Dog Day Afternoon

Tolerance is nothing more than patience with boundaries. (Shannon Adler)

It is one of those afternoons where little is happening and the sound of silence resonates louder than bat on ball. The batting side are around one-hundred-and-thirty for six after forty tedious overs, while the home side are thinking they won’t have too many runs to chase.

This is one of the best grounds on the circuit with a very good track and outfield, excellent hospitality and a decent bunch of guys I have got to know well over the years. The one problem is that whichever strip is used on the square, there is always a long boundary on one side. And when – as in this case – it is on a slope, it is difficult to judge whether the ball has actually crossed the rope.

On such occasions there is only one way to make a call in the likely event myself and colleague cannot be sure if the ball has reached the boundary – we ask the fielder to be the judge. And let’s be honest, the worst that will happen is that the batter will get three instead of four. It’s not ideal, but we don’t have a third umpire, an array of cameras and an outside broadcasting centre taking up seventy percent of the car park.

Until this particular day, I had rarely witnessed any issues from the winners and losers of such decisions. On many occasions fielders who were not sure themselves (in diving they did not know if their body had made contact with the rope or line) would signal a boundary. So having seen the distance of the boundary at the toss we confirmed that we would be going by the fielder’s call. And of course the captains are not troubled by this small print, and nor I suspect are the other twenty alpha males who are busy pumping up their testosterone ahead of a great afternoon’s cricket.

I’m at the left-handed batter’s end, further away than I would be to a right-hander, but with the advantage of facing the long boundary. The batter pierces the offside ring with a cover drive of quality way above his third-tier pay scale and the chase is on. Of course, I’m not only looking at the race, I’m checking the batters are touching their bats down behind the popping crease on completing each run, but I do witness the fielder diving full length, dragging the ball back and tidying up with a throw to the wicket-keeper. The batters run three.

And like a guest at a dinner party who may or may not have broken wind as the vanilla mousseline is served, all eyes are on the fielder. My colleague asks him through a short version of the boundary signal. The fielder runs in and shouts Honestly umps, I think I got it but I’m not sure. The batters could not possibly have seen the outcome, but the left-hander generously offers his opinion. Must be a boundary, he was halfway towards….[the next village], implying that the said fielder has carried the ball over the rope with his momentum. And because he may be denied an extra run on a very close call, ergo it’s an abuse of his human rights.

I move over to consult with my colleague and we both agree to go with the fielder’s call, so no signal is necessary, and we confirm with the scorers to record it as  three runs. The batters mutter something we can’t hear but I doubt it was a compliment on the excellent job my local barber Yannis has done on me during the week. We move on.

Then from nowhere….

One of the delights of Saturday afternoon cricket is the sight of people walking their dog with an eye on the cricket as they stroll around the boundary. Forgive my sardonic tone, but I believe dog walkers are as equal in importance to the wickets, balls, pitch markings, scoreboard and sight screens as part of a club’s match miscellany. Without walkers and dogs, we are missing an essential ingredient that makes up a proper game. I’ve seen hounds exhibit flashes of fielding brilliance as they chase and return balls and on that basis alone, I’d give them a run for the third team in Division Six. Occasionally, a fleeting glance between myself and a dog walker at the end of an over will be followed by Afternoon umpire (note the correct term for calling the attention of an umps). Lovely weather. Such genteel exchanges, along, of course, with a packet of mint humbugs in my bouson right-hand pocket, ensure the afternoon runs smoothly.

But this particular gentleman, who is accompanied by his wife (or perhaps a lady other than his wife) feels duty bound to clear up the boundary conundrum. It’s a four, a boundary, Mr Walker shouts while furiously signalling the boundary sign with the golden retriever nodding in agreement. And of course, the left-handed batter is conditioned to react with a Pavlovian reflex as classic as his once-in-a-season perfect cover drive.

There you are umps, it’s a four, you got it wrong.

Er, no, we got it right. We’re going by the fielder’s call, your captain agreed. Take it up with him. And to press home that particular point I added….as soon as you are out.

But umps, that guy saw it go over the rope.

I don’t care if Frank Sinatra saw it….and in a moment of inspiration, we’re doing it our way.

As we walk in for the tea interval, Mr and Mrs Walker and the golden retriever approach us.

Mr Walker wastes no time: I played club cricket and I know what a boundary is. Why not accept my decision?

Because you are out for an afternoon walk, you are not here to make decisions. We go by the fielder’s call. Mr Walker shakes his head, gives the leash a gentle tug and says: Poor show.