Controversy On the Village Green

Evening all. Every so often Maxie and I write about the laws of the game. It’s not because we’re sticklers for the rules – although I quite like the idea of Maxie playing Statto in Skinner and Baddiel’s Fantasy Football League – it’s because we play a little club cricket, and now and again controversies do arise.

For instance, a couple of years ago Maxie wrote a piece about full tosses being called no-ball. The regulations aren’t as simple as you might think. However, that doesn’t prevent cantankerous village players from telling all and sundry that they’re qualified experts, and that everyone else is an idiot. Sometimes it can escalate into something quite unpleasant.

A similar flashpoint occurred in a match I played in last week. We were playing against a very distinguished cricket club from Kent – one of the oldest league clubs in the country no less. I was only playing for my kid’s school’s staff and fathers’ team – so it wasn’t a particularly important match – but it was the first round of a local knockout competition and both teams were keen to win.

Our team sensed a historic victory against the odds, while the oppo were keen to avoid the ignominy of losing to a bunch of rank amateurs who only play once or twice a year. Our team also included a lady, who happens to be one of our best bowlers.

Our aristocratic opponents batted first and made approximately 170 off 15 overs. Yes, they were pretty good. They had one young South African chap who was particularly impressive. If only I had an ounce of his natural talent.

However, all was not lost because our team boasted one class player: a former professional all-rounder who played over a hundred times for Kent and Sussex. We also had a couple of other batsmen who could hold up and end, rotate the strike, and keep him company.

At one point we needed 40 to win off the last three overs. It wasn’t going to be easy, but our star player was still at the crease and hitting boundaries for fun. Game on! I was actually umpiring throughout our innings, so I had a good view of the action.

Unfortunately however, as umpire I was at the centre of a controversy that basically decided the match. Our star batsman hit the ball hard and low, but in the air, to long-off. The aforementioned young South African, whose fielding was unfortunately as good as his batting, reacted like an impala, slid forward like a speedway champion, tried to get his fingers under the ball, and claimed the catch.

Immediately the cheers went up. His teammates, perhaps fearing an embarrassing loss, ran towards him jubilantly. I cannot say for certain whether he caught it or not – the outfield was beautifully manicured but somewhat undulating – but it looked as though he’d caught it on the half volley to me. Where’s the bloody third umpire when you need him?

Our star player looked at me quizzically, but then started walking back to the pavilion rather slowly. As he passed me I expressed my doubts about the catch’s validity – I wish I had simply said “not out” very loudly – and the batsman agreed the catch was doubtful. However, as he didn’t want to make a fuss, our talisman simply walked off. It was akin to conceding defeat.

However, after pausing for a few seconds, I was determined not to let sleeping dogs lie. I was supposed to be the umpire, and not one person had asked me what I thought – they just celebrated and assumed the game was won. I can understand this of course, but it was a bit annoying.

Out of a sense of duty, I belatedly challenged the fielding side. They were all 100% adamant their player had caught the ball. One of them even got a little indignant and asked me rather provocatively “why would he cheat”?

My response (which was truthful) was that I didn’t think he was cheating – I’m sure he thought he caught the ball – but he couldn’t possibly know for sure whether he had. The fielders responded by telling me in no uncertain terms that the fielder always knows whether he’s caught it, and that I should take his word as gospel.

I have to say I found this argument rather unconvincing. A fielder doesn’t always know whether he’s caught the ball. All he can feel, in my experience, is the ball making contact with his fingers. He cannot tell, in a split second as he’s running forward and sliding (or diving), whether part of the ball has touched the ground. In my experience, people just believe what they want to believe.

We’ve seen professional cricketers claim catches, that aren’t in fact catches, on television all the time. And I don’t think they’re cheating because they know they’re under enormous scrutiny and being watched by several Big Brother style HD super-slow-mo cameras.

Now I have to confess that I’m not the best umpire in the business. My eye-sight is pretty good, but I have the concentration span of a knat, get bored easily, hate standing up for long periods, and have a penchant for forgetting the rules at the most inappropriate time.

