Ashburnham vs Bexhill, 2019-08-25

35/35 game. Bexhill won the toss and chose to bat. Bexhill 248/2 (and one player retired on 103 off 56 balls). Ashburnham 180 ao from 34.3 overs.

My now-regular Saturday league fixture clashed with a prior engagement elsewhere so I picked up this friendly Sunday game at the club my father is a regular at. Bexhill are the “big beasts” in local cricket, and they use their friendly Sunday side to blood promising youngsters who they think might be ready to move up to open-age cricket. They had several juniors in their side today, one of whom made his debut half century against adult opposition. I had an umpire colleague for this game, who was also the chairman of the Ashburnham club.

The pavilion

Ashburnham isn’t even a village, it’s a loose collection of widely separated houses and farms. The cricket club has a small, spartan pavilion, with a garden and war memorial nearby. The field is small also, with thick hedges or fences a foot beyond the boundary in three directions and fields beyond. On the fourth side is the pavilion, parking area, and some long uncut grass. Where most of my previous games have had a constant hum of human activity here the background noise is sheep, birds and insects, with the occasional rumble as tourists fly in and out of Gatwick. The pitch is flat and the field as a whole is slightly domed, with a very steep drop in one corner. That drop-off is so steep that when standing at the stumps facing the pavilion you can’t see the boundary rope there so have to rely on fielders’ honesty. Despite the downward slopes everywhere, the ball didn’t run away very fast on the ground as the grass is longer than at most grounds. I expect that’s done deliberately to reduce the number of boundaries, they are still more frequent than elsewhere. Indeed, the player who retired on a century got there almost entirely on boundaries. Breaks in play as lost balls are hunted down are common, and several times we would carry on playing using a spare ball while a team of otherwise unemployed batsmen searched the fields and hedges. I expect to umpire here again once the league season has finished, and will make sure to take spare balls out into the field with me!

Despite what a casual glance at the scoreline would have you think, the teams were fairly evenly balanced, the one exception being the Bexhill opening batsman who scored a quick ton.

There was one incident where I really don’t know what was the right thing to do. Towards the end, as Ashburnham’s wickets were falling like dominoes, one of their batsmen was hurrying to get padded up and didn’t have time to put his boots on so came out wearing slippers. The fielders had joked about appealing for a time-out, but really – in a friendly? I think that my colleague and I would have looked very disappointed at them and offered the captain the opportunity to withdraw such an appeal at least. But slippers. What should we have done? He was an adult, so responsible for his own safety. I quietly joked to a fielder as I stood at square leg “bet he gets a yorker on his toes”. And yes, he did. He managed to avoid being hit, but I wonder if my colleague and I should have immediately had a discussion about dangerous play by the bowler (Law 41). If he’d sent down another I definitely would have. But on the other hand – should we have had a discussion about unfair play (also Law 41) on the part of the batsman? By not wearing appropriate protective gear and hence preventing bowlers from safely bowling yorkers, was he unfairly removing that option from the bowling team? Thankfully the gentleman in question wasn’t in for very long.

I think my performance was mostly good, and the scorers complimented me on my clear signals. I have made a point right from the start of not having twirly flourishes on my signals, of moving if necessary – if, say, there’s a fielder in between me and the scorers – so that they can see me clearly, and of making sure I’m facing them. However, I made two mistakes. The first was that during Bexhill’s innings one of Ashburnham’s bowlers sent down a beamer, so I should have signalled no ball. But I was so entranced by the beauty of the 6 the batsman hit it for that I forgot to signal. By the time I realised my mistake the next ball was already in play so I couldn’t correct my error. The second was that I gave an Ashburnham batsman out LBW. He definitely didn’t get bat on ball, it clearly hit him in line and would have hit the stumps. I raised my finger quickly and instinctively, it just looked so out. But I was wrong. He was a left-hander, and the ball had pitched outside leg. I normally manage to restrain myself and not instinctively wag my finger like that, but this time I failed, and I need to remind myself in the future to be more careful when there’s a left-hander in. Again, I realised my error too late to fix it, which is a shame because he was making a good show of himself, batting well into the gaps in the inner field and running singles well.

