‘Gunner’ lands back in Harare

There are popular officials and administrators around the world and there are those who raise the hackles of anyone and everyone. There are those with an inflated sense of their own importance and there are those who believe they serve the game, not the other way around.

One of the most down-to-earth, approachable umpires ever to stand in an international is popular Englishman Ian ‘Gunner’ Gould. The former Sussex and Middlesex wicketkeeper who played 18 ODIs for his country flew into Harare as a last-minute replacement for Billy Bowden who returned to New Zealand to be with his wife who was unwell.

Landing in the city just 48 hours before the second test was due to begin, Gould unpacked in his hotel room and then headed straight downstairs to see who he knew in the lobby bar. There is usually someone he knows in most hotels and most cities on the cricket circuit, so many friends has the ever-smiling Gunner made.

“You don’t make many friends if you don’t talk to people,” he says with a shrug of the shoulders. “I can’t see the point of travelling the world if you don’t get to know the people who live in it.”

It seems an odd question to ask – why are you so positive and cheerful all the time? – but you rarely need to ask it of Gould, even if you felt inclined to. It won’t be long before he answers it anyway.

“I’ve got a fabulous job and I’m very lucky indeed. When I finished playing I turned to coaching but when that came to an end I looked around and thought ‘what the hell am I going to do now?’” Like the vast majority of players of his era, Gould barely made a decent living playing the game, never mind financial security for the future. So he tried his hand at umpiring – and immediately showed himself to have a rare skill.

“I have friends from school days,” says the 55-year-old, “who work in a factory for 300 pounds a week. Take rent of 120 pounds off that and then take away tax and national insurance, well, it’s not easy. So you won’t find me complaining about hotels and flights, and you won’t find me looking past people!”

ICC umpires are asked to nominate their preferred holiday dates at the start of every year and, outside those dates, they are assigned their umpiring commitments but expected to be on call at all other times. “It wasn’t a choice when they called,” says Gould, laughing. “I was preparing to stand in a county game between Sussex and Surrey when I received the ‘you’re on the 9:00pm flight from Heathrow, tonight’ message. So I went home and packed. Love it,” says Gould.

Any hardships at all?

“Hardships? No. But I do miss the grandkids. Still, we took them for a holiday to Dubai last year and they loved it! We’re lucky to be able to do that.”

“I love this city. I first came to Harare with Middlesex in 1980 and I’ve loved coming back every time since.” Discussions around the power and water cuts which make day-to-day living a challenge for most residents receive a whimsical shrug of the shoulders. “Every country has its problems,” he says. Smiling. Of course.

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