Ashtead under-11s festival, 2020-08-31

A bank holiday with most of the things I might normally have done – theatre, Go tournaments, professional sport, museums etc – closed, so I volunteered to umpire at this under-11s cricket festival when the call went out on the Surrey ACO mailing list. There were eight teams, first split into two groups of four which would all play each other once, followed by semi-finals for the top two in each group, and a final and a third place play-off. The format was 8 players a side, 7 overs per innings, with everyone except the wicket-keeper bowling one over, and batsmen retiring on 20, all of that to make sure that all the children got to play and no-one was left to just field all day. Ashtead’s field was divided into two with some netting down the middle, and the boys played on 17 yard pitches instead of the usual 22. To help keep things on schedule, wides and no-balls counted as two runs but no extra ball except in the last over of an innings. The wisdom of this was brought home to me when I had to signal wide on every single ball of one lad’s over. I didn’t really want to, it felt cruel, but I just couldn’t be generous to him when he was not just bowling out of the batsman’s reach, but off the strip entirely, and the no extra ball rule did at least mean that his pain wasn’t continued indefinitely.

I umpired three of the group matches and a semifinal, and it made a refreshing change to have actual umpires standing with me instead of the normal player-umpires just taking square leg duties. I won’t go into details of all the matches – I don’t have complete score books to refer to to refresh my memory and it wouldn’t be very interesting. However, a few things really stood out. With more players than overs in an innings, wickets weren’t worth much and so the batsmen took far more opportunities to run than would be prudent in longer-form cricket. They were helped by the fielding being more enthusiastic than effective, with far too many balls hurled from the field to the keeper or bowler, who was often in the wrong place, or couldn’t take a wild throw, and there was too often no back-up in case he missed it. So lots of runs came from overthrows – so many that at one point in one game there had been so many and the players kept stopping (as if they thought the ball was dead in a fielder’s hands) and then re-starting (when he threw it) that I put a stop to it by signalling dead ball. There were quite a lot of run-outs, at both ends. Finally, with enthusiastic rather than accurate bowling from some, and wicket-keepers who were both not yet very skilled and often too small to reach the ball, several teams opted to have a long stop to prevent the many byes going to the boundary. I’ve hardly ever seen a long stop outside of a diagram of fielding positions, for as the fount of all wisdom Wikipedia says it is generally only used “when a wicket-keeper is believed to be inept; the position is almost never seen in professional cricket”. Although I do wonder if it ought to make a come-back in the professional game as a defence against the new-fangled ramp shot.

It was an enjoyable day and the cricket was good enough that I stayed on as a spectator for the final even though I was no longer needed. I don’t think I made any terrible mistakes, but I did learn a few things from observing rather more experienced umpires up close and from nattering with umpires and scorers when I wasn’t in the field. First, I need to slow down before giving my signals to the scorers, especially when there has been a no-ball or wide, because the ball is still in play at that point and I really should continue to concentrate on it. In normal games this isn’t usually an issue as the wicket-keeper generally prevents anything from happening, but in these games there was often quite a lot that happened after a wide especially. And second, most of my colleagues (all of whom were considerably more experienced than me) were fastidious about making sure that both their on-field colleague at square leg and the scorer were ready to start an innings.

Beddington 4th XI vs Old Wimbledonians, 2020-08-29

40/40 game reduced to 35/35. Beddington won the toss and fielded first. Old Wimbledonians 143/4. Beddington 116ao from 33.3 overs – scorecard

The soggy Pavilion end, after the game was finished

Overnight rain left the outfield soaking, so much so that just standing on it would squeeze water out around your shoes in some places. The pitch had been covered, but the covers seem to have come loose in the high winds and so it was also wet around the wickets at both ends and in a patch in the middle. The covers were just coming off as I arrived and I went straight out to see how things were. Conditions were atrocious. Just putting your foot down – in ordinary shoes, not spikes – left a clear imprint next to the wicket where the bowlers would be landing, and without much effort I could push my finger into the ground. Start to put any force on the ground like the bowlers would and it would cut up horribly, to the extent that I thought it would be dangerously unsound footing. There was a strong breeze which would help things to dry out, but I wasn’t optimistic. A few minutes before the scheduled start at 1pm I did another pitch inspection and while things had improved they hadn’t improved enough in my opinion, and so despite much complaint from one of Beddington’s bowlers I told the captains we would delay the start and I would have another look in half an hour. The complaining bowler’s position was that if he was happy to bowl he should be allowed to. But that’s not how it works. In any case, the rest of the field, including parts of the pitch, was so wet that even if we had started on time it wouldn’t have been a very good game. Finally, another half hour later, I did a third inspection and deemed that the breeze had helped the ground firm up enough that we could get the game on. The late start reduced the game from 40 overs a side to 35.

