Ashburnham vs East Dean, 2020-09-13

42/38 game with any unused overs from the first innings being added to the second. East Dean won the toss and fielded first. Ashburnham 157/9. East Dean 95ao from 26.4 overs.

That match format. Yes, it’s bizarre. But it’s what the captains agreed before the toss, as a compromise between a limited overs game and a timed game. It works around the problems of a slow last “hour” in a timed game, which is actually an hour or the time taken for 20 overs, whichever is longer – so in practice is always longer than an hour unless a team is bowled out. Given how late in the season we are and the problems fielders on the eastern side would have when the sun is low in the sky, I think it might be a sensible compromise no matter how odd. Alternatively they could just start an hour earlier, but perish the thought of getting up earlier on a Sunday!

This was the first of a few friendlies that I’m umpiring as the season winds down. Conditions were excellent – mostly sunny, without significant recent rain so the ground was firm and dry, and while it was warm it wasn’t too too hot. There was quite a lot of dry grass on the pitch, and since last season the fences along the east and west sides have been augmented with some finer mesh so that far fewer balls are lost into the neighbouring field or over the road. I was surprised however, that there were no sixes even though we were playing right on the eastern edge of the square with a very short boundary on that side. I was accompanied by player-umpires throughout. For the first 12 overs I did the bowler’s end duties as the two younger players I had with me during that spell were not confident about doing that, but after that things were back to normal. Normally I wouldn’t chop and change like that for the sake of consistency, but it was a friendly and the captains were happy with it, so I was too.

It was a tricky pitch to bat on, with a bit of turn off the surface (but not much swing), quite bouncy, with the odd ball staying really low. One stayed so low that I gave a no-ball for bouncing twice before it reached the other end during Ashburnham’s innings. The bounciness meant that plenty of balls which struck the batsmen were going to go over the stumps. In a league match I would have had to turn down plenty of appeals on those grounds, but here there was a refreshing honesty from both sides when fielding. Ashburnham’s opening pair put on a very good 80, with a highest score of 54 for the first man, but there was an absolutely catastrophic collapse later, going from 120/3 to 137/9 in 7 overs, with two men dismissed for 1 each and three for a duck. The last pair made what I thought would be an important 10 each, and there were also a helpful 18 extras, mostly wides.

I thought that the target of 158 was achievable provided nothing went terribly wrong – but it did. East Dean’s innings didn’t get off to a good start, with their opening batsman falling on the last ball of a wicket-maiden. The second over was a maiden too. I thought that the pitch was a bit more docile in the second innings, and despite Ashburnham not being able to find a hard new ball and so having to make do with a used one, the number of balls keeping low was actually less remarkable than previously. A couple of balls bounced unusually high as the bowlers found divots and rough spots. None of East Dean’s batsmen could stay long at the crease, with the best score being 39 off 34 balls but only two more getting over 10 runs, and wickets falling regularly. Ashburnham’s bowling was excellent, with the captain getting 5 for 24 off just 7.4 overs and the opening bowler, a 15 year old lad, got that opening wicket-maiden and while he ended up getting just that one wicket for 27 runs from his six over spell he was tantalisingly close to getting several more wickets – I look forward to seeing him in action again. There was also just one extra for the bowlers (a wide), although there were eight byes as well.

I thought I had a good game, although I had to make very few decisions. I gave two unusual no-balls – the double-bounce that I’ve already mentioned, and another where the bowler knocked the bails off during his delivery – but I’ve given them both before so they don’t count towards my collection. I also warned one of the bowlers that he was very close to a back foot no-ball, something that you don’t see very often and I had to briefly explain the law to him. Last season I might not have spotted that, but this season, having paid attention while watching rather more experienced umpires in action, I’ve been standing further back. While it does mean that I can see that sort of infraction better, the rather more important reasons for it are that I don’t have to change where I’m concentrating so much from the bowler’s landing spot (for the more common front foot no ball) to the batsman (for an LBW), and I also have a split second more to get out of the way if the batsman tries to take my head off. That said, if I think that a bowler is very close to a front foot infringement then I will stand further forward to get a better view of the crease.

