One for the road

The medium pacer with the nagging line and length is getting on the batter’s nerves. The bowler is too good for him. The fifth ball beats him and right on cue the bowler follows through with the stand-and-stare routine while the batter practises the shot he really meant to play, but of course playing it properly was way beyond his pay scale. One ball to go and I’ll be at square leg thinking about what I have to do at work on Monday morning (bad practice, we are trained to give the same concentration while standing at the batter’s end as we do at the bowler’s end. But when the keeper is standing back I have found that square leg provides the perfect habitat for a spot of R&R).

As the sixth ball of the over is delivered, fate conspires against me. The ground is situated close to an A road and even on a Saturday there are enough wagons and testosterone-fuelled bikers to break the decibel limit at best and sound barrier at worst. This ain’t no quaint village cricket club, this is hardcore concrete territory on the outskirts of a town where a factory has been built – presumably because of its proximity to the A road.

There is a loud appeal for caught behind as bowler, keeper, slips, long leg, tea ladies and two old blokes walking their dogs go up in choreographed unison as if directed by Busby Berkeley. The problem for me is that a truck driver who is hurtling down the A road chooses that very moment of the alleged offence of bat on ball, to sound the horn. If he had forgotten his lunch box when leaving home, or stopped for cuppa in one of those makeshift snack stops on the A road (usually with a corrugated roof emblazoned with the word ‘Tea’s’ – yes I am aware the apostrophe is misplaced), I would have been in the perfect situation to make a decision. But at this precious moment I was entrusted with making a judgement when the only evidence to give the batter out was the near orgasmic pleading of the bowler and keeper (with the greatest respect to the two fellows, hardly DNA material).

The batter stands and hopes and I’m having none of it. How the hell can I hear anything with the Grand Prix on the A road? ‘Not out. Over bowled,’ I announce. My colleague, walking in from square leg points to his right ear to confirm he couldn’t hear anything. Cue the the tiresome guilt tripping of the batter who is out for a few more pretty soon after the incident and is given a less than polite send-off peppered with gerunds along with advice on how to get rid of the evidence on the edge of the bat.

The incident has no influence on the game’s outcome. But the same finger of fate is at work after the game. Approaching my car, I encounter the wicket keeper and team-mate about to set off. The wicket keeper eases the passenger window down. “Thanks umps, hope to see you later in the season,” he says in tone of voice that suggests he might not actually mean it. And purely for quality control purposes I ask him with a faint smile: “Honestly, did he really hit it?”

“No idea umps, couldn’t hear a thing.”

At least Dick Turpin wore a mask.




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  1. I’ve always wondered how umpires can hear anything in a noisy ground. Must be giving faint edges the decision based on sight alone – hard.

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Cricket’s Village People – Macho Macho Man

The first of a regular blog on players’ behaviour

The visitors are batting second and are around 40 runs away from chasing down around 250 with plenty of wickets in hand. The game is in the bag. A right-hand-left hand batting combo need a sight screen moving. It’s a nickel and dime situation normally dealt with immediately; a couple of fielders get the screen moved, and on we go.

But once again, the psychopathy of a league cricketer determines that a polite request can become a potential heated incident. As fortune would not have it on this occasion, there is a perfect storm of no fielder being near and a posse from the batting side enjoying a stroll who happened to find themselves next to the screen.

The captain of the fielding team shouts a polite request to the posse paraphrased as follows: “Guys, would a couple of you mind moving the screens.” No response. The captain, moving a tad nearer to the posse, tries again – still no response.  The head honcho of the posse then crosses the boundary rope and in a ‘this-town’s-not-big-enough-for-both-of-us’ posture declares: “Come and fu*king make me.”

At that point I had a vision of my missus asking me to pass her a ball of wool for her latest handicraft project while I’m watching Match of the Day and me saying ‘come and fu*king make me’ before I am impaled by a single point needle while the missus is telling the ambulance service ‘there is a lot of blood….but take as long as you need to, I appreciate how busy you guys are’.

It took a few seconds for the fielders to digest the situation which gave me a enough time to hot foot it over to the posse and tell the head honcho that if he wanted to play further games this and next season, he should move the screen and apologise to to the fielding captain, which he did, saying they were only ‘having a larf’.

