Some experiences and suggestions, 1933

The umpire's point of view

Frank Chester

Qualifying for Worcestershire at the age of sixteen and a half, Frank Chester a year later -- in 1913 -- scored 698 runs, playing three innings of over a hundred, and took forty-three wickets. Wisden of 1914 said of him: "Very few players in the history of cricket have shown such form at the age of seventeen and a half." The following season, he scored 924 runs, making 178 not out against Essex at Worcester. A very promising career was interfered with by the War, Chester being badly wounded and so prevented from playing further cricket. Appointed to the umpires' list in 1922, he has stood in thirteen Test Matches in this country.

Imagine the feelings of an umpire just appointed to the list, anxious to make good and denied admission to a ground at which he had been instructed to officiate.

That was my experience in 1922 at Northampton. It all occurred because of my youthful appearance -- I was little more than twenty-five at the time. When I told the gateman I was one of the umpires, he treated it quite as a joke. "You have made a mistake," he said, "this is a first-class match." Happily, he consented to fetch the club secretary, and after explanations and apologies the twenty-five year old umpire was passed through.

Since then I have umpired regularly each season -- we get an average of twenty-two matches each year. Sound eyesight and good hearing are, of course, the first essentials but knowledge of cricket and -- more importantly -- knowledge of the Laws of the Game is imperative.

Don Bradman has said that he considers our umpires the best in the world, but it must be remembered that we have a big advantage because more cricket is played in England than anywhere else.

People have asked me, "Why don't the Selectors take some of you umpires on their Committee when they are picking the England team? You are on the field all through the matches in which you are acting as umpires, you see everything that goes on and can spot the good players." That suggestion is not for me to discuss here, even if we certainly get an excellent view of all that happens.

Umpires are often asked whether they have any suggestions to make regarding the game, as well as for an opinion on various experiments tried in recent years. That is a gesture which all umpires appreciate.

At the time of writing, everyone seems to be discussing our bowling in Australia -- the so-called leg theory bowling. If it is of the character described in the cables, I do not agree with it; it is sure to make cricket a good deal slower and may keep people away. It is said our bowlers are aiming to hit the leg stump, but to hit the wicket you do not pitch half way and there is a danger the practice may lessen interest in the game.

The bowler to whom the term "leg theory" was first applied used to bowl the swinger. The best player I ever saw do this was A. Jaques, the Hampshire amateur (killed in the War) between 1912 and 1914 when I played for Worcestershire.

He could swing an old ball. He stood 6 ft. 3 ins. in height and bowled medium pace, placing nearly all his field on the on-side and pitching on the wicket or outside the leg stump. As he could make the ball swing in and also get on an off-break, he cramped the batsmen so much that many of them lost patience and were out. W.T. Greswell, of Somerset, was another very good leg theory bowler.

Still, spin bowlers get most of the wickets nowadays, not those who swerve. Freeman, Sam Staples, Parker, V.W.C. Jupp, Goddard, Verity, James Langridge and Mitchell (Derbyshire) generally finish with well over 100 wickets each season.

We should not hear so much of pitches being over-prepared if we had more spin bowlers. In my opinion, pitches are no better now than they were during my playing career. I could mention some county grounds where the pitches before the War were much better than they are at the present time.

It was a big help to the bowlers when the larger wicket was adopted. With the new stumps in use, I have seen a large number of batsmen out from balls which, before the alteration in the size of the stumps, would have just missed the mark.

Also, the experimental rule regarding l.b.w. and the snick has been a very good one, and, I think, has come to stay.

Why do not bowlers make more use of the bowling crease? The late J.W.H.T. Douglas used the crease more than any other bowler I have seen and I am told that Walter Brearley used to bowl from varying places between the stumps and the return crease.

Suggestions have been put forward that a new ball after 150 runs have been scored, should be allowed. This would certainly help bowlers of the fast and fast-medium pace and swing bowlers, but personally I do not favour such a change.

Cricket is just as popular as ever. It is the uncertain weather we get during the summer months that keeps so many people away. When we get a good summer the gates are always better.

Perhaps in the near future special rules for certain grounds will disappear. I should like to suggest that definite times for the luncheon and tea intervals be in force everywhere. The hours of play -- 11.30 to 6.30 -- are ideal.

While it may not be considered within the province of an umpire to suggest tampering with the rules, there is one matter which I think merits very close consideration. Where a batsman, not out overnight, is not present on the ground to resume his innings next morning and the two minutes grace has lapsed, he can according to the existing laws bat with the consent of the opposing captain.

Surely, unless an unanswerable explanation or excuse is given, the batsman should be ruled out without the captain of the opposing side being approached on the point. An incident touching on this rule occurred last season.

Another curious occurrence at a match in which I was standing umpire took place some years ago. A batsman deliberately ran after a ball and kicked it; then he started to run. I informed the batsman he could not run and no runs were allowed, but afterwards I was "called over the coals" and told there was no law whereby a man should not kick the ball.

My defence of the action was that this was unfair play and that, had it occurred again, I should, had I been appealed to, have given the batsman out for impeding the wicket-keeper.

It has often struck me as curious how in some matches one of the umpires is constantly dealing with appeals while the other man receives hardly any. I remember one match in particular, at Dover, when the late Harry Butt was my colleague. Altogether, he gave twelve batsmen out, but meanwhile I did not have an appeal made to me. Butt called to me jokingly, "It is about time you earned your money."

Out in Australia, I have read, umpires are using special over watches. Umpires scarcely need anything so elaborate. Personally, I use stones to count, some umpires use a special machine with six levers, others coins and some their fingers. Whatever the method is, it becomes automatic. There is nothing else automatic about all umpire 's job. We need to be very much on the alert the whole time.

© John Wisden & Co