Bulletproof 'Ox Block' keeping umpires safe

Aussie umpire Bruce Oxenford reveals why he has opted for a custom-made shield instead of helmet as umpires get serious about safety

Australian umpire Bruce Oxenford has christened his unique protection shield the "Ox Block" and predicts all umpires will be equipped with one in future.

Oxenford broke new ground in umpire safety after he used the protective shield for the first time in an international match during England's record-breaking one-day victory against Sri Lanka at Edgbaston.

He revealed the shield is made of a bulletproof polycarbonate plastic that can withstand a sledgehammer blow. It cost him about $120 to create, and has been in talks with one kit manufacturer about taking his design commercial.

The 56-year-old Gold Coaster clad his left forearm in the protective device, looking somewhat like a slimmed down version of a police riot shield, as he stood in the second ODI that England won by 10 wickets last month.

Oxenford had previously worn the guard during the matches he stood in at the Indian Premier League in April and before that in a World Twenty20 warm-up match involving Australia and the West Indies. But the Edgbaston ODI was the first time the equipment had been seen in a full international.

Oxenford with his 'Ox Block' shield during Edgbaston ODI // Getty 

Traditionally, umpire protection has amounted to no more than a hat or a cap. But there have been increasing concerns regarding the safety of officials, particularly in the case of an umpire standing at the bowler's end, with more and more batsmen in the modern era capable of ferocious hitting.

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

"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."

Ward was struck in the head in the 48th over of a Ranji Trophy match from a full-blooded drive by a Punjab batsman Barinder Sran, who is now a regular in India's limited-overs teams.

The umpire, who was in India as part of an umpire exchange program between Australia, India and South Africa, was hospitalised but cleared of any lasting injury.

The injury to Ward incident prompted his Australian official Gerard Abood to become the first official to wear a helmet in a match when he donned the protective headwear in the KFC Big Bash League.

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Ward returned to officiating in the Big Bash, also opting to wear a helmet.

He then became the first umpire to wear a helmet in an international match during the fourth ODI between Australia and India in Canberra.

"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," Oxenford said.

"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?' 

Ward signals six from under helmet in the Big Bash // Getty

"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.

"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 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.

"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.

'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."

Oxenford signals six with his 'Ox Block' on // Getty
Oxenford signals six with his 'Ox Block' on // Getty

Oxenford said the improved safety aspect had not stopped fellow umpires and players from making good-natured jokes at his expense.

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

"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 about it already. I showed them the first prototype and they're working on something similar."

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

"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 to make as a one-off so it would be cheaper if they were made in bulk. I hope it is here to stay."

The MCC, guardians of the Laws of cricket, have clarified that if a batsman's shot is deflected off Oxenford's shield and then caught by a fielder, the batsman would be given out.

By contrast, the Laws of Cricket make it clear that if a ball hits the helmet of a fielder before being held, the batsman is not out and dead ball is called.

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