Keeping a low profile

You want life to be like in the movies, full of excitement. That’s how a child’s mind works, but the adults accept regularity, tedium, frustration. (Ed Bunker)

The captain brings on the leg bowler at my end (I don’t like the term leggie which is more suited to the Tiller Girls). The batting side are around 140-4 chasing north of 270 with enough overs left for them to win the game. I decline two raucous appeals for LBW in the bowler’s first over. I know this guy, while he’s not one to induce panic in the opposition dressing room, he is difficult to get away. He’s got accuracy and length to keep the run rate down and I can’t recall any batter giving him tap. But he has a chronic borderline condition of pitching the ball outside leg stump (or close enough to outside leg that I am going to decline an appeal).

He bowls eight overs on the bounce and aside from two long hops in the same over that are sent packing to the rope, he is as tight as a duck’s ar*e in water. The end result is a draw with the chasing pack around 30 short and the bowling side unable to clean up the last two wickets.

The said bowler appeals for LBW twelve times in eight overs (my notebook will sell for big money when I’m gone). I give the one that pitches on leg, turns a fraction and impacts on pad below the knee-roll. The rest of the appeals do not even make the final edit – the guy’s got form. So why doesn’t someone work on the problem in the winter nets?

As I have pointed out, the main difference between lower divisions of the League and the level I officiate is the ability of bowlers to deliver a minimum four good balls an over. By good I mean making the batsman think about what is about to arrive in front of him, play the ball and not concede runs. In the lower divisions, you get the occasional good ball mixed in with a melange of long hops, leg-side wides and Charlie Cairoli impersonations. This makes umpiring more difficult because you never knew what might be coming next. A medium pacer who has been hit for fourteen in the previous five balls somehow delivers a straight yorker that hits the batter’s boot on the full and he is on his way before I raise the finger.

Umpiring on the Panel – the League’s roster of umpires who do the top four divisions – is a much better standard. The medium pace foot soldiers may lack the raw talent of professional cricketers but this is more than offset by their ability to hit a nagging line and length around the top of off stump. Stock bowlers like this are invaluable to a club – a typical seven over spell with figures of 1-30 may include the occasional ball that is thumped to the rope but most deliveries are in the zone and any captain would be delighted with such a return.

This kind of military medium also provides an opportunity for umpires to build an identikit profile of how a bowler operates – with seven overs you get 42 samples for the research. Of course, each ball is always judged on its own forensics, but profiling gives you a collection of similar outcomes from bowler and batter which can be to be used as extra evidence for LBW or caught behind. And it always good to see the bowler bring out the occasional X-factor delivery with wrist behind the ball to make it move sufficiently and deceive the batter. Older club cricketers with a wise heads and a vault of thousands of balls, are particularly adept at this sting.

Profiling is also useful for the cat-and-mouse spin encounters. The regular right-arm finger spinner makes the ball break from off to leg to the right-hander enticing him to smother the ball with his bat in the hope of him missing one or getting a pad-before-bat impact (always difficult to identify at real speed). But decent batters are canny enough to pitch their tent outside off stump where, provided he is playing a shot, he cannot be out. This is the soul of cricket with  bowler and batter jousting for dominance as the scorers join the dots.

The other scenario is the batter going on the back foot to play the ball, missing it and the impact on pad is in line with the stumps. But whether it would have hit one of them is another matter. Sometimes the turn is too sharp and seeing the wicket-keeper appealing outside leg stump is enough for me to keep the finger down. But where the keeper is behind all three stumps, I’ve certainly given them.

And it is both surprising and disappointing that in the comfort of the club bar after washing away the tension of a match with a hot shower (delete adjective to describe some showering facilities) the topic of conversation always turns to specific decisions made by myself and colleague. The accepted post-match practice is for the skipper or club to buy you a drink (the tradition suspended if you have sent the overseas player packing with a tight run-out). These brief encounters usually consist of variations on Not sure why you didn’t give that LB umps, it looked like it was hitting all three….from here.

It would be good to have a natter about That battle with their off spinner and our number four was great to watch….from here.

But that kind of chat doesn’t sell newspapers.