Polosak, Sheridan break new ground with Shield appointment

Eloise Sheridan and compatriot Claire Polosak will this week become the first ever female umpires to stand at Sheffield Shield level

Eloise Sheridan is far from the first cricket fan to have pitted her adjudication skills against professional umpires while watching games on television from the comparative comfort of her couch.

But while most who reach the right verdict more often than not remain content to keep their umpiring talents in-house, Sheridan opted to trial hers out in the middle thereby launching a career in officialdom that has brought one pioneering benchmark after another.

Sheridan ticks off another in that lengthening list of achievements this week when she and fellow trailblazer Claire Polosak take up their positions as the first female umpires to stand at Sheffield Shield level.

Polosak will officiate alongside Sam Nogajski in Western Australia's fixture against South Australia at the WACA Ground starting tomorrow, while Sheridan partners Gerard Abood in Victoria's match with Queensland beginning at the MCG the following day.

Having already compiled an impressive curriculum vitae that shows – among other achievements – a women's Ashes Test, ODI and T20 World Cups and last year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, her Marsh Sheffield Shield debut also represents her first outing in any format at the MCG.

But Sheridan admits her initial foray into umpiring after a lengthy and successful playing tenure in Adelaide grade and junior representative ranks left her seriously doubting she had a future in the role.

Eloise Sheridan alongside fellow umpire Bruce Oxenford ahead of a KFC BBL clash at Adelaide Oval in December 2022 // Getty

"I'm someone who likes to watch a lot of cricket on tele, and I could generally make the same decision as what the umpire was making on-field so I thought maybe give that a go," Sheridan told ahead of her latest groundbreaking appointment.

"So I took a season off after playing and umpired a couple of games, but really didn't enjoy it.

"Then I was fortunate enough that Sarah Fry, the Match Officials Manager at South Australia Cricket Association, gave me a call and said 'how come you're not putting in your availability for umpiring?'

"When I told her I wasn't really that interested she said 'what if we give you some more coaching and put you on the development panel?'.

"And so I said 'oh, okay, if you're going to give that sort of commitment then I'll give it a go', and it just blossomed from there."

Sheridan's introduction to cricket had come three decades earlier, via the same vehicle as so many others – games staged in the family backyard.

Having grown up north of Adelaide, she then started playing competitively with Northern Districts (Premier Cricket home club of Australia representatives Darren Lehmann, Ryan Harris and – more recently – Darcie Brown) at age 12.

An opening batter and aspiring wicketkeeper who earned selection in SA under-age teams, Sheridan switched clubs and joined Sturt in search of more opportunities with the gloves and it was there she first encountered emerging young pace bowler Megan Schutt.

"I remember Megan turning up at Sturt, and she was about 12 or 13 but had the same kind of attitude then as she does now," Sheridan recalled.

"I played for 16 years at grade level across a couple of clubs and then I had a game where I'd gotten out early and, being an opener, you're sitting around not doing a lot for a while.

"And I just thought it was getting pretty hard with work – I'd been teaching for a few years by that stage, and ended up working a fair way from where I was living and even further away from the cricket club – so I wasn’t able to make training and other things.

"So I made a commitment to my captain that if we won a premiership that year, I'd retire … and we did win a premiership, so I kept my word."

Sheridan shares a laugh with Australia and Adelaide Strikers star Megan Schutt during a Weber WBBL match in October 2022 // Getty

By that stage, Sheridan had completed her teaching degree and switched to Adelaide powerhouse club Kensington where, among her teammates in the 2013-14 women's A-grade grand final triumph that marked the end of her playing days, was current Adelaide Strikers keeper-batter Bridget Patterson.

"I wanted to get back involved, but I didn't want to get into coaching because it's way too much like teaching," Sheridan said.

"So umpiring was something a bit different on my weekends, and that was probably the reason I initially took it up.

"Though in some ways, I guess umpiring is a little bit like teaching so perhaps (there is) some transferable skills there.

"I think I'm a pretty patient person, and I'm good at assessing a situation and that probably does come back to teaching a bit.

"My background is also in psychology, so that helps in assessing those situations and also my understanding of the game having been involved since I was 12.

"It's a long time to get to understand the nuances of cricket, and that's probably an advantage I bring into it.

"I know when I need to step in and when I can kind of let things go."

Sheridan's inclusion on the SACA umpires' development panel in 2015-16 enabled her to progress through grade ranks in both men's and women's competitions and, in 2017, she became the first woman in almost 150 years to umpire in an Adelaide men's Premier Cricket fixture.

