Almanac Cricket – Blind, Deaf, and Clueless: But I Got Rhythm

Last weekend I umpired with a couple of inexperienced umpires.


A few years ago at a cricket umpiring conference I heard a talk entitled ‘The Rhythms of the Game’. An experienced umpire led us through what leads players to realise they have an experienced umpire doing their match today. The players probably cannot describe what leads them to this conclusion but players can ‘sense’ that an umpire knows what’s going on. There are rhythms to a cricket match which the umpire establishes which the players appreciate.


It’s the same in all walks of life. I place dental implants. I only do the easy ones and some are very easy indeed. Filling a tooth is often more difficult than placing an implant.


I place two different brands of implants. I use what is called a check list so each cut in the gum, each use of a hand instrument, or drill is done in the proper and planned order. We take copious radiographs, all at pre-planned times, and when each stage of the procedure is achieved, a ‘scout nurse’ ticks off that we have completed this stage in the procedure. It works like clockwork. The placement has a rhythm to it and the patients realise that we know what we are doing and relax. But sometimes I fret that patients may start to worry that things may be going astray.


The implants (both brands) come in sterile containers that have to be opened in a specific way so not to ‘break sterility’. Unfortunately one of the brands (Strauman) comes, not in child proof packaging, but in dentist proof packaging, or probably more accurately, Phil Hill proof packing. These implants have some other advantages over the other brand (Biohorizons) and sometimes they are the treatment of choice, but they make me look clumsy. Trying to get the bloody things out of the bloody packet completely breaks the smooth ‘rhythm’ of the procedure.


Brand new cricket umpires stand out like me trying to get a 12 mm long, 4.8 wide neck Strauman implant out of its packaging. Let me explain.


On the cricket you watch on TV they have cameras to judge run outs and stumpings so it is important that the umpires do not get in the way of the players, the ball and the cameras. This last requirement means at the bowler’s end they just stand there, perfectly still, unless they have to get out of the way of the ball. This is not so in park cricket. In park cricket you have to be out parallel with the popping crease to judge any run outs that occur. Experienced umpires start to move as soon as the ball is hit (except if there is an appeal). You don’t have far to move, and you don’t have to move very quickly, but you have to start to move quickly. Players start to recognise, over a day’s play, where the umpire finishes up. New umpires stand still and so stand out.


I never try to judge if a ball is going for a four. It’s too far away and you have to rely on the honesty of the fieldsman. I watch the running batsman to see if he runs short. An inexperienced umpire watches the ball disappearing into the distance, rather than making sure he takes care of those decisions he can actually adjudicate on. In a catch situation the umpire at square leg has to watch for two things. Did the batsman cross before the catch was taken, and if the catch is dropped (not an unknown occurrence in the lower Merk grades) did the batsman run short? Players pick up batsman running short and are unforgiving of umpires who are not looking.


Inexperienced umpires are always too quiet in their calling. A no ball call should be heard by all the players on the field. New umpires always call over far too quietly. This stands out like the proverbial dogs …. I think it arises from the habit new umpires have of being in love with their ball counter. They fumble at their counter, on the last ball, in much the same way I fumble with a Strauman implant. I have a technique for the end of the over which requires me to put the counter away after the fifth ball of an over is bowled. I get out my over card and the bowler’s hat and hold these, and as soon as the sixth delivery has gone dead I hold the hat up slightly, and yell, ’over, gentlemen’. I know it’s the last ball because my counter is in my pocket. Players get in the rhythm.


A session of play must start by the umpiring saying the word ‘play’ and it must end by the umpire saying the word ‘time’. When starting a session of play the umpire should make sure the scorers, the other umpire and the batsman are ready. You should ask the fielding captain if he is ready to go. Then you call play. Every start of play should be identical to the starts of play earlier in the match, and identical to the starts of play in the player’s matches the week before. The players want to be lulled into a sense of security. If you can get them thinking ‘these umpires are the same as last week’s umpires’, you’ve won half the battle.


One thing that the DRS has shown. Players are hopeless at umpiring. I laughed and laughed when the Sri Lankans got about seven reviews wrong in a row. Players want consistency, a rhythm, to their games and it’s up to us, the umpires, to provide it.





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