Sanderstead vs Beddington 4th XI, 2019-08-17

40/40 game. Beddington won the toss and chose to field. Sanderstead 34 ao from 28.3 overs. Beddington 35/0 from 8.4 – scorecard

For the first time I had an umpiring colleague, not just players standing in when not otherwise engaged. When standing with a player-umpire I’ve felt constrained in what I can say to him in breaks in play – don’t want to give away information on what the bowlers are doing, for example, and it was nice to not have that.

Sanderstead only have one field of their own, which was in use by their 1st XI, so our match was a short walk away in the public recreation ground. It’s still a pleasant environment though, with its own changing rooms. The ground slopes from one side to the other but the square is level, so there’s a noticeable drop-off when standing at square leg. If I was shorter I might have considered standing on the wrong side to get a better view of the crease. There had been light rain during the night, and no covers, so as well as the outfield being a bit damp and slow, the wicket itself was a bit soft. I was concerned about the bowlers’ footholds, but decided they were OK and we could go ahead. I kept an eye on them, with an eye towards stopping to let them dry out a bit if they needed it, but the ground held up.

Sanderstead struggled to score, although there was a moment after the drinks break when two of their middle order batsman scored 5 off an over – a great improvement over the 1-ish they were going at before then – and I thought they might heroically rescue the situation as England’s middle order have been wont to do in recent years, but it wasn’t to be. There was another brief flurry of excitement when two very young players were in for the last wicket, they did an excellent job of communicating with each other. I found out afterwards that one of them plays for the county girls’ side in her age group, so presumably that’s something they coach.

With Beddington getting Sanderstead all out so quickly we just had a short turnaround before Beddington went in to bat, on the grounds that tea wouldn’t have been ready anyway. My colleague and I did briefly discuss the league timing regulations, but decided that Law 43, “Use Common Sense” applied so we didn’t bother looking them up. I expected that the match would be over before the normally scheduled tea break anyway, and most importantly both sides were happy to get straight back out there.

As I expected, Sanderstead’s two young tail-enders opened the bowling. I thought that the girl I talked about earlier did an excellent job. She didn’t get any wickets, but only went for 4 an over against a side that bats well, and she had some decent variations.

As for my own performance – I gave two controversial decisions. I denied an appeal for caught behind off an edge, because I didn’t hear anything as it went through. The bowler was cross with me and discussed it afterwards, and I explained my decision. I’m not umpiring next weekend so he’s got time to forgive me before we meet again! The second was that I gave a batsman out caught. He was grumpy about it, as batsmen usually are if they haven’t just walked. I was convinced that it had gone straight to the fielder, he thought he’d hit it down into the ground first, and when I talked about it with my colleague afterwards he wasn’t sure, so if I had consulted him at the time I would have stuck with my decision anyway.

I made two out and out errors. The biggest was in adjudicating wides. I gave two of them in one of the Beddington bowlers’ first over, and he was clearly peeved and thought I was being harsh and should have just warned him after the first one. When I gave them I thought they were only just wide, but only just is still wide. I might warn a bowler if he’s creeping towards a front-foot no ball, but I’ll still call a no-ball when I see one, just like I’ll call a wide when I see one. But I let that get to me, and I gave a bit more leeway in later overs. This means that my performance was inconsistent, and I think in umpiring consistency, especially in very close decisions like those, is just as important as correctness. There was also one ball when I was standing at square leg when I thought it had gone through over waist height without pitching and so should have been a no-ball. My colleague at the bowler’s end didn’t call it, and while it was his call I think I should have been more assertive in bringing it to his attention.

Thankfully my errors had no impact on the result.

