THERE will surely come a time in the near future when Michael Gough picks up the Michael Gough Umpire of the Year award.

The former Durham opener has just been awarded the accolade, voted for by players and presented by the Professional Cricketers’ Association, for an unprecedented eighth year in a row. No-one has achieved the feat before.

Gough is currently on his way to Australia, where he will take charge of their forthcoming One-Day International series with South Africa.

He travels with his stock on the rise.

“It means so much when it’s voted by for the players and to win it eight times in a row gives you so much confidence that when you turn up to umpire, you are doing a half-reasonable job,’’ he reflected.

“It’s all about respect in sport and I enjoy turning up at all levels, regardless of the game be it international, championship or second XI. Whatever game it is, I treat it the same way.

“I’ve been ribbed by other umpires for my awards – anyone who has been involved in sport at any level knows what goes on. It’s part of it. We have a great group around the world – domestically and internationally and you need a sense of humour to do it.’’

Gough, 39, started out as an opener with Durham. But he fell out of love with playing the sport and left his home county in 2003.

After toying with the idea of becoming a footballer – he did have trials with Arsenal before deciding on cricket as a teenager – he settled on overseeing games. An international with the England Under-19s in his playing days, he’s now well and truly on the international circuit.

He admitted: “The last ten years have been a whirlwind since I started with the ECB in 2009 and then joining the international panel in 2013. It is pretty much all year round for me now, being on the international panel.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way and the level I am working at now is enjoyable. I’m learning all the time in matches and around the game by working with the best umpires in the world.’’

That knowledge and experience could be put to the test in the coming weeks. When Australia met South Africa last winter, the whole outlook of the sport changed with the Aussies guilty of ball tampering.

Cricket Australia have changed their philosophy completely in the months since, trying to instil values of sportsmanship rather than being willing to push the boundaries as far as they could, and beyond.

Gough, who will oversee the three ODIs starting in Perth on December 4, added: “I don’t know what could happen in Australia. As an umpire I go into every game thinking to expect the unexpected. If I went in with a mindset that this will happen or that could take place, both teams will be on their best behaviour then you could be totally unprepared for it.

“It will be a competitive series and one I’m looking forward to. It’s nice that the ICC have the confidence to give me such a series.

“It’s all eyes open and see what happens when the first ball is bowled.’’

He added: “I think the Aussies have changed their outlook. Since what happened in South Africa, they have tried to change the whole picture, not only at Test level in the country but at junior level, right from top to bottom.

“There’s no bigger team in Australia than their cricket team – the sport means so much to them and the Baggy Green, to get that is what every kid who plays aspires to. It may change the way they play and behave.’’

Gough stood down from playing simply because he wasn’t enjoying it. The game has changed in more ways than one since his final knock.

Not only has the short-form of the game been introduced and taken off, there’s been a shift in how teams prepare for a day in the field.

As someone who has been part of the sport from two different perspectives over the last 20 years and more, Gough is ideal to reflect on the alterations.

“It’s a different sport now to when I started,’’ he said. “Look at the professionalism in the game. When I started the first thing we did after a day’s play was McDonald’s or McDonald’s after the pub.

“The shift is huge - now after a day’s cricket you walk through the dressing room and it’s ice bath, prepared meals for refuelling and in the past it was a few beers from the fridge and a bar of chocolate.

“There’s more backroom staff than players in some cases. There’s conditioning coaches, some have their own chefs, masseurs – and the difference from years ago to now is that it’s very much more professional now with a win at all costs attitude.’’

He added: “The sport itself, the game of cricket, has evolved for the better. Counties around the world were struggling with only Test and One-day cricket, but now it’s T20 competitions around the world and we have the new tournament starting in 2020 – people can’t get enough of it.

“When the short-format was first introduced there was plenty of spectators who weren’t convinced by it, but now there’s so much entertainment value that the old school sort of Test followers appreciate the game in all formats.’’

So could Gough the opener of some promise in his youth still be playing the game at the top level today?

“Never say never, because you always think you could be adaptable,’’ he admitted. “Whatever sport you play at whatever level there’s the willingness to change. I was known as an opener, a stonewaller who could block ball after ball after ball.

“But now I look at it and there’s times when I stand in the middle as an umpire I feel I could play – that’s why I’ve never officially retired! I’m still available… one day, put the pads on, get my football boots on again….

“You always think you can and want to and while the body is half-willing there’s the thought.’’

Gough was part of the fabled Academy at Durham, the constant production line which led to the first team and beyond.

One of his compatriots, former teammate and close friend has ended an era at Emirates Riverside with his retirement.

Ironically, as Paul Collingwood left the field for the final time in September, bowled for ten runs, it was Gough’s raised finger which brought the end to the most illustrious of North-East sporting careers.

Gough recalled: “I was umpire at his last game and it was weird. I made by debut in May 98 against Essex and Paul played in the game. We go back to the Durham Academy and when I started doing international games around the world, he has been there. We have tended to be on the same flight at times and been close – best part of 25-30 years together.

“Umpiring his last game was strange, it was strange to think that when he walked off that was it after all the years we played together. He’s a legend for what he has achieved for Durham and England.

“It’s a bit sad in a way, but I’m sure he will be a success in his new career. I’m sure he will do very well in a coaching capacity.

“You felt he would play forever. I left Durham aged 23 and you never seem to leave it. I came out of cricket and wanted to have a go at football again. I felt I had ten years playing ahead of me and now here I am aged 39 and I would have been finished for years by now.

“It’s a short life-span as a professional sportsman. As an umpire I’m still probably the youngest on the ECB and ICC panel and that’s with years under my belt. I’ve build up experience and I would love to be on the elite panel and step up from the emerging panel, but there’s no desperation there – I just want to go out there, do a good job and be recognised for that. Then it’s up to other people to decide.’’