Are you being served?

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. (Isaac Asimov)

We should never forget that umpires provide a service to the game of cricket and to players, who, after all, pay for the officiating. Over the years, I’ve had discussions on and off the pitch with captains and players but the content is generally about particular calls I have made. It’s rare to be given the opportunity to listen without the impulse to respond. Early in 2021, a friend of a friend introduced me via email to a captain of a Premier League cricket team (I’m giving him the name Andy). He kindly agreed to do an interview via email. I suspect his thoughts and insights below will resonate among captains and players at all levels of League cricket.

We are only going to get better if we listen. As Andy says, marginal decisions are not high on his agenda. One umpire sees an LBW appeal as the ball striking the pad outside the line of off stump with the batter playing a shot, another sees it on the line. One umpire hears bat on ball for a caught-behind, another doesn’t. These decisions work for and against players over a season and tend to balance out.

Andy is more interested in poor, rather than marginal decisions, acknowledging that however bad a decision may appear to be, it must be accepted.  The example he gives below regarding the ball pitching outside leg stump is worrying, particularly at Premier League level.

Interview with Andy, Premier League captain.

How long have you been playing competitive cricket? ​Twenty-eight years

As a player, what has been your general experience of umpiring? ​Generally not great. I would say that there are a lot more bad umpires than good, but as players I also think that we cannot appreciate how difficult the job is. And also how different the experience is when you’re batting or bowling as opposed to observing. And as players we cannot be objective!

What makes a good umpire? Good umpires are knowledgeable, calm, polite and professional. We don’t need them to be our friend or foe and they should treat players with respect and speak to them as adults. Also, it is very important to own mistakes they may make. A common trait of the best umpires is that they have mostly all played cricket to a decent level and among the less good ones is that they haven’t.​

But I would also say that you have to feel and seem confident, and having been around the game as a player certainly helps you feel like you should be there. Sure, with a bit of time and experience that confidence comes but imagine it would be quite hard initially for someone who hasn’t played much to come into umpiring.

And a poor umpire? ​Bad qualities include being authoritarian and emotional – quick to argue, defend and scold. Some umpires want to be involved too much. And they can also be stubborn!

Umpires are going to make mistakes which may have an effect on a result. Can you separate the disappointment from the inevitability of this happening?  Yes, I think so. Any player who has played long enough realises that decisions tend to average themselves out. I encourage my players to not walk if there is any doubt because otherwise you won’t even up the decisions for and against you. The flip side is that you should leave the crease without too much fuss when you don’t agree with a decision, however hard that might be.

You are now a captain. Has your view of umpires changed from when you were only playing? Yes, I think being the leader of the team has made me feel far more aware of my behaviour on the field as the ultimate representative of the club. Being more in control of the game along with the umpires and the opposition captain makes me work with the umpires and try to have more of a relationship with them. In my younger years I used to be quite hot headed and immature. As a fast bowler that isn’t a great recipe for relationships with umpires.​

If you were asked to provide some content on an umpire’s Continuing Professional Development (CDP) course, what would you recommend? Difficult question. I think maybe being paired with a more experienced umpire to see how they go about the job.​

Please give us examples of good and bad umpiring. Bad umpiring: Everyone can make a mistake with a decision, but I have witnessed some howlers. We were playing against a bowler who delivers big in-swingers. He was bowling over the wicket at a left-hander. It basically ruled LBW out of the equation unless it was very full. A back-of-length delivery, pitches a foot outside leg stump, doesn’t really bounce, hits the batsmen on the pad, big appeal and was given out. It just didn’t make sense. Marginal wrong decisions including faint inside edges, LBWs or bat on pad caught behinds that are neither here nor there. But the ones that show no understanding of the game or sometimes just a lack of common sense are hard to take.

Good umpiring: We were well on top in an important game and there was some rain about. The umpires let us carry on to twenty overs (the minimum for a game qualification) in lightish drizzle. There was pressure from the opposition to come off – they were trying their luck a bit. We did come off but eventually came back on and won. I thought that was pretty good umpiring given the context of the game and the lightness of the rain.

How much does emotion influence the marks you give umpires after a game? Very little, I really only properly engage with umpiring marks when umpires have had a real shocker.

Do players talk about umpires? A lot. There is plenty of time for chat when you play cricket so you end up talking about a range of subjects extensively – including umpires!