CRICKET and Paddy Brown were made for each other.
The accents of cricket, its history and folklore, were gift-wrapped for a boy from Whalley who will stand in the middle at Lord’s today, umpiring the President of MCC’s XI versus the President of Middlesex’s XI.
The fixture celebrates the bicentenary of Lord’s and 150 years of Middlesex County Cricket Club.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet, that I’ll be walking through the Long Room clutching the balls and bails, and out on to that famous turf, it is beyond my wildest dreams,” said the 19-year-old.
“I think my dad is more excited about getting a car park pass for Lord’s than seeing me.
“Angus Fraser, Mike Gatting, Norman Cowans and Ed Smith are playing and with a crowd of 10,000 inside Lord’s then it is going to be some occasion.
“I should have been doing Rawtenstall versus East Lancs, so this is a bit surreal.
“Four years ago I was umpiring my friends in the school yard at St Augustine’s, Billington, and now I’m going to officiate at the most famous cricket ground in the world.”
We chew the fat in the beer garden at his local – the Dog Inn at Whalley – where the regulars, several who wish him luck ahead of his Lord’s challenge, are rightly proud of his achievements.
He made Lancashire League history a couple of years ago as the youngest umpire when he officiated the fixture between Enfield and Nelson.
“May 7, 2012 – I’ll never forget it,” he recalled.
“I felt sick with nerves and when I got out there the lads were going, ‘This your first game, ump?’
“I replied, ‘No. I’ve done plenty of matches. I’ve had lots of experience boys.’
“I was never going to tell them it was my first time in the middle.
“I think you are either capable of handling senior cricket or you’re not.”
He later learned that there had been some resistance to his appointment, but he has eased into his role with the assurance of a seasoned veteran.
“A lot of the older umpires thought I was far too young, but hopefully I’ve proved them wrong,” he said.
“You have to have that inner-belief and a little bit of arrogance to succeed.”
So what attracted him to the world of umpiring, a profession sometimes as popular with players and supporters as getting stuck behind a caravan on a winding country lane on a wet bank holiday weekend when they get the big decisions wrong?
“I got home from school one day, turned the TV on and the camera had focused in on the umpire, the tall figure of Neil Mallender, (ex-Somerset and Northants) and at that was the moment I said, ‘I want to do that for a job.’
“It is unusual, I know, most lads want to be train drivers or firemen when they grow up but I want this more than anything.”
His mentor, he says, is Oswaldtwistle umpire Mark Eggleston.
Brown – a sports journalism student at the University of Central Lancashire – is also a keen cricket author.
“It can be a long day, sometimes from 11.30 am until 8pm when you wrap up,” he said. “I get £35 for nine hours and when you come off the field and you’ve had a bit of abuse, then you wonder why you do it?
“But I do it because I’m fascinated by umpiring.”
There are less than a dozen teenage umpires officiating at Premier League cricket level in England and while the odds are stacked firmly in favour of ex-professionals graduating to the senior list, Brown’s reputation is growing all the time.
Accrington’s Graham Lloyd and Lancashire old boy Steve O’Shaughnessy are regular faces on the County Championship circuit now.
Paddy has a calm and engaging manner and he beams with pride when he hands me the souvenir programme for the Bunbury Festival, the under 15 competition that first identified the talents of Ian Bell, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Alastair Cook and Marcus Trescothick.
“Peter Moores, the England coach, told me afterwards that I’d umpired really well there and that meant a heck of a lot,” he said.
“It can be a lonely place, though, especially when you get a decision wrong.
“The hardest thing is coming back from a bad one because the players don’t let you forget it.
“It is tough to do but you have to be mentally strong, put it behind you, and get on with the job.
“But it is all about man-management, having that dialogue with the players.
“Generally, I’ve always found players are understanding, provided you treat them right.”
You’d think it would be a toss-up whether Brown would enjoy playing as much as donning the white coat and saying, ‘Play.’
His answer is a surprising one, though.
“The buzz of playing has gone for me,” he added.
“I was a fair leg-spinner, and played first team for Whalley.
“I managed a third XI game for them last month. I bowled three overs of filth, spent most of the day at second slip and scratched about for 15. I absolutely hated it.
“Umpiring is all I want to do.”
Away from the hullabaloo of decision-making – whether that’s inspecting a raid-sodden track at Bacup or East Lancs or delivering an awkward LBW shout – he enjoys playing the cornet in a local brass band, Darwen Brass.
“We’ve made the National Brass Bands Championships in Cheltenham next month and we’ve enjoyed some good success,” he said. “Playing with the band gives me that winning feeling back that I used to get from playing cricket.”