The following summer, she and close friend Mary Waldron were the first all-female umpiring combination in that same competition, taking charge of a game between Northern Districts and Tea Tree Gully that featured current Australia batter Travis Head.

Later that year, Sheridan forged further history with Polosak when they umpired a WBBL match between the Strikers and Melbourne Stars at Adelaide Oval, making them the first women's pairing to officiate in a professional game in Australia.

In 2019, Sheridan earned her first appointment to the International Panel of ICC Development Umpires which meant she was eligible to stand in women's international matches, and two years hence was included in Cricket Australia's Supplementary Umpire Panel for the first time.

When she entered international ranks, Sheridan's career ambition was to take charge in a women's Test.

But when she was appointed to stand at the 2022 Women's World Cup in New Zealand, then the 2022 Women's Ashes Test and subsequent Women's T20 World Cup in South Africa in the space of barely a year, her aspirations needed re-calibrating.

Sheridan cites her involvement in last year's Commonwealth Games cricket tournament at Birmingham (where she umpired in the semi-final between India and England) high among her career highlights, so recent news of cricket's return to the 2028 Olympics caught her eye.

However, as she and Polosak prepare to break down another gender door and enter the previously male-only domain of the Sheffield Shield, there looms another goal that no longer seems impossibly distant.

"If you'd asked me a couple of years ago, the pinnacle would have been a women's Ashes Test but I've kind of ticked that one off now," Sheridan said.

"I don't know how long the body holds up and all those things, but if I'm still umpiring and still umpiring well then it would be a fantastic achievement to be able to go to the Olympics.

"But I've obviously umpired a lot of women's games and we don't really get the opportunity to do much red-ball cricket and certainly multi-innings games is not something I get to do very often, so being part of that with the Sheffield Shield will be really exciting.

"And now that I'm moving into men's cricket a little bit more by doing Shield, if I could ever get on the pitch for a men's Test match that would be pretty cool."

In addition to the considered analysis and conflict management skills developed through her teaching expertise – she currently holds a leadership role at St Ignatius College in the north-east Adelaide suburb of Athelstone – Sheridan believes there is a learning component that's been vital in her evolution as an umpire.

Sheridan watches on as South Australia's Nathan McSweeney takes a diving catch during a Marsh One-Day Cup match in October 2022 // Getty

Throughout her playing days as a wicketkeeper, she held a prime vantage point from where she was able to develop a keen understanding of the decision-making process taking place at the other end of the pitch.

And across 16 years of competitive cricket, Sheridan gained a similarly in-depth knowledge of captaincy tactics and in-game strategies that helps hone her "feel" for the game and what teams are trying to achieve which, in turn, benefits her assessments.

"Just knowing fielding positions and where the ball's going to go, and the tactics that different captains are using is really helpful," she said.

"I think to myself 'I can see what they're doing here' and I get to read the play a little bit more."

It's that perspicacity sharpened by lengthy playing involvement that has led umpiring pathways programs in Australia and beyond to nurture the likes of former first-class representatives Paul Reiffel, Paul Wilson and Rod Tucker into umpiring careers when their initial on-field days are done.

Consequently, Sheridan is an advocate for that transition to extend to the women's game although she opted not to identify any current or recently retired players she's witnessed at close quarters who might be best-suited to umpiring.

"I do have a few names, but I'm still working on them so I won't put it out there," she said with a laugh.

"But I would absolutely encourage our female players to get involved (in umpiring).

"I think that's perhaps one area we haven't really looked at in terms of recruiting umpires.

"Certainly there's some great minds coming towards the end of their playing careers at the moment, and they would be fantastic umpires and match referees."

Sheffield Shield 2023-24 standings

Matches played
No results
Batting Bonus
Bowling Bonus
Total points
1 Western Australia Men Western Australia Men WA 10 5 2 3 0 0 5.53 9.4 47.93
2 Tasmanian Tigers Men Tasmanian Tigers Men TAS 10 5 2 3 0 0 6.06 8.3 47.36
3 NSW Men NSW Men NSW 10 4 3 3 0 0 6.31 9 42.31
4 Victoria Men Victoria Men VIC 10 4 4 2 0 0 4.74 8.2 38.94
5 South Australia Men South Australia Men SA 10 3 6 1 0 0 5.19 9.3 33.49
6 Queensland Bulls Queensland Bulls QLD 10 2 6 2 0 0 3.54 8.3 25.84

M: Matches played

W: Wins

L: Losses

D: Drawn

N/R: No results

Ded.: Deductions

Bat: Batting Bonus

Bowl: Bowling Bonus

PTS: Total points