With the help of plenty of sawdust on the bowlers’ landing spots the ground held up pretty well, but even so it was a difficult batting pitch, as the wetter spots were dead and so the ball often kept unexpectedly low. Old Wimbledonians’ first wicket fell for just three runs, and after the first ten overs the score was just ten. But after that point Wimbledonians got into their stride and started scoring more freely. The second wicket didn’t fall until the 25th over, with the score on 84, for a fairly respectable three and a bit per over, and after that they really cracked on, going at nigh on 6 an over for the rest of their innings, punishing the part-time bowlers hard. Their opening batsman carried his bat, making 62. I thought Beddington’s performance in the field was a lot better than last week, and that the target of 144 was not out of reach, especially as conditions for the batsman were improving as things dried out.

Beddington’s innings got off to a cracking start. It took Wimbledonians eight overs to score eight runs, it took Beddington’s opening batsman just one over. But unfortunately wickets fell too quickly to some good bowling – six men were out bowled – and only three made it past 20 runs, with six making less than 10. There was one comedy dismissal, where the non-striker had left the crease but then there was no run. He just stood there, several feet out of his ground. The ball went to a fielder, who chucked it back to the bowler, and I had the easiest run-out decision ever. I really didn’t want to give it, because it was such a silly way to get out and he had plenty of time to walk back to safety, but he didn’t, so I had no choice. Later, when Beddington’s last two men were batting, Wimbledonians had another opportunity for an easy run-out as the two batsmen had run into each other and were lying on the ground laughing at themselves. I thought it was very sporting that they didn’t take the wicket. Bravo!

I was happy with my performance. I do wonder if I did the right thing by delaying the start – whether conditions were actually dangerous – but aside from that I’m confident that I got everything else right. There were surprisingly few silly appeals in this game, which was good. Another sign, like Wimbledonians’ generously not taking that wicket after the pratfall, that the game was played in the spirit it ought to be.

Beddington 4th XI vs Dulwich, 2020-08-22

40/40 game. Beddington won the toss and fielded first. Dulwich 207/7. Beddington 110/9 – scorecard

It was a very windy day, played initially under cloudy skies which brightened up a bit later in the afternoon. There were a few spots of rain, one of which suddenly got heavier from one ball to the next and I decided to take the players off after that ball – which had, unfortunately seen a batsman dismissed. But before we’d even made it as far as the boundary the rain stopped and so we went straight back to it. A rain stoppage not resulting in any time lost – that’s probably the most unusual thing I’ll see this season. That had been rain earlier in the week but while there was a bit of green on the pitch it was baked hard. I took bowler’s end duties throughout. One of the Dulwich bowlers complained at the start of his spell that his landing spot had been too broken up during the previous innings, but it looked fine to me, the ground was solid. He opted to consistently land slightly to the right of it (closer to the wicket), but he seemed to perform well and if his performance was degraded by landing a couple of inches to the right of his normal spot then I’d love to see him at his best! His new landing spot put him very close to hitting the protected area during his follow through, and he may well have actually done so a few times, but it wasn’t to any significant extent (he didn’t block my view of the batsman and wicket at the other end) and if I police that rigorously I can’t look for LBWs, so I let it go.

Dulwich’s innings got off to a rocky start, losing the first two wickets for just eleven runs and the third for just fourteen more, due to a combination of excellent bowling and quick fielding. Unfortunately once the two opening bowlers finished their spells they couldn’t hold it together. Between them those two allowed just 44 runs from the first 16 overs, an average of less than 3 per over between them. The third wicket went with 70 runs on the board and the fourth with 147 as the rest of Beddington’s bowlers all went for over 5 an over, at least some of which was because of consistent fielding mishaps.