When I was sixteen I developed the nickname ‘Clint’ because I trigger fingered our captain at a crucial stage of the match, when the ball clearly pitched a foot outside leg. I simply forgot the laws, thought it was a pretty convincing appeal, and put my finger up. I was hardly watching either if I’m being honest.

However, on this occasion, I know what I saw and I think my judgement was right. What should I have done? What should the opposition have done? And should the benefit of the doubt always go to the batsman?

I’m particularly keen to hear from people who have encountered similar controversies. Ours ended in a bit of a heated exchange between a fielder and myself (who didn’t have as good a view) but it was soon forgotten. However, in accepting the decision our team basically conceded the match. I was not amused.

It’s always difficult when there are no neutral umpires, and the batting side has to volunteer a couple of poor sods to do the job, but my experience tells me that the batsman is even more likely to get the benefit of the doubt in these circumstances – and that the fielding side usually just accepts this.

What is your experience? Have you ever been involved in a standoff that led to a heated argument or even punches thrown? And have you ever seen a team walk off the pitch in protest? I call this doing an Inzamam.

I’d also be interested to hear your interpretation of the rules in situations like this. Or perhaps, more importantly, what the club cricket etiquette book might say about the matter. And is there a chapter in said imaginary book on how to neutralise young South Africans who are too bloody good?

James Morgan



  • Your eyesight is obviously dodgy – you couldn’t even see that you had written gnat with a ‘k’!!


    • Oh heavens you’re right! Well, the G and K keys are pretty close on the keyboard :-)

      Who said that?!

  • A friend of mine umpiring in similar circumstances once gave a member of the opposition out (run out) when he was so far in he was past the stumps. It was a league match in Scotland and almost caused a fight. The 2 sides refused to play each other for 3 years. I think in your circumstances you have to go with the fielder, otherwise it looks like favoritism. After all, he might have caught it. If you’re a neutral umpire, then go with what you see.

  • If the bat walks, you don’t have to say a word. If he asks the question, only then would I intervene and clearly say out or not out. Not sure as an ump you should intervene like that, you can make the point of asking if the fielding team is appealing for the catch (assuming the bat hasn’t already walked) & then you would have to make a decision (don’t forget you can ask the opinion of square leg as well). Think it’s more an issue of the Celebrappeal by he fielders here than anything else. You shouldn’t be proactive like you were. Umpires should be passive until the question is asked, in my book. Usually, if queried, saying I honestly couldn’t be sure if it was clean should suffice, most skippers should accept that.

    Only if it was a friendly match would I perhaps ask the bat if he was willing to take the fielders word. Though by that stage he probably wouldn’t.

    • Of course you should be proactive, its the job of the umpire to make sure justice is done. Clearly the fielder was claiming a catch, so if the umpire doesn’t think this is the case, then they should immediately say “NOT OUT, THE BALL WAS GROUNDED”.

  • “but I have the concentration span of a knat, get bored easily, hate standing up for long periods, and have a penchant for forgetting the rules at the most inappropriate time”

    I think you may be in the wrong role mate…

  • If you’re going strictly by the laws of the game then the correct procedure is to decide the legality of the catch either by deathmatch between nominated champions, or by the batsman having to survive a delivery while holding his bat the wrong way up.

  • You made several mistakes. The first was not paying for trained and qualified umpires to do the job properly, but we will let that one pass.

    “I THINK my judgement was right” is NEVER good enough.

    Firstly, did you receive an appeal? Secondly, you should have called and signalled the ball dead and taken control of the ball. Thirdly, you should have told the batsman to stay at the crease until you had called and signalled your decision. Fourthly, you should have consulted with your colleague, in private, at square leg to see what he knew about the situation. And lastly, after consulting with your colleague, if you did not KNOW that the ball had made contact with the grass before it was caught by the fielder and you had received a valid appeal, then you should have given the batsman out.

    You do not have TV replays … you are IT so it does not form a part of your considerations. Make a decision based upon FACT, what you have seen and heard. Be positive, and stand by your decision.

    • Thanks Peter. I’m not sure I have to ‘know’ that he didn’t catch it though. Surely I need to know that he did to give it out. Otherwise isn’t it benefit of the doubt to the batsman ie if an umpire isn’t sure, it’s not out. Right?

