August 10, 2010

Umpiring

White coats, anyone?

Rene Van Oorschot
Dickie Bird gives his last decision in a Test as Man of the Match Jack Russell is out lbw, England v India, 2nd Test, Lord's, June 24, 1996
Did Dickie Bird ever have to make an umpiring decision involving a family member?  © Getty Images
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When one considers the many issues captains have to deal with, several stress generators immediately spring to mind: selecting a team, having to drop underperforming players, having to re-pick said dropped players due to last minute call-offs (always pretty awkward conversations), batting order, bowling options, explaining woeful results to the committee (a problem we solved at university by not having a committee), etc etc.

However, possibly one of the most crucial decisions, and one that is a constant source of migraines for many amateur captains, is which of your players to volunteer for the dreaded umpiring duties. Granted, this is not a decision that the likes of Andrew Strauss, Chris Gayle or even Ricky Ponting will worry about, but in more “casual” cricket leagues, choosing umpires wisely can give you that vital edge over your opponents.

Now, before I continue, I would just to like to point out that in no way do I, nor any team I have ever represented (even those captained by the infamous Buck and the Glaswegian fishmonger, despite claims to the contrary – especially concerning the latter) condone umpiring skulduggery of any sort.

Prior to sentencing them to their 15-over stints, we do not instruct our umpires to keep their fingers firmly entrenched in their pockets, as that would:

a) Make the entire idea of playing cricket rather pointless really, and...

b) Be equivalent to inciting a riot. They may, however, be advised to make sure a batsman is absolutely stone dead, a yard inside his crease, hit on the full on middle and off, bat miles away from the ball, and holding up the run rate anyway, before even contemplating raising that wicked finger and condemning the ill-fated batsman to the pavilion, where, regardless of the facts, the umpire will be the subject of much heated blaspheming and general abuse.

After which he will inevitably be replaced.

By now you must realise that picking individuals for umpiring duties is a very delicate task. Instinctively one would simply want to pick the youngest players in the team and make them do the dirty work. Which would serve them right, being so young and all. Unfortunately umpiring is not for the weak-minded, and as soon as the opposition team realises that they are dealing with fresh meat, they will be looking for blood; the appeals will become more frequent, vociferous and extensive, until the inexperienced umpire is reduced to a shivering bundle of nerves. Eventually his juvenile reflexes will throw a finger skyward in the interest of self-preservation. At which point the kid will be swiftly replaced by the skip, who will have just remembered the First Rule of Self-Umpired Games: never send a boy to do a man’s job.

Unfortunately it is never as simple as that. Even if one obeys the First Rule, there are a multitude of other factors to contend with. You must be able to recognise those individuals who really (and I do mean really) hate umpiring. If, somehow, the captain manages, by force usually, to get such a person to don the white jacket, one will be faced with two scenarios; the person in question will either:

a) Trigger all batsmen, or...

b) Give absolutely nothing until the captain comes in to bat, whom he will quickly send packing at the first hint of an appeal (if he doesn’t give him timed out beforehand). The sadistic b****d in question will of course be given due punishment in the short term, but will gain in the long term by never being asked to umpire again.

Of course, in addition to being crucial to the outcome of the game, self-umpiring can have far more serious consequences. Relationships can be ruptured forever on the back of one TERRIBLE decision. The capitals in the previous sentence may have given you an indication that I speak from cruel, bitter experience.

Picture the scene: a young, inexperienced cricketer going through the most fragile phase of his teenage years has finally managed to cobble together a score of over 10 runs. For the first (and pretty much last) time ever, he experiences that warm glow that proper sportsmen feel when they are in “the zone”. Suddenly he middles a ball onto his pad, which is as usual flopping somewhere near square leg. He hears a polite enquiry in the distance, the batsman looks up to see what all the fuss is about. He sees his older brother wearing a white coat up the other end. “Oh that’s pleasant, he’s smiling at me as if in encouragement”. Then said brother puts his finger up and comprehension dawns. I have been betrayed by my own kin.

