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Last December, Holt became the first Victorian to umpire 500 Premier Cricket matches.
Holt told the Northern Weekly he has been lucky enough to umpire some of the game’s greats, including Shane Warne, but he never saw the marquee Melbourne Stars signing at his best.
“I could count on one hand the number of wickets I’ve seen him take,” he says. “I umpired Shane a lot of times and I hardly saw him take any, even for St Kilda.
“There was a game against Western Australia on a bad wicket once and Geoff Marsh just played him quietly away the whole day.”
But that doesn’t change Holt’s opinion of the world’s greatest leg-spinner. “He was clearly the best spinner by a mile,” he says.
“I think I umpired him in his second Premier Firsts game at St Kilda and you knew, even then, that he could spin it more fiercely than most.”
At 66, his career has taken him into the thick of the action and allowed him to see teams from every major cricketing nation – except the West Indies at the peak of its powers.
“I was scheduled to umpire a four-day game between Victoria and the West Indies at Bendigo,” he says.
“It rained for three days and we didn’t bowl a single ball, so that was a great shame.”
A former left-arm fast bowler, Holt names Pakistani legend Wasim Akram as the best bowler he’s seen.
Asked to name the best batsmen he’s seen, he rattles off Indians Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, Sri Lankan Aravinda de Silva and Australians Steve Waugh and Dean Jones.
“Ian Botham was also very enjoyable to umpire,” he says. “Strangely enough on the field he was fairly reserved but he played very hard.”
Holt has been on Cricket Victoria’s premier umpires’ panel for 31 seasons, having started with the Heidelberg District in the late ’70s.
He regrets never having umpired at Test level. He was on the national panel during the 1994-95 season but didn’t make the final cut.
“There was absolutely nothing I could do,” he says. “You’re just in the hands of those responsible.”
Umpires are seldom popular – in any sport – but a bad decision in cricket can turn the game on its head.
“Particularly when you’re umpiring a four-day game, with the best possible players, the pressure of getting those close decisions correct is huge,” he says.
“You need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the rules and laws of cricket.
“It’s always a challenge. But I’ve got such passion for cricket, and I’ve made a lot of friends along the way.”
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