While noting the absurd reaction and comment of the head honcho, the fielding captain could easily have calmed the situation by instructing a couple of fielders to move the screens. By choosing not to, the captain agreed to enter the potential conflict with the danger of the situation ‘unravelling’.

Captaincy is a crucial part of a cricket match’s dynamics. I have noticed that the captains who take what might be described as a poor decision by the umpire (never from myself, of course) on the chin and carry on with the game, tend to lead teams that are more successful. A case in point happened in 2016 in a game I remember well. I turned down a marginal LBW decision from the skipper. The batter went on to make another 40-plus runs so it could have been costly. But instead of throwing his toys out of the cot, the decision stimulated the captain to rally his troops who bowled and fielded better in the latter part of the innings and comfortably chased down the target. The message is clear, think before you act – especially where you are minded to react.

The shock element was not so much that the sight screen incident took place, rather that it took place in the context of the match where the head honcho’s team are winning by a mile (and win they did). The issue here is what turns a perfectly decent guy outside the boundary rope into one with concerning personality issues as soon as his right foot lands inside the playing area.









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No logos

There are many reasons why I enjoy umpiring, but the one that gives me most satisfaction is the support provided by my local association of umpires. From training to advice, from camaraderie to caring, every time I cross the boundary rope with a colleague, I feel I have a wonderful association behind me. The courses they run are superb and they have helped me no end.

I am also generally happy with the English Cricket Board (ECB) Association of Cricket Officials (ACO) the national body that represents umpires and scorers. For a £30 per year membership, I am fully insured and enjoy receiving a well presented monthly magazine.

But to be brutally honest, I have some reservations about ECB, most of which revolve around its ‘provision’ of on and off-field gear where I think the Board is  taking the proverbial urine sample. Let me start this finger wagging by stating that no umpire I have met is doing the job for ‘the money’. Yes, we are remunerated for leaving the house at around 11am and returning around nine hours later a sum, that when you factor in petrol or train fares, amounts to around £3 an hour. I think we can safely say that money is not the reason we do the job.

So it is with some angst that I present you with the following delicacies available in the ECBACO online catalogue.  For £95 you can proudly sport ECB, ACO and supplier Duncan Fearnley logos on a woolen sweater (just what you need on a hot July afternoon, of course). Fancy a holdall to carry your stuff from the jar to the pavilion? At Sports Direct (my personal outfitters) you pay £10 with the SD logo, in the ACO catalogue you pay £60. (But of course, you have the honour and privilege of carrying the ECB, ACO and Duncan Fearnley logos on your hike of 15 metres).

But the mother of all offers is the staggering £475 (I repeat, £475) ‘offer’ in the ‘Match II Ultimate Pack’. This pot-pourri of goodies includes the big hitting on-field jacket, trousers, shirt, sweater (nope, not the £95 woolen one, rather the one that will give you an afternoon of electric shocks to help you concentrate harder with the sassy leg-spinner at your end), ball counter (from 0.99p on Amazon), bails (from £3.22 on Amazon) and a towel to keep the ball dry (free from home, but without the ECB, ACO and Duncan Fearnley logos).

I have cosied up to colleagues (some of the umpires’ changing rooms are really cosy, believe me) who come bedecked from head to toe with the three logos. That’s fine, people can spend their money how they want, but I am happy to take the field without logos and savings that will go a long way to paying for a fortnighlty trip to the cinema.

I took this issue up with an extremely jolly fellow manning the Duncan Fearnley stand at the ACO’s annual meeting at Lord’s some years ago. There were some excellent keynote speeches from famous cricket doyens that day and we got a tour of the Lord’s pavilion along with posh sandwiches and biscuits that you can only get in Waitrose. Back to my jolly friend – he agreed the prices were high but said that the ECB demanded a high rate for use of their logo on the merchandise (an interesting point for an organisation that turned over around £172m in 2018-19).

