White coats, anyone?
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!”