Claire Polosak was a Goulburn teenager with a love of cricket when a schoolmate gave her a new idea for getting involved in the game. “A friend came to school with a flyer and she said ‘Dad says you like cricket, you should give this a go’,” Polosak said. “She thrust the flyer into my face and it was a course for umpiring. So I thought ‘oh I’ll give this a go’ and it grew from there.”
From that abrupt introduction, her career did indeed grow, to the point that Polosak, 29, will on Sunday become the first woman to officiate as an on-field umpire in an Australian domestic men’s fixture – standing with Paul Wilson in the List A contest between New South Wales and a Cricket Australia XI at Hurstville Oval.
In doing so, she will join the likes of Kathy Cross (New Zealand), Jacqueline Williams (West Indies) and Sue Redfern (England) as women to have umpired at the men’s first-class level. Polosak’s progress also follows significant progress for female officiators in other sports. In May, the South Australian Eleni Glouftsis became the first woman to stand as a field umpire in an AFL men’s match.
“A little bit nervous, but if you don’t have a little bit of nerves, you don’t care,” Polosak said in Sydney. “So it’s all about getting all the butterflies going in the same direction. Planning on going out there and having my routines, get through the first ball and go through it from there. I love the challenge, watching balls, being out there, the camaraderie between umpires as you’ve come through is really good, it’s a family, the challenge of having to answer decisions is always good.
“I never played cricket, but I always followed cricket, and my parents got me into it [umpiring], Dad used to drive me up from Goulburn to do the umpires course here. It took a few times to pass but it was something I was determined to do and I just kept working through the grades in Sydney competition.
“I got a phone call from Simon Taufel [to say I would umpire on Sunday]. I followed Simon when I was a lot younger growing up, he was at his peak, so to have the phone call from him was quite special.”
Having umpired men’s and women’s matches extensively, Polosak is in a unique position to compare and contrast. She has found that the women’s game can be more difficult to judge as the high standard of fielding often catches out runners between the wickets, while the greater speed of the ball in men’s matches means that nicks off the edge of the bat can be more easily heard. But either way, she is yet to meet an angry fast bowler or irritated captain she has not been able to “deal with”.
Equally, Polosak has not yet joined other colleagues in wearing much in the way of protective equipment when standing. “Cricket Australia is very open to if you want to wear a helmet or protective equipment, they’re happy to provide that,” she said. “At the moment I’m fortunate that I haven’t been in that situation. But if you’ve got good positioning and watching the ball, hopefully that reduces your chance of any injury.”
Asked whether her pathway had been anymore difficult than for a male equivalent, Polosak paused. “A bit hard to tell, as I’ve come through the grades, I’ve come through at the same speed that players have, so now in first grade in Sydney I’ve seen players I’ve worked with all the way through, so I’m not a novelty anymore,” she said. “The way the appointments work are based on merit, so I can never ask for anything extra.
“I’ve probably had to work a little bit harder [than men] but it’s all part of the enjoyment, and being able to do well makes it even better. It just shows there is a pathway now, there are increased opportunities. Cricket Australia and Cricket NSW are really increasing the amount of support available for female umpires, and I think that’s showing in other sports as well.”
In addition to her own umpiring, Polosak works in female engagement and umpire education at Cricket NSW, where she is intent on building the number of females coming through the ranks of the game’s arbiters. “We’re looking to improve the numbers,” she said. “There’s now an increased awareness of women’s sport and an increased pathway so it’s really exciting.”
As for whether the road, that started with that flyer waved in her face, can lead to standing in a Test match, Polosak said she was not putting any limitations on what could be achieved. “There always is [a dream to umpire a Test match],” she said, “but if you ask players or referees from any sport, you just want to go to the highest possible opportunity that you can.”