So to the ECB I say this. Given that your 2020-2024 broadcasting deal is worth £1.1bn and you are charging around £100 a day per ticket to watch the World Cup and Ashes (and if I want to watch the World Cup and Ashes live on TV, I have to stump up a few hundred a year to Sky, who are the main payers of the above broadcasting deal), how about a little gesture to the men and women who ensure every game of cricket is properly officiated. For the effort we put in, for the lip and flak we take, for the courses and training we do (and pay for), for the intense concentration over around 600 balls a match; for our dedication to the great game of cricket – for all of this and a whole lot more, how about getting on the dog and bone to Duncan Fearnley and instructing them to provide free of charge a once-only ‘Match II Ultimate Pack’ to every qualified umpire in the country. I’m sure you can get a good deal on the usage of the ECB logo.



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From slips to cover, the field-good factor

When I first started playing league cricket in the 1970s you would turn up to the nets in April, have a bat and bowl ready for the first match in May. There was no knowledge or perception of ‘match fitness’, indeed the newspaper representing the county I supported would run a pre-season photograph of the pros jogging around a wet county ground outfield in an assortment of ill-fitting tracksuits usually accompanied by a headline like ‘Ready for action’.

In those days there were a number of top players whose girth would merit an automatic disqualification in today’s game. The likes of Colin Cowdrey, David Shepherd, Colin Milburn and Phil Sharpe carrying all those kilos would never have made one of those sliding stops a few metres from the boundary or been one of a double act tag-team catching card trick beyond and inside the rope.

In all the years I played league cricket the level of fielding was generally poor from the slippers to the cover fielders and beyond. It seemed to be a given in league cricket (and indeed in some first class quarters) that average fielding was something you just put up with. Sure, there was an occasional great run-out as the cover fielder gathered the ball cleanly and ran out the striker with a direct hit, but those kinds of incidents were as rare as a camel wandering onto the pitch (I must tell you about that incident in a later blog). My memory of league cricket as a player was seeing regulation catches spilled, shots hit directly to a fielder sailing over the rope a few second later and throws from the boundary taking around twenty minutes to reach the keeper.

And it gives me great pleasure to report that league cricket fielding is so much improved today it is hard to believe the guys are playing the same game as I did.  At each game I am greeted by a posse of A-list Hollywood stars with arms like tree trunks and the kind of strength you see on reality shows where people are dragging trucks across the Sahara. In my day, the pre-match warm-up was a quick Silk Cut in front of the pavilion followed by a couple of catches in the outfield. Today, it’s an SAS-style pot-pourri of sprints, squats, ballistic throws to the keeper and push-ups for anyone who drops a catch, all coordinated by a sports scientist and director of cricket. In play, I am regularly called on to judge run-outs where the chance of one happening  goes from impossible to probable as a fielder dives and throws down the stumps. Balls that are hit like a tracer bullet are plucked off the ground with one hand and catches to the deep are rarely spilled. I regularly do a crude calculation of runs saved by fielding in an innings and it can amount to 30-plus.

Clearly clubs are working on their fielding as much as their batting and bowling. And it is good to see that cricket TV coverage (if you can afford it) is giving the right kind of role model message with the magic powers of today’s top players in the field. I will come onto sledging in a future blog – that kind of nonsense is not a good role model for club cricket, and it has made its way into the recreational game. But to see a team of amateurs successfully emulating IPL billionaire fielders is brilliant.

So while I take my hat off to modern league cricket fielding there is one area of the art that really annoys me. These days, the most innocuous drive played directly to a fielder at say mid-off or cover point is greeted by a cacophony of ‘great fielding Jonesy, Smithy, Big Al’ when even in my day that kind of regulation fielding was within the capability reach of a a bloke the size of a person today featured on Britain’s Fight with Fat.

So ‘give it up’ for the UK’s league cricketers and their meteoric rise to fielding fame. As I watch your acrobatic dexterity I recall how I wasted my years standing in the same spot as you. As you all know, I am neutral so cannot possibly shower you with praise. So please do not pass this on, but I really admire you all.




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Baby you can drive my carbs

Go into any league cricket club and you will find a well stocked and equipped bar serving a variety of beers and spirits. So why is it that what you drink after the match can sometimes be given more importance than what you digest in the tea interval?

