JAMES Middlebrook will bring down the curtain on his playing career at the end of the season to continue his rise up the umpiring ranks.

The former Yorkshire, Essex and Northamptonshire spinner is already a member of the first-class umpires’ reserve panel while still playing for New Farnley in The All Rounder Cricket Bradford Premier League.

And he officiated at Lord's for the first time recently when he stood in the Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge.

Middlebrook will have 77 days of cricket organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board this summer.

He began planning for his second career in cricket four years ago following discussions with present and past international umpires Richard Kettleborough, Rob Bailey and Peter Willey.

“They encouraged me to stand in local matches to see whether I liked umpiring and Rob and Peter helped me to find matches – club games, youth matches and disability cricket – in and around Northampton on my days off," said Middlebrook.

"I was getting experience of umpiring while I was still playing county cricket.

“I have also spent the last three winters in Australia umpiring out there. The first year I was playing for a club in Melbourne but I also umpired in matches on Sundays and in midweek.

“The last two winters I have been out in Melbourne umpiring from Christmas to March. I have worked my way up and last winter I was umpiring in First Grade cricket.

“When you say that I have gone from playing to the first-class reserve panel in 18 months it sounds quick but I have umpired a lot of matches in the last four years.

“With umpiring in Australia in the winter I have effectively got eight years of experience rolled into four really.”

The 40-year-old expected to start his umpiring career two years ago after he was released by Northamptonshire at the end of the 2014 season.

But he answered a call from Yorkshire’s then captain Andrew Gale and enjoyed a successful swansong in his second spell with his native county with a County Championship title in 2015.

“Chris Kelly, the ECB umpires’ manager, has been a great help. He told me that I should play as long as I could but to get as much umpiring experience as I could,” he said.

“The year I wanted to umpire was 2015 and I got picked up by Yorkshire. Chris allowed me to have my days playing for Yorkshire but I was umpiring in Second XI matches in between.”

In addition to his ECB commitments, Middlebrook is also a member of the Minor Counties umpires’ panel.

Middlebrook admits that there will be things he will miss when he hangs up his bat.

“I will miss the dressing room but I won’t miss the playing or the sore knees. Now I’m umpiring I don’t mind who wins or loses, who gets 100 or nought, as long as I get my decisions are right I don’t care about the result,” he said.

Middlebrook’s story shows what commitment and hard work can be achieved and he has some sensible practical advice for other players who are considering a career as an umpire.

“My advice would be to go and stand at square leg in a schools match or at your local club to see if you can stand there for 20 or 30 overs,” he said.

“They are long days. Every day is a fielder’s day. As a player you get a get a chance to sit down but as an umpire you are always on the field.

“If you find you enjoy umpiring then go searching for your own games. Umpires are always needed so there are plenty of opportunities to gain experience."

Tomorrow Middlebrook will be in action for New Farnley at home to Pudsey Congs.

One of the key games of the day tomorrow sees the bottom two in the top flight, Batley and Pudsey Congs, meet at Mount Pleasant.

Leaders Hanging Heaton visit Lightcliffe while Farsley are at home to Cleckheaton. Woodlands host East Bierley and Townville entertain Bradford & Bingley.