Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare. (Alfred Hitchcock).
There is nothing like a Saturday League cricket appointment. Mrs Umps has a lie-in as I tuck into a hearty breakfast (there won’t be any grub until tea after the first innings at around four o’clock). Everything has been prepared on Friday night and I start up the car in good time to get to my appointment by noon. (I can only assume that Lionel Richie chose Sunday over Saturday for his easy morning because of the extra syllable in Saturday). I usually am out of the club car park by eight at the latest and have a leisurely drive home accompanied by an inane radio phone-in: First time caller, I’m a little nervous. I ‘ad Winston Churchill in the back of the cab last week.
I’m not interested in umpiring anything other than a Saturday League match although I did dabble with a few Wednesday evening Twenty20 matches. There is of course a difference between did (history) and have done (implication you want more). Nope, I won’t be donning the umpiring pyjamas again for such games because at my age I really don’t need the blood pressure monitor slamming against a bell in a funfair game of high striker.
I like Twenty20, but only as a spectator. It’s cricket’s equivalent of letting your hair down at the work Christmas do. You put on a funny hat, have a few too many and cavort with Helen in accounts (again, no word to Mrs Umps, please). But after sleeping off the hangover you still have to present the quarterly marketing brief next day.
Everything done at a civilised pace at a Saturday League game becomes a stampede at Twenty20. Filling in your scorecard at the end of each over is like decoding an Enigma machine in under a minute. In order to keep up with the pandemonium you and your colleague are required to become part of the frenzied circus and get the next over started before you can begin to digest the previous nine-ball over which contained a lost ball, two sixes, and a run-out. But umpires have it easier than the scorers who need to type at a record breaking world record of two hundred and thirteen words a minute to keep up with the action.
And the club veterans who know a thing or two about cricket, having done a twenty-year stretch, are replaced by a couple of millennial boiler room dealers who love a midweek Twenty20 larf a few hours after persuading you to part with your pension before you can say free hit. There’s no room for sentiment when a game can change over a few balls, and anyway why would the veterans even want to risk their necks on this treadmill of cricketing bling?
I’ve seen the effect that Twenty20 has had on young cricketers who come to the crease on regulation League Saturdays and immediately break cricket’s laws of gravity with a heave-ho towards the next village. I mean, you wouldn’t ask your girlfriend to marry you on the first date. You’d have a good look at how the wicket is playing and get a feel of the deviation and pace before committing yourself to the tundra of Ikea. Unfortunately, the instant gratification of this Tinder20 version of our glorious game is starting to poke its nose into the Saturday League circuit.
One of the few Twenty20 games I umpired involved two universities from the same city – the main proper university against an old polytechnic that was now allegedly a university. The proper university were on about three hundred for four after eight overs and Captain Poly was less than jolly. It was already clear which of the universities was going to have bragging rights by the end of the evening. A poly fielder told me at square leg that he would drop any catch that came from one of the proper university batters because he was enjoying watching his innings. And while they were searching for another lost ball that had probably ended up in an ultrasonic measuring cup in the proper university’s lab, he told me he was doing a degree in Football Studies at the poly. I politely wished him luck adding I hope you get a two-one.
But in an unprecedented act of self deprecation, I willingly confess the main reason why my dalliance with umpiring Twenty20 was so brief. Like the stressed poly captain, I was completely lost in this dystopian cricket world. I felt like a traffic cop in Mexico City caught in the headlights each and every way and about to have a Hispanic attack. Along with the forty-two Laws of Cricket, the match regulations alone would have made the late John le Carre fold under pressure, never mind Secret Umps. Fielding restrictions, overs allowance for bowlers, leg-side wides, calculating new targets after rain, free hits – the list was as endless as the proper university’s first innings score.
But there is a sting in this tale. There were no negative vibes in any of the Twenty20 games I umpired. There were some close finishes but the overall feel of the occasion was that of having a great evening out with the lads with cricket on crack followed by a barbecue. There were no nasty looks from batters I sent packing with LBW or caught behind, run-outs were not met with a hands-on-hips stare – it was all about the fun, fun fun.
Ten days after this match I encountered one of the poly guys playing in the League. He scored a few runs and bowled a decent spell. In the bar after the game he told me only a handful of the polytechnic team that night had ever played League or school cricket. Twenty20 had ignited their interest: Personally, I don’t like playing it umps, but they needed a couple of players who knew what they were doing.
I knew what I was doing when I left umpiring Twenty20 matches. My career in this genre was short but not sweet. It was like taking a shower at the Bates Motel.