The quintessential club cricket tea image of a steaming tea pot (note, not an urn), home-made scones, jam tarts, sandwiches generously filled with an assortment of egg, tomato, cheese, chutney and ham – all washed down with a proper cup of tea is embedded in cricket folklore. But as with much of modern life, for some clubs, the tea interval has become transformed from a delightful half-hour break of rest and merriment into a cricketing dystopia involving a 20-minute binge of comfort food purchased from the local supermarket at best.

It is extremely rare to come away from a league match feeling satiated after treading extremely carefully around a minefield of sausage rolls, mini rolls, imitation Kit Kats and miserable white bread sandwiches which, had they been served in prison, would have precipitated a riot. And to compound the felony, some clubs feel no shame in presenting a cup of tea as some kind of capability test consisting of a tea bag, urn, plastic carton of milk with a sell-by date in Latin and the real touch of class – stir-it-yourself plastic spoon.

Is this desecration of a hallowed tradition really about saving money (an excuse I hear time and again from club officials)? Actually, no. There are some clubs who know how to do it right, and by that I am not only talking about the food. For me, the ceremony and organisation are equally important.

So when I am dispatched to a particular club that understands the difference between a Wetherspoons’ gut-wrenching curry and a Michelin Star pub lunch, I eagerly anticipate the assignment, because tea there is an experience to savour. After the delicious (and bountiful) rounds of sandwiches, the tea ladies (two or three mums of the players) come round with trays filled with an appealing melange of scones, cakes and buns. “A slice of jam sponge umps? I made it myself.”  The frisson is tangible as I hold out my plate: “Well if you made it yourself my dear, it would be impolite to refuse. My goodness, that’s a generous piece.”

As a bare minimum, every tea should allocate a table for umpires and scorers. I don’t particularly mind the queue for the smorgasboard  but it’s a tad awkward sitting next to the village blacksmith half an hour after I sent him packing with a close LBW (especially if  I am also savouring the delights of a Poundland custard cream). The cost of plastic tablecloths, bread from the local bakery (or even the Tesco in-house version), teapots and home-made cakes is surely worth the expenditure. Can we also dispense with the paper or plastic plates and cups typically found and used in fast food outlets and replace them with appropriate cutlery and crockery? Do we really have to put up with chemically induced supermarket pizzas or sausage rolls? Why are salads and fresh fruit regularly banished from cricket pavilions? And what is the obsession with cheap crisps and Hula Hoops? As it stands, cricket teas are winning the arms race carbs war by a distance.

There are simple ways to improve the cricket tea. And it needs to start at the top. Just as there are guidelines for sightscreens and boundary markings, so there should be minimum standards for what constitutes a decent tea. Clubs could promote an initiative with a College and invite students on a Professional Cookery Btec to provide teas; a local restaurant could provide ideas for a tea in return for catering a club’s AGM.

I am not looking for PR gimmicks, rather I am looking for some clubs to raise their catering game so that there is a level playing field and standard that makes all the cricketing stakeholders happy.


  1. This also alludes to the amount of wasteful, single use, packaging that no doubt accompanies these horror offerings. A no-ball to all of that, my son.

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Able was I ‘ere I saw LB

The human mind is capable of orchestrating the juggling many balls at the same time (search jugglers on Britain’s Got Talent, or just take my word for it). Most ordinary Joes would find juggling balls a difficult enough task but those same Joes when donning the whites have little truck with my contention that interpreting Law 36 (Leg Before Wicket) is almost impossible if accuracy of decision-making is the main criteria.

Before the bowler delivers the ball, I am watching out for back-foot placement, front-foot placement, bowler action, follow-through keeping out of the protected area of the pitch, trajectory of ball, where it pitches and its journey after pitching, how dangerous it may be, whether the batter at the bowler’s end is trying to steal a cheeky metre. And with all of that neatly stored in my consciousness, was the impact on the pad direct or was it a bat snick onto the pad?

With all of these stipulations you might think wonder whether deciding on the village blacksmith’s fate after going through the above list in a few seconds is a less preferable way to spend a Saturday afternoon than an  expedition to the tundra of Ikea with the missus. Judging an LBW is not an exact science, it is a judgement based on evidence, knowledge and experience of Law 36 and its caveats.

