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.