I have two hobbies, chess and cricket. I play chess at lowish grade club player level and I am a qualified cricket umpire standing in the Saracens Herts Cricket League on Saturdays. I like the tension of league cricket, especially when a half decent spinner bowls at my end and tests the technique of a batsman. But most of all I love the banter and how language is used to gain an edge or diffuse a potentially explosive situation.
The first game of the 2011 season came the day after the Royal Wedding between William and Kate. I gave the new ball to the skipper and after setting his field, he threw the ball to his opening bowler and shouted: ‘Come on Will, you know where to put it’ to which the fielder at mid-off shouted ‘that’s what Kate said last night.’
I am not averse to chirping a bit myself. After sending a batsman packing with an LBW decision I got the feeling the young man was not best pleased with my decision as he passed me mumbling “I hit it.” I was quick on the draw: “Get the local paper next Friday sonny, and you will see that you didn’t.” I was correct in doubting I would get a Christmas card from him.
After a hard fifty-over slog in the heat, the tea is a most welcome break, especially when served in the traditional way by ladies from the club’s social committee and where the umpires’ table is set like a 1950s Lyons Coffee House table next to the second rate pianist. I remember one of the ladies saying to me: “Another piece of jam sponge, umpire? I made it myself.” I gave the appropriate response: “Well if you made it yourself, my dear, it would be rude to say ‘no’.” And indeed it was.
Cricket has its own language, understood by players and officials; ‘umps’ (umpire), ‘nice wheels’ (speed of delivery); ‘take a blow’ (captain telling a bowler it is his last over); ‘give yourself ten’ (bowler telling a fielder to move back). And though there is a perception that it is a game for gentlemen, it is not. The heat of battle in a cricket game is incredibly tense and I have said many times that umpiring is much more about managing players and their expectations than what to do if a giraffe inadvertently stops a boundary. As such if a bowler beats the batsman five ballls in a row and then on the sixth ball the slip fielder drops a catch that goes for a boundary and the bowler screams ‘f**k you’, this is not an insult to the batsman, rather it is an insult from the bowler to himself and there is no need to intervene.
That said, when a wicket-keeper told a batsman that the next ball was going to put him in A&E, that was a reason to intervene. Fortunately the next ball did not, it bowled him!