It’s interesting how bowlers, batters, fielders (even those with a perfect view of LBW at long leg) have wide interpretations of Law 36. The bowler thinks he has caught a burglar running out of his house carrying a 50-inch TV but with so many mitigating circumstances, LBW is is a defence barrister’s Shangri-la and if there is any doubt, it ain’t going to be out. In the few seconds I have to ruin the blacksmith’s weekend, I run over the forensics in my mind:

  1. Did the ball pitch outside leg stump? If so, the batter is not out.
  2. Was the impact of the ball outside the line of off stump and was the batter playing a shot? If so, the batter is not out.
  3. After impact of ball hitting pad (assuming 1 and 2 are sorted) is the ball heading for the stumps?
There are other factors that mitigate in favour of the batter,  the main one being the prevalence of some league bowlers’ inability to bowl a ball that would make the LBW director’s cut. The same Law 36 apply to Shane Warne and the village shoesmith but Warney bowling to Sachin Tendulkar would tax Aleem Dar more than the shoesmith bowling to the blacksmith taxes me.

The only way to deal with an LBW decision is to ignore the screaming bowler, wicket keeper, fielder and tea lady (and of course the batter examining the edge of his bat) and take a few seconds to reconstruct the crime scene before delivering your verdict.

Reactions from batters given out are worse than from bowlers who tend to take a rejected appeal as part of their shift on the coal face. Sometimes a wicket keeper backs me up, telling the skipper: “It was high” or “going down leg”. Quite. So why appeal if you know it was not out? (I think we know the answer to that question).

Batters of course are never out LBW. It wasn’t me guv; I wouldn’t get on the back foot to that kind of delivery; it pitched a mile outside leg stump; if you couldn’t hear the nick of bat onto ball then you shouldn’t be umpiring; way too high umps (defiant in his belief the impact was just below the left nipple).

I am rarely kept awake worrying about umpiring decisions but out of the 40,000-plus balls I have been in charge of at the bowler’s end in league games, I occasionally muse over certain judgements.

An LBW decision I am now sure I got wrong came during my first season as a panel umpire where I gave the batter not out on a strong appeal. A useful right-arm medium-pace bowler was all over this middle order batter like a cheap suit, beating him every other ball. It was one of those appeals that came with all the trimmings – wicket keeper screaming with both arms pointing to a superior force in the sky and the bowler, having examined the damage, turning round, going down on one knee and beckoning me Pavarotti style.

My initial inclination was to give it as it met all the criteria (legal delivery, pitched on off and impacted just below the knee roll of the front-foot pad). But in the few post-impact seconds my thought process determined that something was not quite right and I persuaded myself that the impact may have been just outside the off stump and the batter did attempt to to play a front foot defensive shot. I had allowed myself to find a reason not to give it. For some reason, I didn’t have the balls and that is a more important part of the umpire’s learning curve – understanding why you make certain decisions, rather than reflecting on the decision itself.

One I got right stayed with me for my own most unprofessional reaction. In my first post-qualifying apprentice season in the lower divisions of the league – before I became a panel umpire – I gave a batter out LBW (impact on back foot heading for lower part of middle stump having pitched on middle). As the batter reluctantly trudged away from the crease he said: “I hit it.”

“Get the local paper on Friday, sonny,” I replied. And you’ll see that you didn’t.”
















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Friendlies – just not cricket

It is a reasonable assumption that during the months of May through to mid September if so inclined, an umpire could find a game seven days a week. Aside from Saturday league games (my preferred choice) there is a vibrant Sunday league circuit, county or association representative games, university games, high-profile corporate games between bankers and spankers and what I politely refer to as ‘gin and tonic’ cricket (aka friendlies). With a match fee and carbs-heavy tea, you could make a kind of living from the summer months. But that has never been for me. I’m a Saturday league umpire – nothing else interests me.

I am not against the concept of a friendly if it is played in the right context. So a pre-season match between two clubs in the same league is good for getting the gears moving and finding out whether the Aussie overseas player is as much of a real deal as his winter nets promised. And cricketing charity fundraisers are welcome additions to the summer collection, especially when a celebrity turns his arm over. But I draw a line on the ubiquitous friendly without a cause – I’ve umpired a few and disliked the experiences from beginning to end.

