Lisa is one of only a few females officiating at a senior level in cricket. Juggling her career and the sport she loves has proven tricky but she’s more than a match for the challenge.

By Raelee Tuckerman

Lisa McCabe is used to turning heads when she strides onto the cricket field and adopts her umpiring position behind the stumps.
Perhaps it’s her ponytail, or the pearl earrings she wears out to the wicket as a tribute to her late grandmother, who fostered her love of the gentleman’s game. Most likely, it’s that Lisa is one of only a handful of Victorian females officiating at senior level, and the first to ever take charge of a men’s cricket match in Bendigo.
“Umpiring can be terrifying, but exciting at the same time and being out there puts a smile on my face,” says the 35-year-old of her pioneering role upholding the laws of the game.
“You might know all the rules in book form, but it is very different when you’re out in the middle and a bowled ball bounces twice and everyone looks at you – you have to recall the rule immediately and make a decision.”
Cricket has always been close to Lisa’s heart. While she never played competitively, it was a big part of her life growing up in the small Wimmera town of Apsley.
“I always wanted to play, and remember throwing a tantrum in grade six because mum wouldn’t let me attend a coaching clinic,” she laughs. “My brother Steve was a very good country cricketer and I probably hit the ball around the backyard with him. Nan and Pop would take me to watch him play and I also had this summer ritual with my grandmother where we’d sit and wonder what gum Aussie captain Mark Taylor was chewing at first slip.”
Lisa began umpiring after moving to Bendigo to work as a chef at local café Percy and Percy in 2015, wanting an outdoor activity to occupy her time away from the kitchen.
“My friend Paula Shay is a footy umpire and she suggested I take that up. But I can’t run and I love watching footy too much that I didn’t think I could umpire it, so Paula said, ‘you love cricket too, why don’t you umpire that?’
“She planted the seed and is now my number one supporter when it comes to pushing myself and taking it to the next level when the opportunities come along.”
Lisa completed a six-week winter course on the rules before her debut during the 2015-16 season and is still proudly pushing the boundaries of what women can contribute to cricket.
Her achievements include being part of the first female umpiring duo at Bendigo Country Week, the first Victorian woman to officiate at the national under-18 girls’ carnival, and, significantly, the first female to control a Bendigo association First XI match.
Cricket Victoria this season appointed her to both men’s and women’s Premier League umpiring panels in Melbourne, offering her an elite development pathway.
This posed a dilemma more difficult than any decision she’s had to make on the field, and one she’s dealt with several times before: how to combine cricket with her cheffing career.
“Percy and Percy have been amazing and I couldn’t have come this far without them,” she says, highlighting how owners Elisha and Dan Bahen readily agreed to her stepping down from sous chef to go part-time, approved leave during busy periods so she could attend extended cricket carnivals, and gave her every weekend off.
“That rarely happens in this industry and I don’t think I’d get that anywhere else, but my biggest challenge will be to see if I can make it work, as I still have to earn a living.
“I’ve been to the top of the tree in cheffing, having worked for Heston Blumenthal in England, now it’s time to see how far I can go umpiring.”
Lisa has also enjoyed incredible support from the Bendigo umpiring body and co-ordinator Paul Abbott, as well as her mentor Peter “Crow” Bennett, former state umpire manager Richard Patterson and a long list of local players who have welcomed her into the fold and offered plenty of friendly advice.
There have been a few sledges directed her way, too, but the tough country girl allows most to go straight through to the keeper.
“I had one team ask if my eyes were in my handbag. And at my first T20 game someone called out ‘The CWA mustn’t be meeting tonight’. I just burst out laughing.
“A lot of people have never seen a female umpire before. I went back to winter classes again this season and was sitting in the room with 150 men, when I got asked (innocently) by a gentleman if I was there to take notes for my husband!”
Other memorable moments include presiding over a “Mankad dismissal” in women’s Premier League seconds (where a bowler controversially removes the bails to run out the non-striker), and an under-18 women’s T20 match that ended in a tie, requiring her to conduct a “super over” to decide the winner. Watching on that day was national umpire coach Ian Lock and Lisa’s idol, Claire Polosak, Australia’s premiere female umpire who has controlled international women’s and first-class men’s domestic games. No pressure!
But Lisa’s undoubted highlights have been finally breaking through to earn a First XI men’s match and the Country Week game where she partnered former English international player Helen Wardlaw, who now also umpires in Bendigo.
“We made history, Helen and I, and that’s when I knew I truly belonged in the game.”
Lisa dreams of one day being part of an all-female team at a men’s Sheffield Shield or Big Bash game, where the two field umpires and the third and fourth umpires are all women. “That’s my ultimate goal. I’d love to umpire overseas, but while it’s OK to have aspirations, whether they are achievable is another thing.
“Cricket’s glass ceiling is as thick as a concrete slab. There are currently about eight women Australia-wide standing on it chipping away with a pick axe. I want to join them and start really cracking through it. I want it to be normal that females umpire cricket.”