Many of us have had a go; a stint in the middle during a relatively low key game of cricket. Some of us like it, some of us can’t wait to get back to the boundary rope. But for others, it is a passion and something that becomes a regular fixture in the diary. Like so many officiating roles, they are largely voluntary and unheralded, a sacrifice of personal time versus the enjoyment and satisfaction it provides that person.
From time to time, if that fervour and commitment remains and the skills are there, then the umpiring duties can become more serious. That’s been the case with New Zealand Cricket Reserve Panel umpire Cory Black.
Born in Invercargill, Cory’s professional and family life saw him return to New Zealand and put down roots in Wellington in 2016. By day, the 39 year old who holds a PhD in chemistry is an organic chemist for BDG Synthesis, but outside of that role, Cory’s umpiring has moved up a level.
Before Wellington, Cory and his family were living and working in Adelaide and Cory was umpiring in club cricket. When the decision was made to cross back across the Tasman, Cory made enquiries to see if there would be some umpiring opportunities and appropriate conversations were held between New Zealand Cricket and officials in Adelaide and the decision was made to appoint Cory to the National Reserve Panel for the 2016/17 season.
The Panel is heavily involved in umpiring U17, U19, Provincial A and the Gillette Cup Secondary Schools competitions as well as the Domestic Women’s Competitions in both the 20 and 50 over formats. This season has seen Cory involved in four televised Women’s Super Smash games and he acted as fourth umpire in the Men’s Super Smash final. He has also been appointed for duties in the middle for two Ford Trophy matches this month and when the South African Women’s team continue their itinerary against the White Ferns next month, he has third and fourth umpire roles booked in his diary.
The televised matches have meant a new element for him to consider as Cory outlines:
‘One obvious difference is the need to remember to use the third umpire for tight decisions and not simply make the call as you normally would. Overall I found the ability to be able to check for tight calls incredibly useful as the goal is always to get the decision correct and that resource, backed by the huge team in the Sky trailers out the back of the stadium, is really invaluable for that.’
A dedicated family man with three children, Cory acknowledges that it takes more than just his willingness to be able to take up these duties that has seen him in this position, with the challenge of getting the work and life balance right a difficult one:
‘This is always the number one challenge when you are fortunate enough to make it into a semi-professional environment like this. Thankfully my wife and three children are incredibly understanding and supportive. Our move back to New Zealand from Australia made this even easier as we have a lot of family and friends in and around Wellington to help when needed. My boss is also fantastic, he is a huge cricket fan and is happy to accommodate my commitments to New Zealand Cricket during the busy summer months.’
Despite his rise through the ranks, Cory remains heavily involved with local club cricket when he’s not away for Panel appointments and also helps out with fortnightly training evenings with local club umpires. He’d love to move to the next level, but acknowledges the challenges:
‘Any day I’m out on the park is a good day. The level of cricket is an added bonus of course and, like most umpires, I’d love to have a crack at the next level. At the same time it is hard to be too ambitious as timing is important as well as putting in back-to-back performances. I try to stay in the moment as much as possible, focusing on each ball as it comes and trying to make the best call with all the information available to me. We are heavily scrutinised, especially in games with a Match Referee, who logs all of our decisions and makes assessments as to their correctness, backed up by a post-match discussion with the captains. Even when we don’t have a Match Referee we are still required to prepare self-assessments for each match we are involved in, to contribute to our ongoing development.’
In a ten year umpiring career, Cory confirms that this season has been the highlight. First Class Cricket via the Ford Trophy, televised fixtures in the form of the Super Smash and international appointments in the pipeline make it easy to understand why. Cory’s wife and children come along to watch him when they can and when the season ends they’ll have him back at home a bit more; it’s a juggling experience that many families encounter via sport, other interests and work. Family time together is precious and enjoying your passions and interests is something that can be a privilege. Cory Black knows that and just how lucky he is.
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