Cricket: Umpire's bizarre way of protecting himself

Umpire Bruce Oxenford holds his custom-built protective shield. Photo / Getty Images
Umpire Bruce Oxenford holds his custom-built protective shield. Photo / Getty Images

His fellow umpire Paul Reiffel calls him Batfink after the cartoon metal-winged crimefighter, while Joe Root has dubbed him Captain America. But Bruce Oxenford is simply happy feeling safer in his job.

Oxenford is the umpire who caused a stir during England's one-day series against Sri Lanka when he took to the field wearing a shield on his left arm with what David Lloyd on Sky described as a giant table tennis bat on the end.

The Australian is happy to smile at the light-hearted comments his self-made invention has generated but there is a serious reason why he now takes to the field with his unique piece of protection.

Bruce Oxenford. Photo / Getty
Bruce Oxenford. Photo / Getty

"I was lying in my hotel bed in Delhi earlier this year when I came up with this idea," Oxenford told Sportsmail.

"My fellow umpire John Ward was on duty in India and had just been hit on the head and badly injured. He was in a bad way.

"We'd been talking for a long time about how we're in the firing line and the ball is coming back harder and faster all the time.

"There's been talk of helmets but I don't really want to wear one because I think it will restrict my peripheral vision and hearing and also I don't think I'm going to get hit in the face.

Bruce Oxenford. Photo / Getty
Bruce Oxenford. Photo / Getty

Bruce Oxenford. Photo / Getty
Bruce Oxenford. Photo / Getty

"The natural thing is to throw your hands up in front of your face and turn your head away when the ball comes at you but then I thought, 'What if there's something like an extended arm guard which would act as a shield?'"

"I felt I could make it work. I would be able to do everything I need to do and not get in the way of the bowler."

The next step for Oxenford, a highly regarded member of the ICC's elite panel, was to call on the knowledge he gained running the construction arm of his family cabinet-making firm on the Gold Coast of Queensland.

"I used to cut shapes out of plywood so it was actually fairly straightforward to come up with something like this,' said the amiable Oxenford.

"I did a bit of research and looked at polycarbonate, which is basically like bulletproof glass. It's extremely strong and you couldn't break it with a sledgehammer.

"I took a drawing to a plastics company and they ran it up for me pretty easily. Then I got a cushion to shield the padding and a bit of Velcro to strap it on. It needs an easier form to get it on and off but that will come.

"I wore it briefly in a warm-up game earlier this year but it was too heavy and cumbersome, so when I came back I redesigned it and took it to the IPL where I used it in every match I stood in."

Oxenford, 56, is in no doubt that in the big-hitting world of modern cricket, his shield could prove a life-saver.

"I had people throw cricket balls at me from close range and it stood up to the test. I don't actually have to move it very far,' he said.

"It can be exceptionally dangerous these days because that ball comes back so fast at you. Jason Roy hit a boundary the other night at The Oval and the ball came down at 80mph and came back at 120 and just flew past Rob Bailey.

"There's just no time to get out of the way and if the bowler sticks his hand out and deflects it your way, it can be just frightening. The way I stand, it's already protecting my chest and upper body and if the ball comes at you it's really just moving it up a little bit and it covers your face.

John Ward. Photo / Getty
John Ward. Photo / Getty

"More people get hit on the body than the head and more deaths have happened in cricket when people have been struck on the body, so this is multi-purpose.

"A lot of guys get hit standing at square leg, too, because they just can't get out of the way, so this is also good when you're there."

The reaction to Oxenford's appearance has been encouraging.

"It's been very good even though a lot of umpires have taken the mickey out of me,' smiled Oxenford.

"Paul Reiffel called me Batfink and Joe Root said I look like Captain America, so I've had that sort of stuff, but it's also been overwhelmingly positive.

"A lot of guys have asked me if it will become commercially available and I've spoken with Gray-Nicolls (manufacturers of cricket equipment) about it already. I showed them the first prototype and they're working on something similar."

Oxenford even has a name for his creation which could well make him an umpiring pioneer.

"A lot of guys have told me I should call it the Ox Block, which sounds all right to me," he said.

"I'm not sure there is a huge market for it but it might make a dollar or two. I wouldn't be surprised if every umpire had one in a few years' time.

"Personally I just think it's the sensible thing to do. All in, it cost me 120 Australian dollars ($NZ125) to make as a one-off so it would be cheaper if they were made in bulk. I hope it is here to stay."

And if the Ox Block saves one life, then Bruce Oxenford will be happier to be known as any superhero you care to mention.

- Daily Mail

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