Beddington’s innings didn’t start well, with the first wicket falling in the first over – a wicket maiden. I’d turned down an LBW appeal the previous ball – if my memory of what happened 24 hours ago is correct I’d only turned it down because there was just a leeeetle bit of doubt in my mind about whether the ball would have hit the stumps. But one ball later there was no doubt. The next wicket didn’t fall until the 11th over, but where you would normally expect the second wicket partnership to score at a nice steady rate these two just couldn’t. There were two more maiden overs before the second wicket fell for just 21 runs scored. Even so, that slow scoring mirrored Dulwich’s in their innings. Dulwich scored 44 from the first 16 overs, Beddington scored 45. But Dulwich’s subsequent bowlers allowed far fewer runs than Beddington’s had, helped by enthusiastic fielding. They were especially good at chasing balls down (and hence saving runs) which would, when Beddington was fielding, have gone for four. Beddington’s last two batsmen put on 36 runs between them, but by then it was far, far too late.

I was much happier with my performance today, and I think I made only one mistake. Early on in Beddington’s innings I wasn’t sure if one of their batsman was quite making his ground before turning round for a second run, so I made sure to keep an eye on him. It wasn’t long before I spotted a short run. Only by an inch or so, but an inch out is an inch out, so I signalled “short run”. Or rather, I thought I signalled short run. I actually signalled “5 penalty runs to the fielding side”. There was no acknowledgement from the scorers, who were no doubt confused as there was no reason for penalty runs, so I yelled “one short” at them, thinking that they either couldn’t see the signal or didn’t understand such a rare signal. We got the right result in the end, but I need to revise my lesser-used signals!

Malden Wanderers vs Beddington 4th XI, 2020-08-15

40/40 game reduced to 30/30. Beddington won the toss and fielded first. Malden 190/5. Beddington 80 from 20 overs – scorecard

Thankfully it wasn’t as desperately hot as it had been for the past week (34ยบ C and 75% humidity is inhuman!) but it was still warm and humid. Recent rain had left everything bright green, even a little bit of green on the pitch. It had also left the ground a bit soft and towards the end I was getting concerned that it was turning muddy and slippery where the bowlers’ feet were landing but thankfully it only deteriorated so far. In that respect I’m glad we only played 50 overs instead of the scheduled 80. There was little bounce in the pitch. We were on Malden’s second field, which is quite small. It shares a boundary with their main field, something that I am not keen on, as no-one likes getting an unexpected bonk on their bonce from the game next door when fielding. I took the bowler’s end throughout. The weather forecast was for rain later in the afternoon, and depending on which forecast you believed it would be either a few light showers or a torrential downpour that would leave the surface unplayable, so the captains and I agreed beforehand to reduce the game to 30 overs a side to increase the chances of getting a result. As it happened the rain held off and we would have been able to go the full length anyway with perhaps just a little drizzle. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! Aside from my minor grumbles above about the field, I like the Malden club. They were very friendly and most importantly they have a decent beer selection.

Malden’s batting was dominated by a young man who carried his bat, and was desperately unlucky to not make his century when their innings finished with him on 99 not out. Beddington were terribly hampered by some injuries while fielding. One young player had to retire from the game very early – I think it was in the second over – when he did himself a mischief while chasing a ball to the boundary. They were down to fielding with ten men for a couple of overs while one of the accompanying parents changed into his whites to come on as a substitute fielder. Then after the fifth over, another young player, who had come into the game with a knee injury but told everyone he could play, had to be carried from the field. So again, down to ten fielders temporarily while another substitute got kitted up. Add to all those woes the fact that Malden’s side batted well and Beddington’s fielding was leaky and they dropped a couple of catches.

Beddington’s innings started with Malden bowling two wicket-maidens, both of the openers getting out for nowt. One of those was down to a third injury. Another of Beddington’s youngsters got hit on his sternum by one of the few balls that bounced. Very painful and we paused for a couple of minutes so he could get his breath back. But whether it was because he had lost his confidence or because of the painful bruise, he was out for a duck a couple of balls later. I hope he returns to form for the remaining games of the season as he is usually a good batsman, great fun to watch. Only three of Beddington’s ten batsmen (the player with the knee injury from the first innings came out to bat but did not score) got any runs, those runs coming from 16 fours and 9 singles, as Malden did an excellent job in the field. Malden’s innings by comparison had been far more balanced with 5 sixes, 21 fours, 11 twos and 32 singles.