      • You need to know. As I said above, you made several errors which complicated the issue and left you open to criticism. You were not in a position to make a proper judgement, and neither am I. If I was there I would have been confident to make a decision based upon the evidence and consultation with my colleague. “Benefit of the doubt” is a consequence of a decision, not the object of a decision.

        The job of an umpire is to give the correct decision, not necessarily the right decision … discuss.

    • You made several mistakes. The first was not paying for trained and qualified umpires to do the job properly,

      Really???? Again, I’ve only ever played league cricket with neutral umpires and to say paying them gets,it done properly is utter rubbish. They fail to call out chuckers, they fail to deal with sledging, they give way to many lbw’s, too many nicked into pads lbw’s.

      Some are decent, most are incompetent and not worth £50 each that’s for sure.

  • On a slightly broader spectrum, this incident rather nicely helps my firmly held dislike of playing cricket without official/ neutral umpires.

    In friendlies it’s not so much of an issue, but in lower league games or knockout matches, such as this one, where the batting side tends to be the one who provides the umpires I feel it can lead to some very uncomfortable situations. 50/50 decisions inevitably go the way of the batsmen because people are unwilling to trigger their mates (unless theyve deserved it) and uncertainty can lead to incorrect decisions being made, which can lead to hostility from the opposition, which I find totally unnecessary because they would do the exact same thing.

    It happened in a game where I was playing a few years ago, when we needed one wicket to win, their batsman was so obviously plum lbw appealing felt more like a formality. Nonetheless he was given not out and they won, leading to some fairly heated conversations between the two captains. I think situations such as this the main thing we all need to remember is that it is just a game, we aren’t competing for the ashes and it’s not the end of the world if a 50/50 decision goes the wrong way in our opinion. Although I must admit I do always try and avoid having to umpire at all by suddenly taking great interest in scoring.

    Regarding the removal of South african batsmen, in my experience dot people around the boundary and sooner or later they won’t hit one as far as the rest and might get caught.

    (Apologies for the length of comment, been reading the blog for years and this is the first time I’ve commented and feel I’ve rather got carried away)

    • Great to hear from you! Don’t worry about going on a bit mate. Maxie and I do that all the time :-)

    • Neutral umpires are extremely overrated. They’re always either a) connect to the club and more biased than a player-umpire, b) old, blind and deaf, or c) completely incompetent jumped up twerps.

      At least with a member of the batting team umpiring you know what you’re going to get. Not out unless its completely obvious.

      I was at a junior county game the other day where we suffered the misfortune of having qualified professional umpires foisted upon us by the board. Predictably, there were a lot of genuinely horribly incompetent decisions that a player-umpire would have never made. One lbw decision in particular changed the course of the game: the ball pitch a good 18 inches outside legstump, but the finger was going up before the bowler had even appealed.

      • Totally untrue and a disgusting slur on the hundreds of men and women who give their time and spend their own money doing their best to make the game a fair and equal contest.

        It costs hundreds of pounds and hours and hours to train, test, qualify, mentor and monitor ECBACO qualified umpires.

        I simply do NOT believe you when you state that a qualified ECBACO umpire would give a batsman out LBW where the ball pitches 18 inches outside the leg stump, and woithout receiving an appeal? Utter nonsense and a lie.

        I am also outraged that a player would accuse qualified ECBACO neutral umpires of cheating when they know that umpires can be, and are assessed from outside the boundary and that captains report to their respective boards on umpire’s performance. Umpires who cheat would not last 5 minutes.

        • Which type are you, Peter? You sound like a number 3.

          Cricket would be infinitely better if the majority of umpires just gave it up. A grossly incompetent umpire is worse than no umpire at all. Amateur games are better off without umpires sticking their beaks in and ruining the game.

          Umpires are the bane of the game. Last weekend there were 80 games in our league. 30 umpires, 50 did not. The 50 games without umpires carried on as usual. The 30 games with umpires were all called off because of some mild drizzle. Umpires: here to stop people playing the game they love.

          and we wonder why cricket is dying. Jumped up power mad idiots.