There is something missing from any contest where nothing is at stake. What is lacking in quality at the lower end of the league cricket pyramid is more than made up for in the storyline, tension and drama of a league match. Captains of Saturday league teams are plotting and scheming how to win (and lose) the next match from Wednesday onwards. There are points and reputation at stake as players react to the pressure. A friendly, by its very definition, bears no resemblance to league cricket. It’s a platonic version of a passionate affair – there is literally no point to it.

A prime example of this is MCC games. I would not want to become a member of MCC but I have no problem with people who do. I admire their commitment to the cause with some of them chalking off thousands of days of waiting until they are welcomed to the most famous cricket club in the world. But here is the rub – turn up at any MCC match to umpire (I’ve done around 10)  and what you get is a collection of immaculately scrubbed-up players, all of whom adhere to the dress code of shirt, bacon and egg tie and slacks with a gentlemanly approach to their opponents (usually a club side). What is lacking in abundance, however, is the edge that defines a contest.

The same bowler who trundles in to deliver mediocrity for an MCC Sunday friendly will have have steamed in with a raft of toxic deliveries for his league club the day before. The fielder who would throw himself at a ball to save a run on a Saturday is sufficiently satisfied with a cursory Sunday bend of the back as the ball continues its journey to the rope. The same turned-down caught behind appeal in the league game on the Saturday that was met with seething rage will provoke nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders on the Sunday.

And whatever the state of the game, by the time the last hour approaches, batters, fielders and umpires have no appetite for the cricket as they imagine themselves holding a tipple of choice in the club bar.

My dalliance with umpiring such games came to an abrupt end following a theatre- -of-the-absurd incident which encapsulates the friendly cricket zeitgeist. A good League club were hosting a team whose surname was Wanderers. And wanderers they were too, being one of those cricket clubs which only played friendlies forgoing the thrill of meaningful chases.

I was already regretting my decision to stand in this game as I had to keep both ends burning due to the non-arrival of my colleague (interestingly a not uncommon problem with friendly matches). The home club, which boasted a strong team in the top tier of their league, gave eleven from their seconds and thirds an opportunity to prove themselves and after a few overs it was clear they were going to get a lot of runs and lose very few wickets – something close to 300 with five down after 50 overs.

On a flat track and against a variable quality of bowling the Wanderers were struggling at fifty for three in their reply. But the number three batter had accumulated a fast thirty and while not having the poise and follow-through of Tom Graveney, he was blessed with the kind of hand-eye coordination that could have seen him chewing tobacco in major league baseball or having a hill named after him at Wimbledon. An hour later he was still there having regularly smacked the ball to the rope while a succession of mates kept the crease warm for him at the other end.

At around 150-6 the odds were still stacked against the Wanderers and then our major league hero nicked off to slip who did his chances of being selected for the firsts no harm by holding onto a difficult catch. Having left highly incriminating bright red evidence on the side of the bat (not to mention a loud nick that could well have carried to the pavilion car park) it was not necessary for me to raise my finger to confirm the catch. But the batter stood his ground, so I raised my finger. And he still stood his ground. Then the captain of the fielding side approached me and said that the game would be over very quickly if Jo DiMaggio was given out, so could I reconsider my decision?

How very convivial.











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Baseball cap and roll-ups

The old English Cricket Board (ECB) Level 1 umpiring course was excellent, although the emphasis on Laws over match management compromised my confidence in the first couple of seasons. After passing the exam I decided to serve an apprenticeship in a lower division of the league.  Panel umpires were not sent to officiate at this humble level so each club had to provide its own umpire. Over those three years, I reckon about 30 per cent of my match-day colleagues had done the Level 1 course, the other 70 per cent were made up of club officials, players’ mates who fancied umpiring and a raft of other good folk who enjoyed an afternoon away from the missus.

And with the greatest respect to my colleagues in the 40-plus games I umpired over the three seasons some who stood with me really tested my patience. Flip-flops, shorts, baseball cap the wrong way round were the de rigeur dress code with the mother of all two fingers up at the system being awarded to the ‘colleague’ who at least used initiative in actually finding a makeshift ball counter. But seriously mate, moving six roll-ups from one pocket of your jeans to the other (not to mention lighting one up at the fall of a wicket) to count the balls in an over does not quite fit the zeitgeist in upholding more than 200 years of tradition.