Beddington 4th XI vs Purley, 2019-08-10

40/40 game. Purley won the toss and chose to field. Beddington 196/6. Purley 93 ao from 35.2 overs – scorecard

Having checked the weather forecast the night before – something that I always do – I knew it was going to be a windy day, 25mph and gusts up to 40+. There had also been some rain overnight. But the game can go ahead, wind is just something that players have to put up with, and we all get some entertainment from all the bowlers getting unexpected swing and people dropping high catches as they swirl around in the gale. I got to the ground a bit earlier than normal expecting that there might be some minor tree wreckage to be cleared up, but the field was surprisingly clear of it. Some small sticks had blown on and were removed, and downed leaves, but that was it. The covers had been on and the pitch was in good condition.

As usual I was accompanied by various player-umpires throughout the day, and this time I was handling bowler’s end duties throughout. One of them came out wearing his pads, having been hurriedly pulled out of the nets. Not sure if this is a fashion that will take off for cricket umpires – unlike in baseball we don’t have to stand in harm’s way, by the time the ball comes towards us we can move. Another, a young teenager, confessed on his way to square leg that he didn’t really know what he was supposed to do. So I told him it was primarily to look for run-outs and stumpings, and if he felt confident enough to do more, count balls, signal to me when he thinks there are 2 left in case I’ve lost count, and make sure the captain isn’t breaking the fielding restrictions. When I’m at square leg I don’t check the field on every ball, just once or twice an over, or when the captain re-arranges it, but my young colleague’s head was swivelling all over the place so he obviously did feel confident enough, and he did signal 2 balls remaining to me, correctly.

Because of the wind I used heavy bails, but even they blew off the stumps several times. Not enough to dispense with bails altogether, although I had swotted up on that Law beforehand. The wind was high enough that hats were gallivanting off to the boundary – I went hatless for the first time, deciding that a burnt bonce was less trouble than chasing my hat all the time, and that the clouds would mostly save me – and in one particularly fearsome gust one of the sightscreens was picked up and blown over. We righted it between overs, but it was a gonner, a tangled mess of broken wood and plastic and metal that will need substantial repairs.

I made two controversial decisions, both during Purley’s innings. First, I didn’t give someone out LBW. The bowler, wicket keeper and slip fielder were extremely confident in their appeal, and it would have been absolutely plumb, on middle stump, if only the player wasn’t 6’3″ and hit in the nuts. He is no doubt offering prayers for the soul of whoever invented the box. The second was a catch I didn’t give. All the fielders were in close, so all of them were closer than me when the player allegedly nicked it and the ball went through to the keeper. They all went up instantly, presumably having heard the ball hit the bat. But I didn’t hear it, and I didn’t see the ball deviate off the bat, so I couldn’t give it even though “on the balance of probabilities” I thought he was probably out and should have walked. I have to be sure before giving a batsman out though, and it’s also perfectly possible that what the fielders heard was his clothing flapping in the strong wind.

My movement was good this game, consistent throughout. And I mostly remembered to signal byes too, so I think I’ve sorted out that problem. With experience some of the “book-keeping” that I have to do – remembering to count balls and keep score – is becoming more of an instinct, so I have more time for other things. I say mostly, because in the first couple of overs he bowled one of the Beddington bowlers had to remind me. I’m OK with that. I’ve asked them after previous games to point out my errors, and I’ve told them that I know I’m making that mistake. He was giving a ticking off by the captain during the beer innings though, for “umpiring while bowling” and made to pay a fine into the team’s curry fund.

I think for the next area of my game I need to improve I’ll focus on the pre-match rituals of the meet-and-greet with the captains, and the toss. Until now I’ve done my pitch inspection and then just hung around until everyone’s ready to start, but I should be more pro-active in those inter-personal things.

Streatham & Marlborough CC vs Beddington 4th XI, 2019-08-03

40/40 game. Beddington won the toss and chose to field. Streatham & Marlborough 187/6. Beddington 137 ao from 39.3 overs – scorecard

Streatham & Marlborough’s leafy ground is separated from the surrounding busy roads by trees, and around the upper field there are a couple of little picknicking spots where the trees have been cut back. The clubhouse looks rather run down as you approach it – they plan to build a new one this winter – but the side facing the main field is cheerier, and the building is hidden by a large willow tree when you’re on the second, lower field which we used. A church spire overlooks this second field. My pre-match saunter around the ground revealed a rather unusually shaped boundary. Almost all grounds have an entirely convex boundary, but here there is a small concavity where the boundary comes in to go around the nets that are built in one corner of the field.

