One for the road

Everything can change at any moment, suddenly and forever (Paul Auster)

The ground is situated close to an A road and even on a Saturday there are enough wagons and testosterone fuelled bikers to edge the decibel scale northwards. This ain’t no quaint village green, it’s a hardcore concrete jungle with a cricket ground in walking distance of the kind of aspiring middle class housing estate that provide the fodder for edgy playwrights to humiliate people who are trying to  better themselves. Despite the noise, this gritty – rather than pretty – cricket outpost is one of my favourite grounds on the circuit.

The first incident involves one of the rare breed of modern day cricketers who sleep better at night having done the decent thing in a situation where it’s much easier not to. The noise from the A road and a strong wind combine to make the cricket a bit of a chore. An opening bowler is all over the place, no-balling, losing his rhythm and courting trouble with leg-side wides.

The batter, a diminutive, middle-aged guy is a left-hander who nudges and nurdles the ball for singles and then from nowhere unleashes a perfect square cut that reaches the boundary before he finishes the follow through. The bowler sends another one down the leg side and as I am trying to work out if it is a wide, a half-hearted appeal goes up from keeper and first slip. Nothing comes from the bowler other than a flick of his wrist suggesting he needs to have better control of the ball. I decide against the wide and politely turn down the caught behind. If he had feathered it, with half a dozen Eddie Stobart trucks in convoy on the A road, there was no chance of me hearing a damn thing.

The batter composes himself and walks, bat under arm while divesting himself of helmet and gloves, back to the pavilion. I give the reverse decision single and we move on. At the end of the game I have a brief exchange.

I walk. I don’t mind batters who don’t. It’s nothing to do with sportsmanship. But I get well pis*ed off when I’m given out when I haven’t hit it. And with a flourish he leaves me with this gem: And when you see me walk, like today, you need to up your game umps. You got the decision wrong.

Two seasons later I am back at the urban jungle. A 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 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). However, when the keeper is standing back I have found that square leg provides the perfect habitat for a spot of R&R.

The sixth ball of the over is delivered and fate conspires against me. There’s a loud appeal for caught behind as bowler, keeper, slips, tea ladies and dog walkers go up in the kind of choreographed harmony that has the hallmark of a Busby Berkeley routine.  Unfortunately, the timing of the appeal could not be worse as a truck driver who is hurtling down the A road chooses that very moment of alleged bat on ball, to sit on the horn.

One of the many reasons why I am in favour of attracting younger men and women to umpiring is that their hearing is so much better than the over sixties cohort that makes up the panel. As I moved from fifty to sixty it became clear to me that sound was anything but clear. I recognise that at certain times this can be an advantage, especially when Mrs Umps is in one of her Ikea moods. Unfortunately for batters, my hearing is sharp for edges to the keeper but I do have a problem when peripheral noise gets in the way, and an A road is the perfect place for the noise bug to mutate.

So at this precious moment I am entrusted with making a judgement when the only evidence to give the batter out are the screams from bowler and keeper, and with the greatest respect to the two fellows, it’s hardly DNA material.

The batter stands his ground and I’m having none of it. With the Grand Prix on the A road, I can’t hear a thing.  I announce Not out. Over bowled. My colleague, walking in from square leg, points to his right ear to confirm he can’t hear anything. The fielders are unhappy but these guys are wise enough to know. The batter is soon out and is given a less than polite send-off which includes advice on how to get rid of the red mark on the bat edge.

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 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 that he hopes to see me later in the season.

And purely for quality control purposes, I ask him with a faint smile: Did he really hit it?

No idea umps, couldn’t hear a thing. At least Dick Turpin wore a mask.