It’s eighty degrees and I’m down on my knees in Brooklyn. (Al Stewart)
I always turn out for duty in a pressed white cotton buttoned shirt, black golf slacks and if it is not too hot, my Association blouson (a word I had never heard until I started umpiring). For maximum comfort I sport rubber-studded trainers, an inexpensive Panama hat and when the sun is in a good mood, an expensive pair of shades. I always take a post-match shower, even when cold is the only option. (We’ve been waiting for the plumber for a couple of weeks, umps….Check your calendar, I was here a month ago and the hot water wasn’t working then). I’m surprised at how many colleagues do not shower after a match, especially when they take the trouble to change back into Civvy Street garb. Poor form.
League cricket was less complicated when I started playing in 1973. A bowler would ask an umpire to hold onto a sweater and/or cap and that was the extent of the housekeeping assignment. Today’s umpire now needs to be a paid-up member of the Magic Circle as he makes the bowler’s myriad of accoutrements re-appear at the end of an over. Try these for starters: Sweater(s), cap, sunhat, sunglasses (never saw a pair of those on a cricket field in the 1970s), watch, asthma peak flow meter, changing room key, oven-ready roll-your-own cigarette (quick blow when a wicket falls, umps), smartphone (just for today, umps, I brought it out by mistake), bracelet, silicon wristband (it’s my bowling arm, umps), plastic water bottle (no way, try King’s Cross left luggage), energy bar, credit card (sorry umps), hand towel (no way, that’s for your mid-off), lip balm, full-rimmed framed eyeglasses, hay fever tablets (thanks, but I bring my own). And as I stagger around in the twenty-eight degree heat like a human corner shop, a fielder requests that I find a place for his club cap (hot out there umps, I need need to wear a sun hat….What extraordinary powers of observation you possess young man, get yourself an astrology column in one of the tabloids).
Post-match, as you are sorting out your own miscellany of bails, bowlers mark, six coins, run clicker, scorecard, ECB guidance on junior players, Laws of Cricket handbook, watch, pencils, sharpener, mint humbugs, hay fever tablets and hand towel you realise that the bowler has not collected his more-expensive-than-mine branded sunglasses. So off you go on a trek to the changing room or bar to reunite the goods with its owner (thanks umps, they’re expensive shades). I’ve even had a captain phone me during the week (I know this may seem a bit strange umps, but did you find a club cap in your bag after the game?…..Yes, I found it in one of the inside pockets of my blouson). Fortunately, the car park of an aircraft-hangar Tesco was a convenient lunchtime rendezvous and I extracted full value from the assignment by getting a meal deal.
It is rare not to have a designated umpires’ changing room but occasionally we have to change with the teams, or as I call it, turning right as you board a plane (as if I have ever experienced the delights of turning left). It is crucial not to engage in friendly banter in this situation (how did it go last week umps?) and after the game it is best to wait until the team has packed up before showering and changing, one of the main reasons being it is not good for morale to hear a player who wasn’t told we were changing with the team describe your performance as sh*te.
These days there is a thriving market in team branded kits which I rather like. It is good to see the guys warming up in their pre-match outfits and take the field with club badges on the caps, shirts and sweaters. I like it when I am umpiring the cadre who come out for the toss wearing a club blazer, but the Beau Brummel ambience is a tad compromised with pre-match practice shorts (albeit with the club badge) and a pair of beach shoes lurking below the waist.
Not all the players buy into these branded kits. There are guys who turn out once or twice a year when the captain requires a filler and may not even have appropriate whites or cricket shoes. One such chap came in around the fall of the fifth wicket and hit a brisk thirty-something wearing trainers without studs, a pair of khakis and a customised polo shirt with (name) and (40) on the back (I’ll wager that was some weekend in Prague). In the bar after the game I said: That’s not the first time you have picked up a cricket bat. He told me had played top division cricket up to the age of around thirty but marriage, kids and work combined to put a day out with the lads on the back burner.
It is a script I have heard many times on the circuit.