Return to play?

The latest from the ECB is that they plan to start the professional season on the 1st of August, although the exact details of how the various competitions will be structured remains to be decided. I would expect that red-ball professional domestic cricket will have spectators allowed into the ground, but limited overs cricket might not, especially T20 as that attracts large enough crowds that making people keep their distance would be Challenging. Counties may, I suppose, limit attendance to members only.

No word from the ECB on the community game, but the Surrey Championship in which I normally umpire (as a club umpire, not on the league panel) is planning for a week earlier, on the 25th of July. It will not be a full league season, with no promotion and relegation, and they will only organise games for the 1st and 2nd XIs. My own club, Beddington, runs five league sides, so the 3rds, 4ths and 5ths’ fixtures look like they’ll be left to clubs to organise friendlies against near-neighbours. I normally umpire for the 4th XI (the 1st XI generally has umpires appointed by the league, and the club already has two other umpires who do the 2nd and 3rd XIs) so I should at least have some friendlies this season – and given the age of many umpires, who as a result may be anxious about exposing themselves to filthy disease-ridden players, I may be umpiring up a division or so sometimes.

Wallington vs Beddington 4th XI, 2019-09-07

40/40 game. Beddington won the toss and chose to field. Wallington 117/9. Beddington 118/7 from 30.4 overs – scorecard

This was the last league game of my first season umpiring, and again I took the bowler’s end duties throughout. The field was noticeably longer than it was wide, making it noticeably harder than normal to get boundaries from straight drives and nicks behind, and easier to get boundaries off to the sides. So much easier that Wallington have erected very high fences along those boundaries in an attempt to lose fewer balls when they get tonked for six. In this game, however, there were only two sixes, one of which ended up in a neighbour’s back garden anyway. There is a slight slope from one side to the other, but I didn’t notice it have much effect. The pitch was a bit concave, with the wickets standing on slight humps at the ends.

Going into the match, Wallington were already relegated and Beddington already promoted, although in second place and a win would give them a chance of topping the division (results elsewhere ended up preventing this). Despite there not being much to play for I felt that both teams still gave their all. After all, if you’re playing at this level you’re primarily playing because it’s fun, and this was the last opportunity for league fun.

Wallington got off to a slow start, and something like a quarter of the overs Beddington bowled before the drinks break were maidens. And unfortunately they never really sped up. All five of Beddington’s main bowlers had an excellent economy rate under 3 an over, some of them being closer to 2 an over. Even the one part-time bowler went for less than 4 an over. An unusually high proportion of Wallington’s batsmen were out bowled or LBW. I gave three out LBW, which would normally make me wonder if I’d been a bit trigger-happy, but in this case I’m comfortable that I wasn’t.

After their innings Wallington provided a notably good tea.

Beddington’s innings got off to a much faster start. A mid-innings wobble, losing four wickets for just 17 runs, gave Wallington a small chance, but a good all-rounder performance and management of who was on strike in the tail ended up giving Beddington a comfortable victory.

I got to use a very unusual umpiring signal in this match! Although I didn’t actually see it happen due to the bowler standing in the way, there was a point in the Wallington innings where the fielders all told me that the keeper had fumbled a catch and the ball had hit his helmet that was lying on the ground behind the stumps. Five penalty runs to the batting side! Although I had to be told to give it I don’t really count this as an error on my part as my view was blocked.

However, regular readers will know that I have written about one of my umpiring errors in every entry in this journal so far. And I’m afraid that this time it was an absolutely colossal howler. I gave a no-ball for having more than two fielders behind leg. Unfortunately I had gone left/right colour-blind – the batsman was left-handed so his stance was reversed from normal, and the three fielders were actually behind the off-side. Oops. Oh so very oops. Profuse apologies, much blushing, a reversed decision, and when I joined the players back in the Beddington club-house for post-match beers some well-deserved taking the piss. But after making such a ridiculous mistake I’m very sure that I’ll never make that one again. It’s going to be a much easier mistake to fix than, for example, my earlier repeated forgetting to give byes. And I think that the lesson I’ve learned from it about how important it is to pay attention to the batsman before the ball is delivered, as well as to the delivery and what the batsman consequently does, will help me with judging LBWs. I’ve mentioned earlier about an error I made giving a left-handed batsman out LBW, but I think going into “concentration mode” a little bit earlier on each ball will also improve the quality of my LBW decisions over all.