This was the first of my league matches where the hosting club actually had markers for the 30 yard inner circle! One of the league regulations is that no more than five fielders may be outside this, but most clubs don’t mark it and captains and umpires are expected to just do their best to observe it. Unfortunately they weren’t put out at anything like 30 yards, so I paced off what was about the right distance and we moved them all before play started. They also provided a bowler’s marker at each end – hurrah! one less thing for me to stuff in my pockets!

Beddington were hampered by having a player missing for much of the first innings, as his car had broken down en route, but even had that not been the case I don’t think it would have changed the result.

As usual, I was the only umpire, being accompanied by player-umpires throughout, although in this game they were taking both square leg and bowler’s end duties. Unfortunately the game was not played in the best grace. I know that sledging is part of the game, but I felt that it was taken too far by one player in particular. The “spirit of cricket” in the preamble to the Laws admonishes players to be respectful of their opponents, and to create a positive atmosphere, neither of which was the case here. I found it bloody annoying but let it go for a while, but when a batsman decided to bring it to my attention I felt that I had to intervene. I quiet word with the player’s captain soon put a stop to it and the motormouth player instead switched to rather more respectful (and a lot funnier) banter with his own team mates, but sadly by then the atmosphere had been poisoned and no-one was particularly happy – there was no hanging about for shared post-match beers afterwards.

I’m not sure that I handled this correctly. I’m happy that I didn’t need to consult with the player who was deputised to be my colleague at the time, partly because I had no intention of using law 42 and making it all official with levels of offence and reports to the league and so on – I don’t want to be a pedantic priss. I am mindful of an interview I listened to with the rugby referee Nigel Owens, in which he said that what makes a great referee is communication and knowing when to let stuff go and not reach for the rule book. And also given that my colleague was a player from the same team that had prompted me to intervene I didn’t feel that any input of his into the decision would be seen to be fair. It’s important to be both fair and seen to be fair.

I think I did the right thing by intervening and by not intervening harder, but I’m not really sure if I should have intervened earlier. I’ve never played in a match where anyone felt sledging was getting inappropriate, I’ve never been to a match as a spectator where I’ve known anything like that was happening – it is of course hard to hear sledging from the boundary! – and I don’t know what guidelines other umpires use. I understand that this sort of thing is covered in some detail in the ECB’s Level 2 umpiring course, which I plan to take before next season.

Spencer CC vs Beddington 4th XI, 2019-07-20

40/40 game reduced to 30 each. Spencer won the toss and fielded first. Beddington 120/8. Spencer 116/6 – scorecard

It had been raining overnight and the covers were on, but in the morning it cleared up and they were taken off. Unfortunately about an hour before play was scheduled to start more heavy rain came over, and the groundsmen were busy putting the covers on the club’s main pitch so the one we were going to use got a good soaking, leaving muddy holes just where the bowlers would land their feet. The start was delayed, and after just under an hour and a half of sunshine and wind, and judicious application of sawdust, the game eventually started, having been reduced to 30 overs per side.

Spencer’s second field is quite a trek from the club house, with an artificial turf football pitch in between, but does have its own separate changing rooms which mitigates that somewhat. There is a slight slope across the pitch from northeast to southwest.

I was the only umpire again, being accompanied by various player-umpires throughout the match, and this time I handled the bowler’s-end duties throughout, my colleagues just standing at square leg. It was a thrilling match, very close, which came down to Spencer needing a six from the last ball to win.

I was a bit irritated by one of the players. He asked me if the score board was correct, pointing out that they had just added more runs to it than had been scored in that over. A fair point for him to bring up. I checked my own score count (as well as the ball/over/wicket counter that every player knows about, I also carry a score counter, as the Laws say it is the umpires’ responsibility to keep the score) and told him that it was correct, they had just updated the score adding the runs from the last two overs of play instead of one, and that I would keep an eye on it. But at the end of the next over, when they again updated the score board correctly, he asked me again. Grrr.

