It has been a long and enjoyable season. I get home from the final game, tuck into Mrs Umps’ legendary broccoli and cheese quiche (our children are called Tarquin and Icarus) and reflect on the fifteen Saturdays I have officiated over the past four months. I do my post-match analysis on the journey home from matches – a recurring theme for the Umpires’ couch (if I could afford it) would be to own my recalcitrance to give LBWs and too many miscounting of balls in overs. I guess these and other peccadillos make up the reasons I am not invited to do courses that would get me on the elite panel and get assigned to Premiership and Championship matches.
I’m happy with my place in the umpiring pecking order (Divisions One and Two of the League). I do not aspire to join the top guys at the Premier Inn although it would be good to have a Full English with Lenny Henry. As I have often said to players after a game where the sanctuary of the bar allows for some post-match banter: If you want Aleem Dar it costs five grand. You get me for half a tank of petrol. I admire the guys at the top of the pyramid who can rattle off the nuances of every Law and calculate the booty in a supermarket trolley before they get to the till. I know they are great umpires because I have occasionally had the pleasure of standing with them when they have been assigned to officiate with the riff-raff outside of the top two tiers.
That said, I have done the courses, taken the exams and qualified to the level below Premier League and Championship in recreational cricket. Umpiring is a hobby, not a vocation and that is one reason why I only officiate Saturday League games. Umpiring friendly games and Over Fifty, Sixty and Seventy matches (Umps, can you hold onto my dentures?), Schools, Universities, Corporate jollies et al are not for me.
A week or so after the season ends, an email lands with the captains’ ratings of umpires’ performances. The options on offer are synonyms of Satisfactory, Good and Unsatisfactory. A cursory glance tells me everything I need to know: Twenty two Satisfactory, two Unsatisfactory, and four Good with two naughty skippers not even bothering to send in a score. And would you believe it, each season the harvest is remarkably similar. We are not informed which games the scores relate to but I sometimes ask. The answers do not surprise me.
Given there are around six hundred balls in a match, you might think a captain would take a few minutes and cast his mind over our overall game management; our interaction with captains and players, our overriding concern for safety, how we have kept the banter to an acceptable level and whether we have enabled twenty two guys to have a good afternoon of League cricket.
Imagine the League captains forming a union where procedures would dictate that if the skipper is given out caught behind, LBW, run-out or stumped and his team have lost, then mark the umpire down to Unsatisfactory. What I like about this methodology is that one ball with one borderline decision magically overrides the other five hundred and ninety nine. (It’s fortunate for Planet Earth that Captain Kirk did not take that world view into the Starship Enterprise).
I wonder what the said captain would think of me if I marked down as Poor the behaviour of a team where one player had used a gerund or two a tad louder than is acceptable. He need not worry because I would never invoke a collective punishment to humiliate one minor parking offence. Nor would I mark a pitch as Poor if three out of the six hundred deliveries kept a tad low. And if a home captain forgets, or is not around to offer a drink after the game, then I would not tick Poor under hospitality (although I may consider Satisfactory rather than Good).
Umpires make mistakes: inconsistent decision-making (leg-side wide called one over, similar ball next over not called), imposing himself on the game (something I have never done), miscounting balls per over, telling the skipper the wrong number of overs a junior player can bowl in a spell. All these events are extremely rare when compared to the amount of stuff we get right. I do not understand how Unsatisfactory even makes the shortlist.
For the captains, Satisfactory is the easiest box to tick. I have a feeling that some captains take a perfunctory approach to the pre- and post-match administrative duties and not pay too much attention to rating the umpires. (Umps’ scores lads. Nice guys, satisfactory. Let’s have a shower and get to the bar). But as the years roll on I now believe that if both captains believe my control of the game was Satisfactory then I have accomplished my assignment for the day.
There are a few captains who actually prefer the outliers to Satsfactory. This is playing with semantics and reminds me of a holiday with an old girlfriend in France in the late 1970s. We went into a restaurant where the food was superb but the manager was fractious, to say the least. With my Where is the nearest bank level of French I asked her if she was being difficult because, perish the thought, she may have an aversion to English tourists. Not at all, she replied. I am like this with everyone.
So here’s an idea that the Umpiring Politburo might like to consider. We should trial a cricket equivalent of Restorative Justice where victim and convicted criminal can talk through the reasons for their decision-making. To ensure fairness in this exercise of conciliation, the above roles are rotated as the two parties strive to find some common ground on defining Good and Unsatisfactory.
As it stands, the jury’s still not-out.