I am cursed, 2020-07-19

My first match of the season was supposed to be today, at Ashburnham, who were playing Catsfield. There was a bit of rain around in the morning when I left London, heading to my parents place for a pre-match lunch, but that cleared up. After lunch I headed off to the ground … and the heavens opened. It absolutely bucketed down. But not for long, and so we got started only a little bit late, with me doing bowler’s-end duty throughout. After a grand total of 4.2 overs I took the players off as it had started raining again, and the bowlers’ landing points were already turning muddy and slippery. After a further 20-odd minutes of hanging around everyone agreed that even if the rain did stop the ground wasn’t going to dry out enough so the match was abandoned.

Then on my way home a couple of hours later I saw there was a game on at Blindley Heath so I stopped to watch. When I arrived the batting team were on 117 for 5, although chasing a target of over 200. Twelve minutes later they were all out.

Clearly I have offended the gods and am cursed to only see a few minutes of cricket this season.

On a better note, however, I don’t appear to be terribly rusty. I remembered to give all the right signals, even for byes which I forgot an awful lot of the time last year.

Ashburnham vs Eastbourne Martlets, 2019-09-22

Timed game: 5 hours including tea break, 1 innings each. Ashburnham won the toss and chose to bat. Ashburnham 223/5 d from 36 overs. Martlets 224/7 from 36 overs.

This was my first timed game. Of course, rarely does a team ever get 20 overs (the minimum for the last hour) done in an hour, the normal rate is more like 16 an hour and so the last hour, and the game, is longer than those naughty lying clocks tell you. Given the size of the ground and the frequency with which balls need to be hunted down from hedges and the surrounding fields I’m surprised that the over rate here isn’t noticeably lower than that. The captains agreed beforehand that there would be a declaration at tea if necessary, which would come after 2h20 – all very friendly. I was accompanied by player-umpires, but did square leg duties as normal.

There had been rain overnight, a short shower shortly before play started, and it was very humid, with the forecast promising more rain. Thankfully the forecast was wrong, and while it was overcast until the last half hour there were no interruptions. The pitch which had apparently been bone dry and dusty when mowed the day before was, thanks to the overnight rain, green all over, but the ground was firm all over. It wasn’t very helpful to the bowlers, with no-one really getting the ball to turn much and only one getting noticeable swing.

The game started off extremely high scoring, the first two overs going for 11 and 12, but soon settled down to 6-ish per over. Ashburnham’s openers both got into the 40s, one of them out for 49, and their number 4 got a very good 72*. I thought the Martlets were being very conservative with their appeals. There were a couple of balls when I was surprised they didn’t appeal for LBW. I would have turned them both down, but even so, I’m used to a lot more appeals in league games.

After tea, the Martlets’ innings started just as fast, with 15 and 8 from the first two overs, and the seventh, which understandably was that bowler’s last, went for 20 – he finished his spell on 1/50. The other bowlers were more frugal though, and at one point I wondered if Ashburnham might be able to bowl them out in time. However, the game was won by the Martlets’ 5th and 6th batsman. They came in respectively when the scores were 111 and 113, and made an excellent 70 partnership during which number 5, who was clearly normally a tail-ender, very uncomfortable filling in up the order, made all of 8 runs from 39 balls while his partner tonked it all over the place. While he was clearly uncomfortable at the crease he played a magnificently safe innings, never going for shots beyond his ability, leaving balls when he could, and playing solid defensive shots when he had to. Once those two were out there were only another 34 required and plenty of overs left, so I expected a Martlets’ victory if they played sensibly. And that’s how they were going, until a terribly expensive last over finished the game, with four byes from the last ball. That last over was an anomaly in some otherwise good bowling figures, that bowler getting 3 wickets for 59 runs, having bowled 13 overs (2 of which were maidens) without a break.

One notable feature of the game is the methods of dismissal. Ashburnham’s dismissed batsmen were all caught, while none of the Martlets’ were. I wonder just how rare this is.

I think I had another good game, my one minor error stemming from it being my first timed game and so not being as familiar with this format as I am with limited overs games. There aren’t supposed to be any drinks breaks during the last hour of play, but because they had previously been scheduled for 1h10 into the innings and we started the second innings late as tea was taken rather leisurely, drinks came on after the first over of the last hour. What I should have done is, when my watch buzzed at me for the start of the last hour, called for drinks at the end of that over, and then signalled the start of the last hour when we started the next over. A trivial matter really, and I’m not going to beat myself up over it!

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.