Phil Smith’s interview with Sue Drinkwater

Gloucester-based cricket scorer Sue Drinkwater has a quite amazing story to tell. From recording runs, wickets and overs in a genteel Cotswold village with a handful of people and the proverbial dog in attendance, to being surrounded by a full house at Lord’s as ‘The greatest game of cricket ever played’ is unfolding in front of our eyes. It’s been quite a journey. It is, without doubt:

A Scoring Life

It all began nearly fifty years ago, when Sue’s dad, Jim Downes, was plying his trade at Prestbury CC and as was the fashion in those days, the family tagged along for what was an important Saturday or Sunday afternoon in the social calendar. Her mum taught Sue the basics of scoring, and while the hot summer sun and the contents of a bountiful refreshment hamper accounted for many, she sat for hours on end with her own little scorebook next to an elderly, but extremely patient club scorer called Mrs Borrows.

In 1979, aged 17, Sue transferred her Saturday allegiance to Chedworth CC, as her boyfriend, Darryl (whose title has since been upgraded to ‘husband’) and his dad played in the team. There was a decent pay-off for Prestbury in this arrangement though, because part of the deal that saw Sue swelling the attendance figures at Beech Walk was that Daryll brought his cricketing acumen to Prestbury on a Sunday afternoon, so both clubs benefitted considerably from the new-found arrangement. Chedworth, upon hearing of Sue’s interest in studiously recording the statistical highlights of the game, saw her swiftly introduced to the dual delights of the CCC scorebook and their small wooden box. After four seasons of ‘amateur’ scoring status, Sue took her acquired knowledge to the study room and passed her ACU&S scorers’ exam, becoming a full member of the association some twelve months later.

With a few more years’ experience at Chedworth under her belt, Sue passed the ACU&S Advanced Scorers’ exam in April 1990 and barely a year later, she began marking the exam papers themselves, before helping, in 1994, to devise a marking scheme to ensure that all papers were assessed to the same standard against a set of specific criteria.

Scoring for Chedworth continued in enjoyable fashion. Statistically the team, like most others, enjoyed a good number of ups mixed in with a fair number of downs, but all were perfectly recorded in the big, blue Beech Walk scorebook. The club’s up-and-coming notcher was highly regarded by home players, committee members and supporters alike, as well as by a succession of visiting teams and their backroom people. But others outside the sleepy Cotswold village and its immediate environs – the ACU&S’s Cathy Rawson in particular – were starting to take notice too and in August 2004, Sue was appointed as official scorer to an U19 test match at Taunton, as an England team captained by an up-and-coming Alistair Cook, took on Bangladesh. It was a game in which Somerset’s James Hildreth hit a double hundred in England’s eight-wicket win, while Essex’s Ravi Bopara added a few runs and grabbed a handful of wickets too. Michael Munday though, a future leg spinner for Bridgwater CC, bowled just six overs and, entering the fray at number eleven, scored a first innings’ one not out.

But what did Sue initially feel about the overnight transition from the humble surroundings of Beech Walk to being thrust into the limelight of an international fixture? “I was petrified to be honest, as I thought the scorers at that level would have lots of attributes that I didn’t have, but I soon discovered they were just ‘normal’ scorers; very good, but normal, nevertheless. My biggest concern however was the things around the scoring. Where will I park my car? How do I get in (I’d only ever been to Taunton as a paying customer)? Where’s the scorebox? Who do I report to? What time do I need to arrive? Thankfully the other scorer, Howard Clayton, who was a regular with the U19s, was also staying at the Holiday Inn on the night before the game and offered me a lift to the ground on the first day, so everything went okay from the ‘domestics’ perspective.

“The other issue was trying to recognise the Bangladeshi players in the field when they wore their caps or helmets; in those days they didn’t have names or numbers on the backs of their shirts, so we spent a lot of time in ‘identification conversation’ with the tourists’ very helpful team coaches. While scorers don’t technically have an affinity to one team or another, as Howard did most of the England games, I thought of myself as the Bangladeshi scorer, so not knowing the names of your ‘own team’ was a bit of an odd situation.

