We umpires spend quite a deal of time pre-season going through Law 42, which is the Fair and Unfair Play Law. Probably the most important part of the Laws is where it states:
The responsibility lies with the captains for ensuring that play is conducted within the spirit and traditions of the game, as described in The Preamble – The Spirit of Cricket, as well as within the Laws
The best call to this spirit is contained in the 1934 Wisden where the editor goes through what made bodyline deplorable stating
‘Mainly because it makes cricket a battle instead of a game I deplore its introduction and pray for its abolition, not by any legislative measures, but by the influence our captains can bring to bear….’
This was a rather rose coloured view of human relations but certainly in international cricket captains and umpires see the game as a battle where any discipline is to be imposed by match officials and the ICC itself.
This is not true in Park Cricket and I must say the umpires have a much larger role, in cricket played at Fawkner Park, than cricket played at the MCG. The Merks play competitive cricket, not ‘combative’ cricket, and I thought today I would go through a few little things that I, as am umpire, do to keep our games a pleasurable place.
The most important thing is to love the game, and love the game you are umpiring today. Players soon learn that an umpire is a cricket obsessive. After a few years in the competition they get to know you and appreciate that you are trying your best. Last week my umpiring mistakes cost Monash the game but their club president was unconcerned. “Don’t worry Phil. It will even up eventually’. It didn’t that day.
You do have to control the game to some degree and this started before the game on Saturday. I arrive very early for all my games. It shows the players you mean business. I even beat Adrian Crawley to a game once. I arrived at Crawford Oval and the curator was still there. Now I measure the pitches before we start and so far this year we had one nine inches too long, one eight inches too narrow, and several where the stump holes were not in the centre of the pitch.
When I walked out to the pitch the curator erupted accusing me of being some school teacher that wrote an essay on his wicket marking. He complained that we allow play at one end. We umpires don’t write the rules. We only apply them. Curators would like all games to be called off so they don’t have to prepare a new wicket for the next week. Now I haven’t done a game at Crawford for a few years so it wasn’t me writing about his pitches, but I immediately noticed that the stumps at the southern end weren’t in the middle. They were three inches to one side.
What the players and umpires noticed was the curator has prepared a ‘belter’ of a pitch: hard, perfectly flat, with plenty of grass. The pitches at Crawford a few years ago were poor, with the ball running along the ground all day. You cannot play attractive cricket on such pitches, but on this masterpiece, the players were able to put on a great game for us umpires.
I did not want to embarrass the bloke, so I waited until he left and repositioned the stumps correctly. Doing little things, at the right time, can mean quite a bit.
Players must be allowed to show some disappointment at your decisions but they must not show what we call ‘dissent’. I have a Two Hit Rule. An example would be where a player is given out LBW, points to his bat, says “I hit that Phil”, but walks straight and silently off. If he stays too long at the crease and complains loudly all the way off the field into the book he goes.
My colleague on Saturday had all the tough decisions. I had a day where I only had two LBW decisions that were remotely close. A few players were disappointed they were given out but none ‘crossed the two hit line’. Umpires mustn’t be overbearing.
The umpires are asked to curtail swearing that can be heard off the ground. If a bowler lets a ‘F… hell ‘, go as the keeper drops another catch, you let it go through to the keeper unless the obscenity is too loud. I have an amusing technique to deal with this situation. At the end of the over I hand the bowler his hat but I don’t let go of it. I have his attention. I then ask him if he can say ‘F…ing hell’ a bit quieter in future. It never fails. The bowler smiles, gives his apologies and we get on with the game.
I have developed a new technique that works well with our subcontinent fellows. I speak a bit of Hindi. Often a bowler asks me how many deliveries are left in this over. I answer in Hindi, and he says thanks, but then recoils, and asks me to repeat what I have said. I know the Hindi word for rubbish. When a slow full toss gets a wicket. I don’t say ‘Shit gets wickets’. I say it in Hindi. When a subcontinent player swears too loudly I use the hat technique but ask him what does this Hindi phrase ‘Arr F……’ means and how do I spell it. You never have to ask twice and the player has become your new friend.
It is little things like this that help make the Merks such a pleasant place to play our cricket. International cricket has probably always been a battle, while in the Merks, cricket has always been a game. I don’t care that much if the players get angry with the umpires when we make mistakes. You have to be able to take some heat. I do get disappointed when my umpiring mistakes mean the teams fall out with each other. That can happen.
Gideon Haigh invited me to a book launch at Como (his home ground) a few years ago where Ed Cowan was the guest of honour. The title was something along the lines of ‘A Real Cricketer at Como’. That title annoyed me. Ed Cowan is an unreal cricketer. Gideon and the rest of the South Yarra blokes are real cricketers.
Have you ever thought about how nearly all cricket is played without umpires? No other team sport could do it.