I became as hard as whipcord, but with a brain like cotton wool. (Derek Raymond)
It’s a game played in the best spirit and the visitors are batting in the second innings, around forty runs away from a victory chase with eight wickets in hand. The game is in the bag. A right-left batting combo need a sight screen moving. It’s a nickel and dime situation normally dealt with by a couple of fielders, and on we go.
If only League cricket were that simple, with a polite request being met with a positive and cordial response. This is a perfect storm – no fielder is near the screen but a posse from the batting side are enjoying a leisurely stroll around the boundary rope and happen to find themselves close. I’d be interested to know the origin of this quirky pastime. A batter who is out, along with three tail-enders go for a wander, occasionally stopping to play a makeshift version of bowls using an old match ball and anything that comes to hand as the jack.
The captain of the fielding team shouts a polite request to the posse: Guys, would a couple of you mind moving the screens. No response. The captain, moving a tad nearer to the posse, tries again – still no response. The head honcho of the posse then crosses the boundary rope and in a this-town’s-not-big-enough-for-the -both-of-us posture declares: Come and fu*king make me.
At this point I have a vision of Mrs Umps asking me to pass her a ball of wool for her latest Etsy craft project while I’m busy watching Match of the Day. I’m engrossed in the redoubtable Alan Shearer’s scientific analysis about the diamond (I still haven’t got a clue what it means) as the request for wool is repeated, this time in a more confrontational manner. I reply: Come and fu*king make me before I am impaled by a single point needle while Mrs Umps is telling the ambulance service: There is a lot of blood….but take as long as you need to, I appreciate how busy you guys are.
I am carrying the MCC Laws of Cricket and the League’s match-day regulations, so handy as it may be in these tense situations, there is no room for even an A6 size version of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Meanwhile the stand-off resembles the set of High Noon – I can see the club secretary in the pavilion bar measuring a finger of whiskey to slide over to the home team captain after he prevails in the shootout.
Myself and colleague make eye contact and immediately hot foot it over to the posse and explain to the head honcho that if he wants to play further games this and next season, he needs to apologise immediately and ask one of the posse to help move the sight screen. And that is exactly what he does, adding the League cricketer’s trump card for defusing such standoffs: Just a bit of fun, umps.
The shock element is not so much that the sight screen incident takes place, rather that it happens at all, given the context of the match. The posse’s team are winning the race by a mile and half an hour later they are in the changing room celebrating with an a capella version of Oh Sir Jasper. It is the first and only time that I have encountered an issue with a request to move the sight screens.
On the drive home I develop a profile of the head honcho. I tell myself he’s bound to be an insurance underwriter. He has never been issued with a Penalty Charge Notice, and he serves as a governor at the local primary school. And on the basis of moving his body over a boundary rope, he goes from being a pillar of the local community to the subject of a TV documentary fronted by Danny Dyer. The following season we meet again and he behaves like the perfect insurance underwriter, despite the fact that he actually works as a dispatch manager in a large warehouse.
I know umpires who would immediately erect gallows on the square on this kind of incident. Yes, making a threatening comment that includes a profanity is certainly a Level 1 offence. And while there are occasions where cricket’s Village People display a Macho Man tendency, surely is it preferable for us to deal with it on the spot than add another case to the already bulging League disciplinary file. The fielding captain, already disappointed and working out what he is going to say to the guys after the game, is happy for us to settle it. Our intervention works and we mark the visiting team down on behaviour without having to bother the League.
Aside from winding down after a tense match, the post-match bar provides a treasure trove of material for Research and Development. Having crossed the boundary rope to leave the field, Hyde reverts to Jekyll to become the kind of guy you actually want to share a drink with. This epiphany reveals itself in another game, a particularly tetchy contest in which one player manages to get on the wrong side of umpires, the opposition and even his own captain. Again, a word in his ear from us brings an end to the nonsense. After showering and completing the match paperwork, I join this guy and two of his colleagues at a table.
I don’t touch alcohol when I am driving – a pint of soda water with a dash of lime cordial does the trick. The atmosphere was already jovial as the two sides mingled. What happens on the pitch, stays there.
The player gets straight to the point: Maybe I deserved a Level 1. I know I get carried away but they were out of order on those filed placing discussions.
Eager to know what this fellow does for a day job, I reply: I like to sort out issues on the field. What’s your job, if you don’t mind me asking?
No problem umps. I’m an insurance underwriter.