Let’s just says that since that day eight years ago, not a birthday or family holiday has gone by without either a tremendous slanging match or bitter, frosty silence. I still maintain that had he not been jealous of my batting success that day and sent me off for a premature shower, I could have been the next Tom de Grooth. And he is very famous – honestly.

But, having said all that, you may be wondering what my umpiring is like? I have only one thing to say to that: “Yes Jezz, you were out. It’s been 10 years - get over it!”

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Posted by International Umpiring Association on (August 12, 2010, 12:51 GMT)

Following a thorough review process we have concluded that the alleged appalling decision by the alleged older brother was, in fact, atrocious. There is no right of appeal.

On a separate matter we would like to clarify another point. Stats from incomplete matches do not count: ton or no ton. This means that the alleged ton remains just that - alleged - and is worth none.

Posted by Hobbit on (August 12, 2010, 9:12 GMT)

My personal favourite moment as an umpire in recent memory was being the man in the hotseat when Buck Escobar was bowled off of a wide a few weeks ago.

Sounds bizzare, but it was truly a sight to behold, and i was delighted that i was in the box seat to witness it first hand...

Posted by Satish on (August 11, 2010, 13:42 GMT)

I opened the batting in a game where we were chasing 140 in 20 overs. We scored 64 in the first 8(I even played out a maiden!!). Then the guy who was smashing it at the other end was given out LBW by the Ump, our Capt. I thought it pitched outside leg and the batsman said he had actually inside-edged it!!!! We lost by 7 runs.

Posted by Byrner on (August 11, 2010, 9:53 GMT)

Hi Rene....takes me back to the start of the season.....when i fingered our best all rounder....who i was convinced was plum salmon trout.....ahhhh the memories....keep up the good work mate ;]

Posted by Hitch on (August 11, 2010, 5:52 GMT)

Rene – I loved your comments, interesting and insightful. You played state juniors. Wow! And to learn that “in club cricket the umpire is from the batting side”, was such a revelation. I was always wondering why we were a player short when fielding and why each innings only lasted 10 deliveries. Maybe we should use umpires from the batting team rather than the fielding team.

Posted by Damian on (August 11, 2010, 2:46 GMT)

I once umpired my own team and gave the skipper out ( he was dead plumb BTW). This caused major chaos, to the point where after the day's play he basically challenged me to a fight and threatened all kinds of things ( never occured). I am happy to say that I survived the early forays into umpiring as a youngster and now am an active umpire in Canberra at first grade and rep level. Not all bad experiences will put you off something.

Posted by David on (August 10, 2010, 23:43 GMT)

In the juniours leagues around here it's the teams captains who umpire (i remember both team coachs shared it). I always remember one game where our coachs was standing at the bowlers end stumps while one of our not so good players came into bowl, as he went into his action and went to bring his arm around the ball somehow slipped out of the back of his hand and went right into the coachs netherregions and he dropped.

Posted by Unmesh on (August 10, 2010, 19:25 GMT)

In our cricket club, there are no fines for showing dissent at umpire's decision since there is no match fees in the first place (in fact the players have to pay a registration fee!). I hardly see a player leaving quietly after being given out LBW. It's always "going down the leg" for him.

Posted by Kishore on (August 10, 2010, 13:48 GMT)

I myself remember that while I was batting, my umpire who incidentally was also the captain ( as we did not have the 12th man to do umpiring) did not give me out stumped on a wide ball

I am thankful to such an umpire

Posted by 20/20 vision on (August 10, 2010, 13:47 GMT)

I was at the game where your brother gave you out LBW. The ball hit you on your big toe halfway in the crease bang in the line of middle stump. You also seemed to be batting for you average (I don't really know why) as with you at the crease the requried run rate was on a steep upward slope. The umpire was wholly justified in giving you the finger.

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