“Interestingly, the England squad was also staying in the Holiday Inn and when I went into the gym on the first evening, most of the players were already in there. Alistair Cook expressed his surprise that scorers were interested in working out, but, as you’d expect, he said it in a very polite and positive sort of way.”

The Taunton experience proved to be a seminal moment in Sue’s officiating career (“I knew after that, I was good enough”) and two summers later, she made her debut at the Home of Cricket, having been put in charge of the MCC scorebook in the annual Eton v Harrow fixture. The invitation came from Andy Scarlett, the Lord’s scorebox manager, an engaging and well-known character in cricketing circles, and it was eagerly accepted.

Making your debut at Lord’s is always a great moment, but within twelve months, Sue was back in St John’s Wood, though this time it was as official scorer for a One Day International between England and the West Indies. Sue’s take on the mindset required to do the best possible job in the scorebox at these big games is well worth considering by any official in any sport at any level: “Lord’s is such an amazing place when it’s empty, but with twenty eight thousand-plus people packed in, it can be electrifying. You have to tell yourself though that it’s just a game of cricket, 11 v 11 and the same laws and the same umpires’ signals as in any other match. Concentrate on each ball, record what’s happened and move on to the next one.”

With the thrill of making her international debut still coursing through her veins, Sue returned to more local matters that winter, building the first GACU&S web site, teaching herself how to use HTML codes as she went along. The completed site was packed with information, links and photographs and served to help GACUS communicate far more effectively with both its members and those people who may have been interested in turning their hand to cricket officiating in the future.

With the web site up and running, it was straight back to the scorebox as Sue flew to Jersey as the official recorder for Vanuatu, a Pacific archipelago formerly known as the New Hebrides and located roughly halfway between Fiji and Papua New Guinea. The event was the ICC World Cricket League Division 5 tournament and while the 80-island country enjoyed a fair amount of ‘Developing Nation’ success in the years that followed, this particular outing saw them finish in 12th place and subsequently relegated to the division below. It was, however, the tournament in which Afghanistan started their qualification for the ICC World Cup and a documentary of their success was filmed during the nine-day event. For the record, Afghanistan edged out the host nation, who were coached by the South African international, Peter Kirsten, by two wickets in a low-scoring final.

Three months later, Sue was at Coombe Dingle, the Bristol University ground, as official scorer for the MCC Universities against Gloucestershire II and less than twelve months after getting her first taste of 2nd XI cricket, she was making her 1st XI debut at Worcester, as England Lions took on the touring Australians in a 4-day fixture before a healthy New Road crowd.

The winter of 2008/09 brought about notable change in the world of cricket officiating, with the ACU&S system replaced by the ECB ACO. As such, Sue started her own, uncertified, scorers’ courses in Gloucestershire, independent of any association, to try to broaden interest, develop technique and improve the profile of an important cricketing role that was too often overlooked. GACUS itself though continued to flourish alongside the newly established national ACO and Sue became the local association’s scorers’ rep soon afterwards, before beginning to deliver ACO training the following winter.

Having clearly made an impression on her first official visit to New Road, Sue scored her first match for Worcestershire 1st XI in an early-season encounter against Leeds/Bradford MCCU, standing in for the regular 1st team scorer, Neil Smith.