I am not happy with my own performance. My head wasn’t in the game as we began and I know that not only did I do my old trick of forgetting to signal byes, I even forgot to signal some early boundaries despite entering them on my run counter. Thankfully the scorer put them all in the book! I had to give two batsmen out when they didn’t walk. One was LBW, he was very cross with me but the ball landed on his toes dead in front of middle stump and would have gone on to hit it about a third of the way up. The other was a player caught behind, off the tiniest of edges. I clearly heard it, but he looked disbelieving at me before heading off. I turned down a few LBW appeals, one of which was perhaps a bit contentious. It was certainly close but I couldn’t be sure the ball was going to hit the wicket so couldn’t give it. One for the TV umpire when that becomes available at this level! The rest of the dismissals needed no input from me as the batsmen walked. I did get irritated at one of the player-umpires who was playing with his phone in between balls and even at one point got so engrossed in it that he didn’t change ends for a new over until I yelled at him. Bad. Naughty. I shall Have Words the next time he accompanies me, although I should really have had a quiet word with him in between overs, so bad naughty me as well.

Finally, I had an Umpire Groupie! One of my father’s cousins lives within spitting distance of the club so I told him there was a game on and invited him and his wife to come and watch. Afterwards I went to their house for dinner and a refreshing litre of tea, where I moaned lots about how much my feet hurt and how hard it was to stand up again after finally sitting down.

Beddington 4th XI vs Sutton, 2020-08-01

40/40 game. Beddington won the toss and fielded first. Sutton 150/8. Beddington 129 from 33 overs – scorecard

My third game of the season, and the first to be completed, was played under changing, hot conditions. I was the only umpire, being accompanied by glamourous assistants who took square leg duties while I was at the bowler’s end throughout. It started with bright sunshine getting cloudier throughout, but the rain, such as it was, just a few light drops, held off until the Lager Innings. The outfield was scorched dry, with the ball running away fast, but the square had been watered. The strip we were using had a tinge of green to it, but was baked hard.

Early on in their innings Sutton were scoring fast, at one point looking like they might make 200, but after a high-scoring opening, Beddington’s bowlers pegged them back. It turns out that the young lad who I erroneously gave out last week can also bowl, getting 3 wickets for 10 runs conceded from his 4 overs.

Beddington’s innings started a bit wobbly, with the first two wickets falling with just 11 runs scored, but a 71 run partnership for the third wicket seemed to get things back on track with some fine batting that I was very much enjoying watching (being the umpire really does give you the best seat in the house) and I was rather annoyed when they both got out in quick succession, and the rest of the wickets fell for little profit. Aside from that one good partnership the highest score was eight. Sutton had a boy from their under-13s side who finished off most of the tail. His bowling was wild, but in his 4 overs bowled he got 4 wickets for 13 runs conceded. His feet were all over the place, often landing a long way back from the crease, and he gave away a lot of extras, but when he landed right he got wickets – results count for more than style.

After last week I had decided I was too lenient regarding wides, so was quite a bit stricter today. There were still some grumbles from batsmen for me not giving them, but that was their fault for moving towards what would have been a wide ball as I noted last week.

After my LBW mistake of last week I wonder if I perhaps veered too far in the opposite direction. I only gave two (one per team) despite many appeals. A few of those appeals were of course the usual ridiculousness were a fielder at point screams for a wicket, and a couple had the whole team go up including those who had a good view of what happened. There were a couple I only turned down because I couldn’t be sure that the ball hadn’t hit the bat – they were otherwise dead straight deliveries, but most I turned down either because I thought they were missing the stumps or had not hit the batsman in line with the stumps. Without the benefit of a suite of cameras, microphones and computers I just can’t tell if I’m getting it right or not, the best I can do is aim to be consistent, and I think I was. At some point I may sign up for a couple of hours with the techno-wizardry at the MCC indoor academy. When I do I am prepared to be terribly embarrassed!