November 19, 2008

How to speed up over-rates, part 1

The Confectionery Stall has long been a champion of faster over-rates, ever since its very first blog five days ago

The Confectionery Stall has long been a champion of faster over-rates, ever since its very first blog five days ago. Here is my first suggestion for how to remedy this scourge on the modern game, which should be applied in addition to more obvious and simple cures. These include players and umpires moving a bit faster between balls and overs, batsmen hitting fours instead of sixes - and captains having the confidence to move fine-leg three yards squarer without having to consult the bowler, a representative panel of wicketkeeper and fielders, his horoscope, his wife, the entrails of a recently run-over squirrel from a local road, and Mike Brearley’s The Art Of Captaincy.

The current alleged Test-match minimum of 15 overs per hour seems a reasonable target at which to aim (although if a pre-war Lord’s Test had been played at 15 overs per hour, the matter would have been raised in Parliament, the monarch may well have had to issue a statement to calm national panic that a war was about to start, and MCC members would probably have burnt down the pavilion).

My suggestion is that, in each hour of cricket, for each over that the fielding side falls behind the required rate, they should forfeit a fielder for the next five overs. This would give a genuine in-game incentive to stop dawdling around and give the paying public what they paid for, when they paid for it. So, if a team kicked off a Test by trundling through 12 overs in the first hour, they would be a man short in the field until the lunch break.

Clearly, there are complications – injury breaks, the third-umpire taking six minutes to rule whether a fielder’s shoelace grazed the boundary rope, a batsman nearing a century realising that he has forgotten to stick his sponsor’s stickers on the back of his bat. So time-keeping would need to be independently monitored.

The fourth umpire should be given a special ICC stopwatch and entrusted with this duty, to add to his current onerous burdens, which include:

  • Maintaining a 24-hour armed guard over the box of replacement balls
  • Pizza ordering
  • Warming the toilet seats in the umpires’ dressing room like a 19th century public school fag (for ten minutes before each interval and the close of play)
  • Checking the progress of any eBay auctions in which the two main umpires are bidding (there is a rumour that an ICC Elite Panel umpire once shoved a pair of bails down the throat of a young fourth umpire who had failed to continue bidding for a porcelain David Constant figurine when the price went beyond £4000)
  • Working on developing a new signal for ‘5 runs’ to be used when the ball hits a helmet behind the wicketkeeper, or a single leads to four overthrows, or Monty Panesar has to chase a ball from mid-on to the long-on boundary at the MCG
  • Writing supportive poems to boost the confidence of a tearful on-field umpire who has just mistakenly given four leg byes, then seen on the TV replay screen that the ball actually feathered the bat before deflecting off the thigh-pad to the boundary
  • Autographing copies of Mark Benson’s Missing Leg?, the MCC’s smash-hit new umpiring simulation game for the Playstation. Starting at club level, you must work your way up through the cricketing pyramid – aim to reach county 2nd XI standard within three seasons, the full first-class list in five, and be on the ICC elite panel in 10. But beware – a dubious lbw decision at a crucial stage of your first one-day international could either ruin or make your career, depending on who is batting.

Adding time-keeping to this range of duties would also help raise the fragile self-esteem of fourth umpires, who, as a species, are known to question the need for their own existence. Most have a tendency to curl up in a ball when asked what it is that they actually do, before gently murmuring the latest ICC match regulations to soothe and reassure themselves.

Indeed, there is increasing evidence that fourth umpires are habitually and mercilessly teased by their more senior colleagues, as part of the official ICC initiation to ensure they have the mental fortitude for Test cricket.

Your responses to this suggestion will be gratefully received.

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