English rain feels obligatory, like paperwork (Maureen Johnson)
It is rare that a game is called off before I leave the house but occasionally the home captain calls just in time. I know what is coming: There’s no way we can play in this umps, the square is literally under water (and with your incorrect use of literally, you should be too). No Saturday fix and it’s cold turkey for lunch followed by a hike across the tundra of Ikea with Mrs Umps. This is God’s punishment for all the batters I’ve sent packing caught behind when the ball clipped the pad, not the bat.
In our Association we have an agreement that if the umpire has left home and reaches the ground only to find it is unplayable, the full fee is paid (especially as umpires, like any driver, should not be picking up calls behind the wheel). On the few occasions this has happened to me, I never take the full match fee, I just ask for my petrol to be covered. Similarly, on the one occasion where I had to do both ends of a game (my colleague called in sick too late to find another umpire) I did not take two sets of fees.
The spirit of hope springs eternal in the league cricketer, never more so than when the clouds open. The forecast had predicted rain all week but despite the Saturday cloud, the ground is dry and it’s certainly light enough to start on time.
I’m making my way to the middle to greet my colleague and pass the players on their pre-match warm-up. The banter is as expected: You never know umps, we may get a full game, I’ve seen a lot worse; I wouldn’t want your job in this weather umps (bring me a tissue); Could be a few ducks today umps (no comment) and rounded off with the finger in the air pointing 30 miles westwards comes the eternal classic: It’s looking much better over there umps.
For an hour and a half everything has gone swimmingly (rewrite, ed). Then the fielding skipper points to the mass of dark cloud above us. The storm’s outriders announce their presence with a few friendly spots and we manage a couple more balls to end the over. And then we run.
You can tell when a club has got serious money with Test Match standard mobile dome-shaped covers distributing the rain to the outfield. The cabin class flat sheet covers are around four grand cheaper and once they are down, they do a pretty decent job.
It’s too early for tea and anyway Brenda (for some reason I am on first-name terms with all the tea ladies on the circuit) hasn’t even arrived with the Aldi sliced white and sausage rolls, so the players get comfy in the bar. My colleague that day is one of the best on the panel and we are busy keeping an eye on the rain, calculating overs lost and revised schedule while getting back out into the middle every 15 minutes to inspect the damage.
The rain gets lighter but there’s no evidence of it stopping. An hour after we have come off, we agree on an early tea. The damage is done, the strip is damp but not drenched but the unprotected bowlers’ run-ups are under water and even if they are cleared the ensuing mud heap is too much of a risk. The captains agree and it’s handshakes all round, a quick shower, post-match paperwork and drink (always soda and lime when I’m driving) and I’m on the road with the wipers working overtime.
These downpours are the exception. The usual rain-stops-play suspect is the borderline drizzle/light shower. I have a stoical approach to rain. Charged with ensuring the safety of the players, I am more inclined to come off in a borderline situation, particularly after this incident in 2015 which ensured every member of the ECBACO (the umpires’ representative body) pays the £30 subs a year the moment the reminder comes in. If my name and photograph must be splashed on the front page of a tabloid, I’d rather have the paparazzi ambushing myself and a middle aged celebrity outside Tiger Tiger than an irate village blacksmith with a broken leg suing me for negligence in my duties as an umpire
In these borderline situations where a no-result could send a team down there is a lot at stake. Playing on in light drizzle is a problem for both teams but I will only come off when it is necessary. It’s not easy defining a line that separates uncomfortable and dangerous but on most occasions it should be obvious for all concerned that the correct decision has been made.
I don’t spend too much time arguing the toss on this – we make a judgement without prejudice. We don’t care if the batter is on 90 or the fielding side need one more wicket (preferably the batter on 90). We are guided by the Laws of Cricket, specifically 3.8 (Conditions shall be regarded as dangerous if there is actual and foreseeable risk to the safety of any player or umpire) as well as the training from our Association.
For disappointed players, a decision we make at 5pm to call a game off can look questionable at 6.30pm as the sun provides a great drying act on the square and outfield.
Fortunately, on occasions like this, by 6.30pm I am well on the way home.