Beddington 4th XI vs Sinjun Grammarians, 2018-07-13

40/40 game. Grammarians won the toss and batted first. Grammarians 56 ao off 20.2 overs. Beddington 57/2 from 12.2 – scorecard

I’m confident enough after four friendlies to stand in league games, so I’m now unleashed on the Surrey Championship, 3rd and 4th XIs division 4 East. At this level there are no neutral umpires appointed from a panel. Matches are generally umpired by players who are otherwise idle, so in practice the batting side provides umpires. Teams can have a dedicated umpire though, and I’m it.

Beddington’s ground has two sets of pitches. The main field is surrounded by trees on three sides and has an electronic scoreboard. the second one- on which the 4th team play – has tennis courts and a childrens’ play area on one side and trees on two other sides. Hidden behind the trees around the second field is the sewage treatment works, although most of the site is now derelict and unused so instead of a ghastly stench we get herons and other birds. The pavilion between the two fields has a decent bar with good cheap beer and provides a good tea.

Beddington’s bowling was just too good for Grammarians and I had little opportunity for controversial decisions – 8 were either caught or bowled, no-one reached 20, and half of their ten men (they were a man short for the game) got a duck. The innings was so short that we went straight into the second innings after a few minutes break instead of having tea. Beddington then knocked off their required runs in just over 10 overs, and even then tea wasn’t quite ready – we finished at about the same time that the 2nd XI who were playing on the other field reached their tea break.

I was pleased with my performance, as short as it was. I didn’t let the pressure of this being a game that actually mattered get to me. I do need to sort out my problem with not signalling byes though.

Woodside Green vs Plastics XI, 2019-06-30

40/40 game. Woodside Green 289/5 (and one player retired on 100). Plastics 177 ao from 34.5 overs.

The ground, close to Sandilands tram stop, is in a well-heeled part of Croydon, and so far leafier than would be expected of this notoriously concretey town. The comfortable clubhouse is shared with a tennis club. It was quite a warm day so it was agreed to take drinks breaks after 13 and 27 overs instead of just at half way.

My performance was the best I’ve done so far, with no drop-off in my movement. I’m also getting used to being on my feet for so long, they don’t hurt and my back doesn’t ache as much as it did after my first game. I made one contentious decision, an LBW which the batsman was quite cross about, but I was sure and that’s that. Was I actually right? We’ll never know.

Norwood Exiles vs Plastics XI, 2019-06-23

40/40 game. Plastics won the toss and batted first. Plastics 166 ao. Exiles 159 ao.

This is another ground that is in a public park, and shares the club house with the boating club that inhabits the nearby lake, which is separated from the cricket field by their boat yard. There’s a slight slope from one side of the wicket to the other down towards the lake. At one end there is a large tree which overhangs the field at well below head height. I asked if there was a local rule to deal with it, but there isn’t – so as per the standard Laws, the tree is entirely outside the boundary, including the overhanging bit, so you get four runs if the ball hits the ground and then either hits the tree or rolls over the boundary under the tree, and six runs if you hit the tree before the ground. Likewise if a fielder throws the ball and it hits any part of the tree that’s four overthrows.

When I arrived for the pre-match inspection there was a group sitting around – not on the square, which was roped off – having just finished a casual knock-about. The groundsman-cum-scorer was already there and between us we decided that of the two wickets that were ready to use we should use the one furthest from the lake, mostly on the grounds that we’d lose fewer balls. That it was marginally less green, being slightly higher and hence better drained, was a bonus. Being a public park there was unfortunately quite a bit of litter on the outfield, and I gathered up the most egregious of it, including some drinks cans that I’d not have wanted to slide over if I were a heroic fielder.

Again I shared the umpiring responsibilities with player-umpires throughout the day, although this time I was only doing one end.

