August 15, 2015

No, you did trouble the scorer

Think a batsman making a duck means the scorer only has to put a zero down on their sheet? Not quite

Neat and balanced scorebooks are the height of wishful thinking in lower-grade cricket © Cricket Australia

In Mel Brooks' western farce Blazing Saddles, the villain, upon hearing his henchman bellow "We'll head them off at the pass", slowly turns round, grinds out, "I hate that cliché", and unloads his pistol into his foot. I haven't yet been moved to similar violence by any of the inane comments cricket frequently provokes, but there is one that might just tip me over the edge, displaying as it does a total lack of appreciation for one oft-forgotten role: the thoughtless utterance that a batsman dismissed for a duck "didn't trouble the scorers".

As any scorer knows, a duck, particularly a golden duck, is anything but no trouble for the scorers. Barely have the details of the previous wicket to have fallen been entered - how out, over when out, time out, how many balls faced, how many runs scored, partnership, bowler's name, fielder's name if applicable, current score of the not-out batsman - than the whole process has to be repeated for the fresh dismissal, perhaps even before the first has been completed. Commentators must imagine that all that scorers have to do is jot down a zero and relax.

I should say scorer rather than scorers. In the low-grade circles where I've played much of my cricket - primarily social and so-called "friendly" matches - it's often a minor triumph to locate a single person capable of bringing a pencil and scorebook together with a modicum of knowledge and accuracy. Forget about having two dedicated scorers: the best that we'll realistically be able to hope for is a single "volunteer" from the batting side.

Law 4, of course, specifies two scorers. Why? To explain this apparent wasteful redundancy to the unenlightened enquirer, the patient scorer can make use of the observation of King Solomon, who said something along the lines of "Two are better than one; if one should fall, the other can help his partner up." (Though Solomon's taking of a septuple-century of wives suggests that perhaps he took this principle to extremes.)

Being a scorer gives you reason to observe the game more intently than anyone else at the ground © Associated Press

With a myriad potential pitfalls for the beleaguered scorer, it's amazingly easy to miss a run, or forget to note it down in all three areas of the sheet (bowling analysis, batting analysis, and run-by-run tally), sparking, when the discrepancy is finally noticed, a frantic trawl through the sheet, looking for the error. In a tight chase, the worry is cranked up: is the scoreboard incorrectly ahead? Have the batsmen duly misjudged their pace? When the other scorer is present, errors can both be avoided and more quickly recovered from.

A second scorer remains a utopian dream in these circles, though. You're on your own. Forget being out in the middle, where at least you have a comrade at the other end. Here in the solitary confinement of the scorers' box, no one can hear you scream. Come to think of it, being left alone is preferable. Unless someone's genuinely helping you by acting as a spotter, constant intrusions to "see how we're doing" only distract you.

Gah - I make that a seven-ball over - did I miss a wide? Or has the umpire just lost count? Not 100% sure he's on the ball. I'm pretty sure in the last over he didn't signal byes to a ball the batsman obviously left. Maybe he doesn't know how. Oh, what's he shouting now? "Scoreboard!" Not my job. Look at those waiting batsmen lounging on the grass. They're not doing anything. Scorers aren't supposed to do anything other than keep the score. Remember Law 4. Don't suppose anyone here knows Law 4. It's the fielding skipper now. "Are the overs right?" Yes, as a matter of fact they are. Check with the umpires: they should be keeping an account. It's not easy being me.

Let's now take this cocktail of madness and throw in the role of captaincy. It's quite possible that as the captain I'll be one of the few who knows, at least in theory, which symbols to inscribe where. Which means that not only will I be doing all of the above, but also that come my turn to bat, I'll be looking around distractedly, sizing up team-mates for their ability to take the pencil when I head out.

Most of those with any cricket sense are already on the field. If Tim's out next, he could take over, so I could go out to bat, but if Alex's out, that won't help us. Actually, Alex knows how to umpire, so he could replace David as umpire, who can then come and score before he goes out to bat. Better get padded up then. Where's my equipment? Have to dash into the changing rooms at the end of this over and hope a wicket doesn't fall before that, or I'll have to send Louis in ahead of me.

Players take a look at the scorer's book during a match between London stage actors and staff at the King's Park, Windsor in 1947 © Getty Images

It can be seen that by now any hope of sending the best batsman in for the match situation has long vanished. By now it's a desperate attempt to simply keep the game moving. If I've been really canny, I'll have constructed the batting order to maximise chances of a scorer and umpires being available at any one time. In reality, ten overs in, I'll most likely be strapping a pad on with one hand and scribbling frantically with the other. Not the best way to prepare mentally for an innings.

I can't bear to imagine what I'll discover on my return. Some horrible scrawl, probably in biro, with illegible squiggles in the bowling analysis and question marks all over the batting analysis. Wides will probably have been entered as Ws, and wickets as Xs. It'll be a near-miracle if the batting analysis matches the bowling, and if either corresponds to the run-by-run tally. Normally there's a tacit agreement between the captains to just accept the highest total of the three. At least in friendly matches it's not as if there's much riding on the match, aside from pride, honour, bragging rights, careers and reputations.

Believe it or not, scoring in its pure form is a joy. Yes, it's often underappreciated and unrecognised, but it remains an absolutely vital part of the game. Umpires could theoretically be dispensed with, but no scorers means no play. It allows one the pleasure of observing intently the game in a way that few others will. And when not stressed, I can't be the only one that takes real satisfaction in a neat and correctly balanced scorebook. Just don't talk to me about "not troubling the scorers".

Liam Cromar is a freelance cricket writer based in Herefordshire, UK @LiamCromar

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