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.