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.
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.