November 14, 2008

Come on, umpires. Walk faster please

The Ricky Ponting over-rate controversy has been one of the more baffling episodes of recent times, but is something of a breakthrough for those who see slow play as one of the most inexcusable and avoidable blights on the game, a tedious tactic indulged for too long by the authorities.

Cricket has found some spectacular means of worsening its own product in recent times – the current craze for building stadiums which are inaccessible to those unable to paraglide, for example, or pitches as dead as WG Grace, or the rebranding of Bad Light to Mild Murk. Slow over-rates are proud members of this hall of shame, and it is curious that the fitter and more athletic players have become, the less able they have been to average one delivery every 40 seconds.

In my next blog, I will suggest some means of ensuring that over rates are crisp enough to prevent Gubby Allen spinning too dizzyingly in his grave. In the meantime, is it too much to ask for umpires to start setting a brisker example?

No slower human movement has ever been officially recorded than that of two umpires sludging towards each other to confer over the light, like a pair of amorous teenage tortoises unsure of whether to make the first move, or two unhappy commuters trying to miss the same train.

This is sometimes equalled by the funereal dawdle to co-examine the roundness of an allegedly-misshapen ball, as if this responsibility is a holy, god-given ritual as old as time itself, and the ball is a precious relic whose molecules must not be woken.

Such sloth might have been understandable in the olden days of cricket, when umpires were only allowed to stand when they had attained a sufficient age to guarantee that their eyesight had failed. Now, however, the game is officiated by primed, thrusting superathletes (or at least by fit and mostly youngish men who probably have gym memberships). And yet, at stages of matches when they might be expected to scurry urgently in the hope of providing an expectant crowd with maximum value for their considerable money, they seem to move as if they are adjusting tentatively to a brand new spinal cord. Chivvy along, gentlemen.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer