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?