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.

Return to play!

The government and their medical maestros have given the go-ahead for recreational cricket to restart this weekend. I know from Umpire Twitter that some leagues are starting straight away. The Surrey Championship, the lower reaches of which are my cricketing home, is I think being a bit more sensible. They’re restarting in two weeks time. The ECB have promised to publish guidelines for clubs, and (I assume) updated playing regulations tomorrow, which is really pushing it for clubs to get ready in time for this weekend.

So, I’ve got until the 25th to make sure that my kit still fits, that I haven’t lost my ball counter, and so on. I ought to check that tonight actually, so I’ve got time to order replacements, and I should also look for a friendly match between now and then so I can get my eye back in.

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.

Continuous Professional Development, pt 3: conflict management

The most recent CPD video from the ACO was on conflict management, something that has only really come up a couple of times in my games, one of which came about because of an error on my part, not dealing with poor behaviour before it got too much. This area of umpiring would have, I think, been covered in the training course that I was due to go on at the end of March which was cancelled.

My approach to the whole game is that most of the time I am a spectator, and as much as possible should be left up to the players. That includes dismissals – if someone is out then I will only signal and give them out if the batsman doesn’t walk. That is, my default style is in the terminology of that video “avoiding”. In the error above, I avoided for too long. However, on the one second occasion for conflict in one of my games (I gave someone out caught when he was adamant that he wasn’t, and he argued) I went to “collaborating” by asking my colleague at square leg for his opinion. In the end my colleague (and it should be noted that he was a batsman temporarily standing at square leg) hadn’t had a clear enough view to say either way. If he had been sure I was wrong I would have changed the decision, but the dispute was settled with everyone being reasonably content by me telling the players to hold on while I consulted him, and then confirming my decision.

As a cricket umpire as opposed to an official in a more fast-moving sport I’m lucky that I will almost always have the time for collaboration with my umpiring colleague, but also I have the time to explain decisions to players. This means that I can be both assertive and co-operative, which I think is the ideal.

Continuous Professional Development, pt 2: run-outs

The practical exercise in the most recent CPD video from the ACO on run-outs was a very good one. I didn’t know about the flash-lag effect, but I got 16 out of 18 correct anyway, with one wrong in either direction. There was one more where I thought the batsman was probably out but I wasn’t certain, so gave not out – correctly. My positional judgement varied around the actual frame the batsman was in by a frame or two either way, with about a third of my correct decisions being spot on.

I think that’s a pretty good result, but I shall revisit the exercise in a couple of weeks to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

I hope they do one on LBWs soon, that’s the area of umpiring that I struggle the most with.

Continuous Professional Development: communication

In the absence of cricket and hence no opportunity for my usual post-match Maoist self-criticism on this blog, I’m looking forward to improving my umpiring through the training materials that the ECB ACO are beginning to put out. The first one on umpire communication was a good start, although I was amused at their picking Nigel Owens out as a bad example of match official to player communication. The point being made was that lecturing like a school master – which Nigel does – is generally a bad thing. But it works well for Nigel, for reasons that are also pointed out in the video. Different example needed I think!

When I was reviewing my overall performance at the end of last season communications was one of the things I picked out as needing work. I was thinking mostly of my pre-match communication with team captains and club officials, but there were also a couple of things in that that I need to improve a bit in my on-field communication.

Pre-season warmup

Pre-season warmup friendlies are supposed to start about now. Obviously that’s not happening, but I can at least have a warm-up for the social side of the season by cracking open this bottle that I was kindly given by the Plastics XI as a thank-you for umpiring some of their matches last season. It’s bloody delicious, and will also help prevent scurvy in my Plague Bunker.

Yes obviously I should have used a slice of orange instead of lime, but I’ve run out.

Cricket season postponed

In the light of the serious pandemic currently underway the ECB has indefinitely postponed the cricket season. I was kinda expecting that, after all the other major sports announced similar postponements. The level 2 umpire training that I was scheduled to have at the end of this month has also been cancelled.

