couple of months later."
In 2014, the pair stood in the Ulster Shield final between Carrickfergus and Downpatrick and last year, Michael got his first senior final, the Twenty20 Cup decider between CIYMS and Waringstown.
His first taste of county action was the T20 game at Old Trafford between Lancashire and Derbyshire when he was due to shadow first class umpires Russell Evans and Richard Kettleborough, currently the best in the world.
What he did not know until he arrived in Manchester was that he would be sharing the umpires room and watching the action with former Test umpire Steve Davis, now an umpires' liaison officer.
"Steve is a very funny guy and it was the first time a liaison officer had been involved with a bursary winner and it greatly exceeded my expectations," said Michael.
"Of particular interest was watching how the umpires dealt with any disciplinary issues. They do it in a subtle and interactive way
"For example at the start of day three (of the championship match against Surrey) they said to the captains, 'this is starting to bubble up a bit, any further advancement will cause us to formally intervene so go to your players, explain the position and nip it in the bud'. And that's exactly what happened."
It was also on the third day that Foster was sitting at the same table as England opening bowler Anderson and former star Flintoff.
"I was at lunch with the officials after the Test match had finished early and Flintoff and Anderson plonked themselves down. Freddie was chatting with Steve Davis who he knows well and Steve introduced me," he adds. "Jimmy was talking about Chris Woakes being called into the Test team and the Lancashire boys were bantering him about the 10 wickets he took in the Test.
"Chatting to David Lloyd was a bonus. When the Test finished early, Bumble popped up to say hello to Steve and talked to me about all things Lisburn, with special mention for his friend Cecil Walker, as he had been over for the club's 175th anniversary."
And the icing on the cake for Michael and NIACUS was a letter this week from Davis to the ECB umpires' manager Chris Kelly, which ended: "The umpires were informative and generous with their time. Michael was not intrusive, raised many relevant issues and was a fine ambassador for Irish Cricket".