In my first few weeks on the job I had an unwelcome episode with a former pro who was patrolling the mid-wicket area, which as you all know is the perfect view to judge a close LBW. A raucous appeal went up and I rejected it, not because I was the batting side umpire, but because it was high. At the end of the over the said player ambled over to me and asked in a polite voice: “So which one of the three stumps wasn’t that ball hitting umps?” Instead of giving the player a warning (Law42, Players’ conduct)  I spluttered out some nonsense about it being a bit high. I had experienced my first bit of lip and had got drawn into a contretemps (not a good look).

At this level, the game is still called cricket but to borrow a well-known idiom, it’s just not cricket. Because how can you call a bowler chucking down four cow pats an over as cricket, a batter swinging at thin air ball after ball and a fielder screaming ‘mine’ and then not attempting to catch the ball? If I had thought there was hope of redemption – that some of the players might have made it higher up the league pyramid or some keen juniors were coming through the ranks  – I would not be so harsh. But there was nothing. The same routine prevailed; the captain complaining that his opening pace bowler (hahahaha) was at a stag weekend in Prague so he had persuaded Geoff to play. Ah yes, the owes-you-a-favour Geoff coming off a night shift resurfacing a motorway and turning out in whites that were extremely tight jeans (more Faberge than Fearnley), and who spent most of his afternoon in the outfield adjusting his gonads.

And there was very rarely a battle between bat and ball or a tense finish. A half decent team would rattle up 250-plus and the journeymen I was umpiring for would be 90-odd all out. And those journeymen would inflict the same kind of damage on – perish the thought – even worse players. But who cares? They served the best tea in the division (come to think of it, in the league) and the bar was bouncing at the end of play.

So after three seasons I said goodbye to this friendly and jovial set of guys and prepared myself for the high-roller games with two qualified and neutral umpires, two qualified scorers, prepared wickets (not Anzio beach) and a minimum of four good deliveries per over.

Be careful what you wish for.


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The sun occasionally sets on the British umpire

It is around 7.20pm on a glorious July evening and I am standing in a league match between neighbouring small towns in the third tier of the league. The final two overs are about to begin. Chasing 230, the batting side are 215-8. All three results are possible (decisive, draw and tie). The tension is palpable, there are around 50 people watching from a raucous bar area overlooking the ground. It has been a superb game of ebb-and-flow league cricket played in the best of spirits. I glance over to my colleague who is taking the bowler’s end for this penultimate over and we both smile. We know what is at stake.

The ninth wicket falls in the second ball of the final over, a neat catch taken by first slip. In walks the number 11, a forty-something half-decent pace bowler who can hold a bat without the scorers needing to sharpen their pencils. This is what makes cricket such a great game; four deliveries will determine an outcome of the previous 596 reminding me of of Jim Peters’ heroics at the 1954 Vancouver Commonwealth Games.  The batter plays two of the balls with the confidence and technical skill of a number nine, allows the other two go and local bragging rights for the coming year are shared after this hard-fought draw.

After the handshakes a remarkable thing happened. Both teams gave myself and my colleague a guard of honour into the pavilion as the bar – now in a state of frenzy – cheered us in. It had been a perfect day of cricket. But out of the 130 or so Saturday league matches I have officiated, this is the only one I recall as perfect, an uncannily out-of-sync statistic in a cohort made up of the mundane and unsatisfactory.

It took me around five seasons to understand that umpiring a cricket match is around 20 per cent about administration of the Laws and 80 per cent about management of people and their expectations. Because what use is an exact interpretation of Law 36 (LBW) when I am asked by a club chairman to ‘come behind the pavilion for a chat’ after giving his captain out to a ball that would have hit the middle of middle stump? Why am I castigated for not giving a batter out caught behind when all I can hear at the time of the alleged contact is an Eddie Stobart articulated lorry hurtling over a by-pass. Why would a captain mark myself and colleague down for calling off a match on a square that resembled an Olympic diving pool? How does the gentleman who approached a young incoming batter with ‘the next ball’s gonna put you in A&E’ sleep at night? (Very well I expect).  These peccadillos – and there are hundreds more – beg a question that requires an answer.

Why the hell do we do it?








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