In July 2011, Sue returned to Lord’s as scoreboard scorer for an England v New Zealand Women’s ODI and she has continued in this role ever since, a job that includes all types of international cricket from test matches to World Cup games. “At Lord’s, the scoreboard scorer sits alongside the two official scorers and your lap top is wired into the display that everyone can see, so basically what you enter into your machine comes up for the world and its dog to digest. In many County Championship games around the country however, the official scorers tend to also be the scoreboard scorers, which can become very interesting when the umpires contact you about something at the same time as you’re in concentrated keyboard action.” So, what might the umpires want? “Well, it could be anything from, on a wet day, ‘Can you contact the groundsman to get some more sawdust please?’ or, on a sunny one, ‘Can you get someone to cover up the car windscreens, because the sun’s reflecting into the batsmens’ eyes and causing a problem?’ “

Interestingly, Sue’s scoring debut for the Worcestershire 2nd XI came two years after initially notching for the 1st team, Neil Smith having been replaced by the 2nd XI scorer, Dawn Pugh, for the 2012 campaign. Sue shared the 2nd XI scoring duties with Phil Mellish for the next four seasons, but there were also first team opportunities during this period. Her first such Championship appointment came at the Cheltenham Festival in July 2013, when Sue took over the Worcestershire book for the game against Gloucestershire, as Dawn was attending her son’s wedding and therefore unavailable. “This was a dream appointment,” says Sue, “as I’d attended the Cheltenham Festival as a spectator ever since I was a young girl and knew many of the people watching the match. When my name was read out over the tannoy, I started getting texts from friends in the crowd, asking if it was really me!”

At the end of that season, Sue won the Nat West OSCA (Outstanding Services to Cricket Awards) in the Officials category for scorer training. “I was nominated by Gloucestershire ACO and had a wonderful lunch prior to the ceremony at Lord’s, where I received the award. While I was there, the ECB people were looking for a scorer to take part in a photoshoot and asked me if I would do it. The resultant pictures keep cropping up in places that I least expect them, and seeing myself as the face of scorers on the BBC website and in an ECB brochure promoting women in cricket feels rather strange, but it does make me smile.”

One form of national recognition followed another and in June 2014, Sue was awarded the British Empire Medal for Services to Cricket (volunteer) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. “I received the medal from the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire (Dame Janet Trotter) at the St. George’s Day service in Gloucester Cathedral in April 2015. The celebrations culminated when I was invited, along with all the other BEM awardees, to a garden party at Buckingham Palace, which was another very memorable day.”

Immediately after being named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Sue was caught on camera in front of a sizeable Lord’s crowd and considerably bigger TV audience, jumping from a moving scorebox onto the hallowed turf (thankfully the bit outside the boundary), while she was the scoreboard scorer during the England v Sri Lanka Test Match. “It was as a result of a power failure, and for a few seconds I was pictured on the scoreboard, much to the delight of the many people sitting in the stands.”

In February 2015, Sue succeeded Cheltenham’s Geoff Trett as County Scorers’ Officer for Gloucestershire ACO and later that year took on the newly-created role as the Scorer Education Manager for the ECB ACO, a position she still holds today. During this time, she has re-written all the scorers’ courses, helped to produce the first ECB ACO e-learning scorers’ course (still available as the Basics of Scoring) and was instrumental in the staging and professional filming of a cricket match between High Wycombe Ladies and Ickenham Gunns Ladies, which is still used for scorer training today.

When Dawn Pugh became ill in early 2016, Sue stepped up to full time scoring duties with the WCCC 1st XI, initially for one season, but became permanent ‘home’ 1st team scorer the following summer, sharing the role with Phil Mellish, who travelled with the team to away matches. Last winter, Sue was appointed the fully fledged 1st XI scorer for the current season, though the current suspension of first class cricket means she has yet to make her debut in this latest role.

Sue’s out-of-box contribution during her scoring career has been as great as her in-box achievements and in the summer of 2017, she became part of the ECB Development Team, working as a volunteer with NV Play to develop Play Cricket Scorer Professional, the software that is currently used by all the First Class counties, together with numerous club scorers around the country.

Within weeks of joining the ECB’s Development group, Sue was in the middle of the action once more, scoring in two Women’s World Cup matches in Bristol as one of the official scorers and a third as the Press Scorer which was, “The hardest scoring I’ve ever done. It involves feeding regular information to the press throughout the game, though the umpires don’t involve you in any of their signals as you’re not the ‘official’ official. You need to track trends, look for patterns and dissect milestones; for example, how many 4s & 6s a batter has scored in their innings, or how long it took them to bring up their half century. Basically, anything which people might find of interest. The ECB doesn’t employ press scorers any more, but as the WWC was an ICC competition, they decided to fund this initiative, and keep everyone happy into the bargain.”

Undeterred, we’re in the car heading for St John’s Wood again, to lead an all-female scorebox team for the Women’s World Cup Final, a game in which England spectacularly defeated India by nine runs in a pulsating encounter. “It was such a privilege to be part of the event, which played a huge part in promoting not just women’s cricket, but women’s sport in general,” Sue reflects.

With little time to recover from the excitement of Anya Shrubsole’s match-winning 6-46, Sue was back in the Lord’s box alongside David Kendix for the England v South Africa test match, Moeen Ali taking the bowling honours on this occasion with match figures of 10-112. July 2017 was indeed a memorable month, but there were more such periods to follow.

As the 2017 season reached its climax, Sue scored for Western Storm in their ultimately victorious appearance at the Kia Super League finals day at Hove. Both team and scorer returned to the south coast for the 2018 finals, though the Storm were edged out by eventual winners, Surrey Stars, in the semi final on this occasion. The WSL will be replaced by The Hundred when cricket eventually resumes, but there was still time to complete a hat trick of finals day visits to Sussex last year, when the Storm lifted the last WSL trophy for a second time, following a six-wicket success against the Southern Vipers in the final.

The men’s equivalent, the T20 Vitality Blast took Sue to Edgbaston in 2018, as Worcestershire Rapids celebrated reaching their first Finals Day in style as a 5-wicket victory over Sussex Sharks saw them lift the trophy. Sue’s brief post-match TV appearance as she received her match officials’ medal was in direct contrast to her previous Sky Sports ‘jumping out of the scorebox’ highlight, in that nothing at all untoward happened in her entire 9-second cameo.

There was little let-up in the schedule last season which, in addition to her New Road responsibilities, found Sue as the official scorer for two ICC World Cup matches at Nevil Road in early June, though the Pakistan v Sri Lanka game fell victim to the weather and was called off without a ball being bowled.

More World Cup duties followed as the competition reached its latter stages and Sue was the official scorer as England defeated Australia by eight wickets in the second semi final at Edgbaston, during which she was interviewed several times ‘live’ on BBC Hereford and Worcester radio about what it was like being part of the World Cup scoring team.

Interesting though the ‘live’ interviewing was, less then seventy two hours later there was interest of a different kind as Sue took up her role as scoreboard scorer for England’s last-ball super over victory against New Zealand, a win which saw them become world 50-over champions for the first time. Sue takes up the story. “Before the match, we were going through the match regulations, as we would do with any game, and when we finished the ‘Super Over’ section, Andy Scarlett says, ‘Good; we all know what to do with that, but it’ll never happen.’

“All was going well, but with just a few overs remaining, I became very aware that every person in the ground was looking at the scoreboard after every ball, calculating and re-calculating what needed to happen for one side or the other to win, based on what I was entering into my laptop. Then, in the final over of ‘normal time’, came the ‘Ben Stokes overthrow moment’. The ball was fielded underneath where we were sitting, so we didn’t see the fielder making the return throw. As such, we had no idea at what point the ball was released, so when the return hit the diving Stokes and was inadvertently deflected over the boundary, we didn’t know whether the umpire would be signalling five or six. There’s a TV at either end of the box in which we were sitting and we had a pair of binoculars on the table, so we eventually managed to pick up the umpire’s six fingers – not the easiest thing to see at the best of times – and the rest, as they say, is history.”

A rip-roaring summer culminated in Worcestershire Rapids’ second T20 Vitality Blast finals day appearance before another packed house at Edgbaston and even though the team suffered a last-ball reversal to Essex in the final, Sue remained unscathed during another incident-free post-match medal presentation ceremony.

While most players and many officials are whiling away the current summer’s cricket-less hours, there is little off-field respite for Sue. In April she launched a YouTube channel called RunsWktsOvers to reach scorers during the Covid-19 pandemic. “The first session was a linear score-a-long, which should have been a 20-over stint, but ended up lasting for the full 40 overs of a televised T20 match, which meant that, including the instruction-giving section at the start, I was on air for 4½ hours in total. I’ve been doing weekly one-hour ‘live’ demonstrations on a Wednesday evening since then, and I can guarantee that each one is exactly sixty minutes long!”

And in May, Sue started a scorers’ podcast called ‘Cricket Scorers Untallied’, with Julia Farman and Brian Rodwell. “We have an ever-growing international audience, with listeners from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Israel and South Africa, as well as people in a good number of European countries and ‘locals’ from around the United Kingdom,” says Sue. “It’s very exciting seeing the numbers that are tuning in on a weekly basis and talking about cricket scoring in such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable way.”

So, what next for Sue? “The fairness that I’ve been campaigning for over a good number of years is starting to come to fruition. The Gloucestershire 2nd XI scorers, for example, are now chosen on a match-by-match basis from a pool of very capable Level 3 qualified people and a proper development pathway has been created, much like that of the umpires, and hopefully we can continue to expand this on a national basis. And I’m very much looking forward to beginning my new role as the full time, 1st XI scorer for Worcestershire when cricket eventually resumes.”

How do you reflect on the last sixteen years in particular, I ask? “It’s been an absolute privilege,” says Sue. “There are so many really good scorers around the country, yet I’ve been fortunate enough to have been part of some amazing occasions that, even in my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined ever happening to me.

It seems a bit of a daft question to finish with, but it has to be asked all the same. Of all the great games, which is the most memorable? “I think last year’s World Cup Final will take some beating,” Sue replies, “but my debut for Worcestershire CCC 1st XI at the Cheltenham Festival was really special. Returning to a ground and an event that I’d spent so many happy days at as a spectator, in an official capacity, was really special.”

It has been a quite amazing journey, both on the field and off it. But you get the feeling that this Scoring Life has a few more chapters left to run and anyone wishing to pen an epilogue to this fascinating tale may just have to wait a little while longer.

Authors’ Note

Julia Farman MBE: Cricket scorer and tutor and a big player in the ‘Cricket without Boundaries’ charity, a body which uses cricket as a vehicle for delivering health and social messages in sub-Saharan Africa.

David Kendix: Official scorer for all tests and ODIs played at Lord’s since 1995. A member of the ICC committee since 2006, David devised the ICC team cricket rankings and continues to be responsible for calculating and updating the figures for all formats of the international game. An actuary, dealing with the management of risk and uncertainty by trade, so well prepared for the vagaries of top-level sport.

Dawn Pugh: Began scoring for the WCCC academy side, before graduating to the 2nd team and then to the 1st XI. Popular amongst the first class umpires for her racing tips. Accompanied many of the club’s first teamers on their journey from schoolboy player to seasoned pro and was a second mother to all of them.

Phil Mellish: Worcestershire CCC analyst, 1st & 2nd XI scorer and anything else that’s required in or around New Road. One of those indispensable people that every club at every level in every sport relies upon.

Andy Scarlett: Cricket aficionado and scoreboard manager at Lord’s, who does his best to keep out of the limelight. Well-known for his pre-match prophecies, particularly those relating to ‘big games’ and super overs.

Geoff Trett: National Scorers Appointments Officer and officially, secretary and first team scorer for Cheltenham CC. Unofficial roles at the Victoria Ground range from Chief Visitor Welcomer to part-time barman, amongst a thousand others. The fount of all local cricketing knowledge and all-round good bloke.

Sue Drinkwater: 5,475 days: the time it took to travel from notching at Beech Walk, Chedworth, to scoring in a World Cup Final at Lord’s. Thoroughly enjoyed her 22 seconds of TV fame and continuing to love every minute of A Scoring Life.