I did better at signalling byes this time, but made up for it with a different howler. When a ball rolled under the tree I signalled for four runs even though it was miles from the boundary. The chasing fielder, the scorers, and the gaggle of waiting batsmen on the boundary all yelled at me so I swiftly corrected myself. Pedometer data shows that for the first half of the match I was moving a consistent amount, and consistently less for the second half, which is an improvement from the slow decrease over time that I’ve had before. For now, let’s assume that I had to move less in the second innings because of differences in the way the teams played. It definitely wasn’t due to a surfeit of cake at tea.

Holtwhite’s Trinibis vs Plastics XI, 2019-06-16

40/40 game. The captains agreed that Trinibis should bat first. Trinibis 132 all out. Plastics 100 all out.

Holtwhite’s is a multi-sport club with a modern clubhouse facing out onto their main cricket field, which was in use for a league game. Their second field shares a boundary with the first, and has a significant slope from one side to the other which has a significant impact, although somewhat oddly the slope is visually much more noticeable from the northern end. Scorers are well looked after, with a triangular hut positioned in a gap between the corners of the fields where scorers for both games can work, with excellent views, and there’s even an electronic scoreboard facing both pitches. The bar in the clubhouse is comfortable, and they provided an excellent tea.

Again I shared the umpiring responsibilities with various player-umpires throughout the day. Some were less confident than others and so I sometimes did both ends with them just umpiring at square leg. Some umpires don’t like doing this, as standing at square leg allows them to relax a bit, but I don’t mind. I reckon that if I can concentrate and drive a car all day then I should be able to concentrate and judge LBW appeals all day too. And as a cricket fan, behind the stumps is the best place from which to watch the game as you can see every little nuance.

My pre-match inspection found that one of the sight screens was inside the marked boundary so I moved the rope, and a few yards beyond the boundary in one corner was an alarmingly spiky and rusty piece of what I assume was groundsman’s equipment. Or possibly an Inquisition torture device. Either way, I wouldn’t have liked to have been a fielder legging it after a ball, running past the boundary into it. But I judged it to be far enough outside to be safe.

Pedometer data shows that my moving is still not up to snuff – there’s a drop-off through the day showing that I’m still not moving fast enough or far enough away from the bowler’s end to judge potential run-outs – but it’s an improvement from the previous match. And again I missed signalling some byes.

Plastics XI vs Flying Ducksmen, 2019-05-05

35/35 game, Ducksmen won the toss and batted first. Ducksmen 160/9. Plastics 161/8 from 26.1 overs. Plastics win by 2 wickets.

My first time standing as an umpire for a full game! I was accompanied by various player-umpires throughout the day standing at the other end. The Plastics are the friends I referred to in the introduction who formed a proper cricket club.

The ground is just a large flat area in a public park, maintained by the borough council, with no real facilities, just some changing rooms a few hundred yards away. There is plenty of space outside the boundary in which picnickers were picnicking, children playing, and couples strolling. I was standing at the western end, the Albert Bridge end, so when I was behind the stumps I had a nice view of the power station peeking over the trees. No really, a nice view.

There was only one even slightly contentious moment in the game, when at square leg I gave one of the Plastics out, run out. He gave me an evil glare as he walked off and I could hear him grumbling all the way to the boundary, only to then hear one of his team-mates tell him “nah mate, you were a mile out”.

I was surprisingly knackered by the end of the day, standing around for several hours and occasionally going for a short walk out to square leg and back again is tiring if you’re not used to it and my feet were killing me by the end. And I can see from my pedometer data that I was consistently moving less as the game went on, so not getting away from the stumps so far or so quickly to be in a position to judge bowler’s end run outs. Something that I think will naturally improve over time, but I need to keep an eye on it. The significant error that I made in this game was that I often remembered too late that I should have signalled for byes or leg byes. Not something that will affect the result but it will annoy people who care about their statistics.

A few beers afterwards in the pub with both teams ended a fun day. I didn’t really know until now whether I’d actually enjoy umpiring, but I did. AAA++++ will do again, as they say on eBay.