          • I have just replied to an email from a league secretary who is desperate to find 3 umpires for his leading Sunday League. If I can’t provide them for him he will ot be a le to cover his first division matches. Unfortunately too many players in his league have a reputation for being self opinionated know all, know fuck all pillocks like you and so I am unable to assist him. Did you know that there is a serious shortage of umpires. Well now you do know, and you also know why. Dickhead.

        • I have never played league cricket without board appointed umpires and I have come to the conclusion that they are over rated. They consistently feel the need to get involved in the game and the number of lbw’s is ridiculous, let alone missing nicks off and nicks onto pads and giving them out lbw.

          I’m firmly now in the player umpire camp (never club umpires as you might as well just say 12th man) because at least you know you’ll only get plumb lbw, clearly out run outs and that’s it. Everyone knows where they stand and it’ll stop the constant appealing as soon as it hits a pad purely to put pressure on and find those umpires that trigger by number

    • If this 5050 then it’s better to give not out as you have to be sure it’s out to give someone !! Batsmen get one go, bowlers get another so if there is any doubt (5050 suggests so!) then give not out.

      League umpires mentality is looking to give it out.. Player umpires generally have a defensive mentally .. Is its not out unless there really is no doubt.

      Bowlers will always think it’s out but if they really look at the angles and distance… Chances are it’s clipping at best which means you can’t be sure

  • (I assume he said that they get literally thousands of similar situations across village greens in China, and something must be done about it)

  • Either say NOT OUT clearly and immediately and explain that in your opinion the ball hit the ground, and then on no account either get into an argument or be pressured into changing your decision, or simply keep schtum.

    I do a lot of in-game umpiring, I often make difficult decisions that the fielding team don’t like, but they rarely turn into an argument because I am firm, friendly, and always happy to explain what I saw and why I made the decision I did. Most players just want an umpire who is honest and competent.

  • WELL FIRSTLY JAMES…..I would politely remind you that when you are officiating as an umpire you are upholding the ‘laws’ of cricket and not the ‘rules’!

    • You missed out the word ‘trying’. I was ‘trying to uphold the laws’. And doing a very bad job I admit!

  • “A fielder doesn’t always know whether he’s caught the ball.”

    Yes he can. I can with 100% certainty tell you that it is impossible to confuse the sensation of a ball coming down directly into your hands from the air, with the sensation of the ball coming up into your hands from the ground.

    If you catch the ball on the half volley, you know it.

    “We’ve seen professional cricketers claim catches, that aren’t in fact catches, on television all the time”

    On the contrary. We frequently see professional cricketers claim catches, that are perfectly clean catches, but don’t look like catches on television replay because people confuse the natural bounce that you get off your fingers when they’re squeezed underneath the ball, with a bounce off the ground.

    • I disagree AB. I know the problem you’re highlighting, with the foreshortening effect of the cameras etc, but I still think it’s difficult to know for sure (especially with low running catches). I’ve even seen players on TV take a perfectly good catch, but because they’re unsure, or react with less than 100% enthusiasm, the batsman has been given not out. It’s rare, but it does happen.

      Here’s Peter Siddle talking about a well known incident in the Ashes involving Ian Bell and Steve Smith. Most commentators thought the ball clearly carried, and was a clean catch, but Smith himself (the fielder) wasn’t sure.

  • Most games I played with James Hindle tended to end in an argument at some point!

  • Interesting debate. Fair play to the batsman for walking and if a batter gives himself out then that is the end of the matter.

    Technically an umpire can only give it out if he thinks its out. If not sure then not out

  • The issues around umpiring arrive because they are paid. By being paid they are expected not to consistently make bad decisions (which as I’ve never not had neutral umpires is fairly regularly!). Unfortunately for whatever reason the number of lbw’s especially they give is disproportionate to the amount of balls that amateurs actually bowl at the stumps. Add that to the old guys who can barely see or hear and you immediately get the ‘oh god not this one again, I’m going to have to literally bat on square leg as he forces people’ ..

    Is that really better than player umpires who you at least know if you are given out.. You’re probably out!

    Of course, it doesn’t help now with everyone thinking sledging is necessary to be competitive, non walking etc.


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