Almanac Cricket: Wash Out

When I decided to do a weekly blog on my experiences as a Park cricket umpire I thought I would have no trouble with topics as in any five hour, Saturday afternoon’s cricket there are always heaps of things to talk about. Plenty of umpiring issues arise out of the nearly 500 deliveries that occur on a Saturday. What I didn’t think of was a wash out. My two games were washed out last week end.

So I thought this week I would talk about weather, ground conditions and the aberrant behaviour, in cricketers and umpires, that combinations of all the above produce when Melbourne’s changeable weather gets in the way of cricket.

Very few cricketers have ever read the Laws of Cricket. I am often amused when players want to tell me how, say an LBW decision that I gave was incorrect, and it would have been, if the Law was what they thought it was. Similarly very, very, few players know the definition of a wide.

This ignorance of the rules or Laws of a sport is a constant. I wonder if anyone reading has ever read the rules of the AFL. I have and so has my son, admittedly he has a Law degree. He constantly asks people, who yell out ‘ball’ at a footy match, “Excuse me, but under what part of the rule are you appealing for that decision?”

When we were watching the Grand Final he put a précis of the Rule at the front of the TV and anyone yelling ‘ball’ had to justify himself.

But all cricketers know what weather means; the losing side wants to end the match, or, anyone paying the unbeatable top side wants to call the match off and get half points for the draw. The latter is an easier situation for an umpire to deal with as you only have to argue with the top side. If you are really lucky the top side might want the week off as well. You apply the Laws and rules, the match ends early, in a draw, you get paid, have a few beers and get home early for tea.

However once the game starts, often the sides vary in their opinion on whether the match should continue, depending on the situation of the match, the losing side wants to stop, the winning side wants to go on, and a situation like this, leads to a discussion of one of my most embarrassing moments as an umpire.

It was the top side against the bottom side and we started on time in bright sunshine but with rain on the way. The top side sent the bottom side in who made a ‘lowesh’ score. By the time the top side had started its innings we had gone off a couple of times, and the outfield and ball was getting damp, but the covers had protected the pitch quite well.

The top side started well, scoring freely, so you can imagine that the fielding side captain started to want to end the match. “It’s ridiculous we are still out here Phil. It’s too wet.” Now there is specific part of the Laws that cover conditions but he didn’t know them and I am sure he would not know they even exist.

It looked like an easy win until the top side lost four wickets in seven balls, the last one being the captain taking a bloody good catch. He ran into the huddle exclaiming something along the lines of, “Come on, We can win this”. The bottom side ran to their positions to await the incoming batsman like a pack of starving lions.

The incoming batsman came out, and you guessed it, he started to gingerly mark his guard and complained that the area around the popping crease was too slippery and, in his team’s opinion it was ridiculous that we were still playing in these conditions; nothing unexpected here.

You expect something like this as an umpire but the fielding captain did not expect what happened next. He should have never experienced what happened next. Players get a bit of slack from experienced umpires. I allow players to show some disappointment at my decisions. Generally, I am as disappointed as they are when I realise that I have probably buggered up something. So this sort of ‘gamesmanship’ is part of the game. Of course the bottom side would now want to stay on. An experienced umpire would merely grin and, rather humorously, bring this up in the clubroom, over a beer, at about 7.00pm.

As the batsman continued to complain about the conditions and took ages to face up, I called out to the fielding captain, asking him if he wanted to go off and why his attitude had changed. Did he agree with the now different position of the top team, or did he want to continue? I cannot remember exactly what I asked but I needlessly humiliated the captain. I just could not keep my mouth shut.

The match was won with the last two for the top side, putting on about ten to win the match and I did apologise for my crack out on the field. It was a great day of cricket, only marred by an umpire, taking a cheap shot out on the field.

It would have been a great quip in the clubrooms after the match. Everyone with a drink, and enjoying each other’s company, and I could have pointed out the swings in the weather and the quicker swings in the team’s attitude.

Some umpires give up turf cricket and go to artificial surface cricket as they don’t like the uncertainty involved. I love the turf game as the changing pitches and conditions provide endless variations. What shouldn’t change is umpires should, sometimes, keep their mouths shut.

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  1. Mark Duffett says

    I dips me lid to you, Phil. It takes a fair bit of courage to detail one’s own mistakes in a public forum. I’m glad you did, though, the admonition of silence as often the best policy is something I need a reminder of every now and then.

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