A good umpire, like a good FBI agent, is never noticed if he is doing his job. (Thomas Boswell)
One of the reasons I starting writing Secret Umps was to entice younger cricket lovers to take up umpiring. There is a Young Umpires section of the Association of Cricket Officials (ACO) but in my twelve years umpiring, the youngest colleague I have encountered was mid-thirties. It’s interesting that the majority of umpires on the First Class panel are former players who have been fast-tracked into officiating. Compare that to football – I can’t think of one top referee who was a professional footballer, so why are the English Cricket Board so keen on ex-players?
A high percentage of umpires on our panel are former players who have gone on to umpire in the same League. But there should also be room for people who have not played any form of competitive cricket to umpire. So whatever your age or experience of cricket, whether playing or watching, I present my fifteen-point Secret Guide to Umpiring below. And maybe a cricket fan will bring his Barmy Army passion to the umpires’ course before donning the blouson and contributing to the future of this great game.
The qualities you definitely need are a love of cricket (playing and/or watching), a level temperament, an ability to learn the Laws and to concentrate hard. Before you book yourself onto an umpiring course here are some handy pointers.
- The right side of the law: Get yourself a copy of Tom Smith’s Cricket Umpiring and Scoring. My version has more fingerprints than a forensics bounty at a bank robbery. The Laws, along with how they are administered in practice, are covered in the kind of detail that would make even the the most stubborn village blacksmith think twice before making a post-match comment. The usual suspects of LBW (Law 36), Run-out/Stumped (Laws 38 and 39) and caught (Law 33) are the ones that will engage you most in the middle. And when you have enjoyed your first few appointments, you’ll become a world authority on Law 42, Players’ conduct.
- Double trouble: Okay, you make a mistake – umpires are human, although I’ve never seen that aphorism on a changing room wall. But don’t compensate the team who may have got the wrong side of a bad decision. Take ownership (imagine that, a woke umps) of the error and move on.
- Rule of thumb, don’t be a chum: You are there to umpire a cricket game, not to make new friends. The correct umpiring house style should be respectful control.
- Thems the rules: Be sure to know the regulations pertaining to the match you are umpiring. Getting stumped by the village blacksmith on time lost to rain and minimum number of overs that constitute a match is black cap offence (and I’m not referring to the New Zealand test team).
- It’s not your gig: First line of the Level 1 course all those years ago. The purpose of umpiring is to enable twenty two players to have a great game of cricket. Good umpires are vigilant, not vigilantes. A bowler has two catches dropped by first slip in an over and shouts a four-letter word needs nothing more than a quiet word without the handcuffs. That way you earn respect from players.
- Refrain from explain: Big appeal and you give not-out. There is no need for a prolonged Q&A session with the players as occasionally happens at the end of an arthouse film (so I have been told). A quick sign to the bowler of high or leg is more than enough. Or don’t bother with a response.
- Those who serve: Club players pay good money to play League cricket. They deserve fully focused umpires providing a service at both ends for around one hundred overs in a match. Sure, it can be challenging, but give me umpiring on fast tracks any time over Ikea’s flat packs.
- Dress to Impress: A half scrubbed-up umps makes bad decisions. I get my kit ready on Friday night and whether you choose to model the Duncan Fearnley umpires’ collection (remortgaging terms available) or purchase simple cotton white shirts and slacks from Primark, please look the part.
- TalkTalk: Keep in regular contact with your colleague. From how the ball is turning to uneven bounce, help each other with information. If you disagree on how many balls are left in one of those nine-ball overs then consult the scorers.
- Time, gentlemen please: Don’t get trigger happy as soon as an appeal comes in. Before you send the village blacksmith packing, consider the forensic evidence at the crime scene for a few seconds.
- Captain’s stable: Regularly communicate with the fielding captain (slow over rate; can we lower the decibels please). Don’t talk shop to other fielders, even when a player lights up at the fall of a wicket. Politely ask the captain to sort him out.
- Courage of conviction: Whether it’s the captain on ninety-eight or a teenager on debut, don’t be swayed by emotion. Law 36 does not come with a skipper-not-out-in-the-nineties clause. True, it won’t be pleasant seeing gallows being erected on the square at the conclusion of the match, but it’s more important that your decisions are consistent, and good.
- Middle manager: Knowledge of Laws and regulations is essential. Ability to manage people and their expectations is also crucial another, or to put it in language of previous generations, use your common sense.
- Young and gallant with lots of talent: The future of cricket depends on youngsters coming through the ranks and of course we want to see them playing in adult Leagues. Please make sure you follow all the ECB guidelines on wearing helmets, not exceeding over limitations and general safety measures on and off the pitch.
- Nota Bene: My scorecards are full of notes on timings of lost balls, players leaving field injured and over rates. This kind of forensic evidence is invaluable for usage at all stages of the game.