Beddington 4th XI vs Reigate Priory, 2019-08-31

40/40 game. Beddington won the toss and chose to field. Reigate Priory 145/8. Beddington 140/9 – scorecard

As we come to the end of the season and the sun sets a bit earlier, start times are moved forward an hour. After the last two weekends of having an umpire colleague it was back to player-umpires today, and so I took bowler’s end duties throughout, with them standing at square leg.

The forecast said that there was a very small – just 1% – chance of a bit of drizzle later in the afternoon, but to start with it was a lovely sunny day with just a few white clouds in a bright blue sky. Reigate’s innings looked at first like it would be alarmingly short, with the first five wickets falling for just 51 runs. Their captain, however, coming in at number 6, put in a good performance, scoring half his team’s runs and steadying the ship.

As the day wore on it became cloudier and the wind got up. About a third of the way into Beddington’s innings I felt a few rain drops. “That would be that 1% chance of drizzle then”, I thought, and it shortly went away. But the clouds built up and it got darker, and the second half of Beddington’s innings was played in intermittent showers. Beddington got off to a much better start in their innings, but had their own little collapse and, chasing a target of 146, they were exactly half way – half way with 73 runs, half way with 5 wickets gone, and half way with 20 overs remaining – at the tea break. That would normally be a recipe for a comfortable win for Reigate. But after the 8th wicket fell for 109 the tailenders did sterling work. With three overs to go they needed 27, and despite me giving an LBW early in that over, they made the required run rate, and only needed 9 from the last over. A change of bowler for that last over, however, restricted Beddington and they ended up six runs short of victory.

I considered taking the players off because of the rain, and by a happy coincidence I had read up on the ECB’s guidance notes for umpires after recent – and unwarranted –press criticism of Aleem Dar’s decision making around weather stopping play in the Ireland test match. I briefly discussed the situation with my colleague during the first significant shower. His opinion was “they’re happy to continue so let’s carry on” which is contrary to the guidance. That makes it clear that the umpires shouldn’t consider whether the players want to continue. I did not press the issue and just asked him to let me know if his opinion changed, as when there is only one umpire I should listen to his opinion but the responsibility is mine, and mine alone. At no point, however, did I think that the ground was becoming dangerously slippery, either off the pitch, or on the bowler’s run-up or landing areas, or in front of the wicket. I checked as I was walking from end to end. The other safety issue is whether the bowler can properly grip the ball and control his delivery. I carry a small towel for this reason – I would never have considered doing this if I hadn’t gone on the course back in February though at which it was mentioned. The final thing to consider was whether the rain was adversely affecting the ball so as to be unfair to the fielding side. I did not believe it was seriously affected, given that the rain didn’t really start until the second half of the innings and the shine had already been taken off. In any case, this is a matter where we should pay attention to any requests from the players to change the ball so no action is necessary unless they ask for it.

I don’t think I made any controversial decisions, but I did make one error. One of the Beddington batsmen edged a ball down leg side. The wicket keeper hared off after it, stopped the ball and hurled it back. I was unsure whether it had reached the boundary, which was marked with a white line and not a rope, and seeing no signal from the fielder (I had at earlier points in the match) I just assumed it hadn’t and that just the one that the batsmen had run should count. The scorer, however, had been nearby and clearly seen it cross the boundary, so despite my not signalling it he had noted down a four. I realised what had happened when the score board was updated at the end of the over to show three more than I expected, and I let it go. In retrospect I should have asked the fielder once the ball was dead instead of just assuming that no signal from him meant no boundary. Compounding the error, I had already asked a batsman earlier in the innings if he had edged a ball or if it had gone off his pad for leg byes when I wasn’t sure! The lesson for this match is “if in doubt, ask”. I may not have a third umpire watching on TV, but I can at least ask players and scorers for help.

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.