I’m keeping another journal about current events, but will still update here with occasional crickety content if anything noteworthy happens.

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!

King’s Road Social and Cricket Club vs Plastics XI, 2019-09-14

40/40 game. Plastics won the toss and chose to bat. Plastics 139/6. Kings Road 141/3 from 26.1 overs – scorecard

I’m now winding down the season with a few friendly matches, this one back with the Plastics with whom I started the season, and I stood at the bowler’s end throughout the game. It was a surprisingly hot day for the time of year, with clear skies throughout. We were playing on a well-maintained municipal pitch which had a few green patches in the middle but was completely bare and the surface cracking up at the ends especially around the bowlers’ landing areas. Those noticeably broke down throughout the day becoming rather sandy. The field was huge, roughly the same size as the Oval. As we were playing on a pitch right at one edge of the square we moved the boundary in about 20 yards on the far side. Even so, it was still big enough that we didn’t just get a few 3s being run, there was even a run 4 – with no fielding errors involved!

Plastics innings was dominated by the opening batsman who was not out on 72. They got off to a slow start, with the run rate at one point being just 2 an over. But it soon settled on, and remained at, a more respectable 3 and a bit per over for the rest of the innings. The one really notable event was when the first wicket fell after 16 overs. There was an appeal for LBW, which I turned down (there were a lot fewer appeals in this game than in previous ones) but of course the ball is still live at that point. The batsman was out of his ground, so the quick-thinking King’s Road wicket-keeper, who I thought had an excellent game throughout, came forward, picked it up, and took the bails off to stump him. There was much confusion, but he was still out!

King’s Road pride themselves on the quality of their tea and are competitive about it, with the players each bringing a dish, preferably home-made, and both sides voting after the game for which was best. For me, the simple ham and mustard sarnies won it, but the wicket-keeper’s lamb curry was also excellent.

On to King’s Road’s innings, and to start with it looked like it would be a close game. But it wasn’t long before they were pulling away. After scoring only 19 in the first six overs – which put them behind the required run rate – they got a lot quicker. They were well over half way to the target by the time we took tea, and after tea scored even quicker. You only need to look at the bowling stats to see why. King’s Road’s bowlers got 9 maidens in their 40 overs, and gave away two wides and two no-balls. The Plastics got 1 maiden and gave away 7 wides and 7 no-balls. King’s Road’s bowlers were more controlled and economical, and in limited overs cricket if you can’t bowl a team out quickly being economical is better than taking wickets.

Onto the beer innings – we first went to the Prince of Wales for a quick refresher, a flat roof pub next to the ground that has been done up inside and has a reasonable range of beers but some unfortunately broken down furniture on the patio out the back. We then moved on to the William Morris, which appears to be a new pub in an old riverside mill next to the Wandle. The evening was still warm, and sitting out by the river with some beers and trying to drunkenly explain how to adjudicate wides was a nice end to a good day out. King’s Road are a good club, and I’d be very happy to umpire for them again.

Normally after I’ve written my match report we’d get into the Maoist self-criticism section and you could all laugh at my ineptitude. But I don’t think I made any bad mistakes in this match. Instead I’d like to single out one of the King’s Road batsmen, Raju Mazumder, for excellent sportsmanship. The very first ball of his team’s innings hit him on the pad and raced away towards the boundary. However, he had not played a shot. This is one of those weird edge-cases that very rarely happens, most players don’t know about, and is all too easy to forget as an umpire because it’s so rare. Law 23.2.1 says that leg byes are not given if no shot is offered. Knowing that this is such a rare case, the batsman called “no shot”, which was a very helpful reminder to me! I would have erroneously given four leg byes for his team otherwise, but thanks to his honesty I signalled dead ball, and if it wasn’t for a wide later in the over the Plastics would have opened with a maiden.