I remember my first, and thus far only, experience of umpiring a club game with not only a double shot of pleasure, but also with a wince of regret and at least a dab of ‘I wish I’d had the shits that day instead’.
The game was Barton against Torquay, a second XI fixture between the Bay’s two greatest local rivals. I was a new umpire, without even a friendly game under my belt, too nervous to even be able to do up my Primary Club tie properly in the umpire’s changing room before the game. My club, Barton, batted first, and although there was a tense atmosphere most of their innings went without me having to do very much. As ever at Barton, there was a wonderful tea, and I felt incredibly relaxed as we went out for Torquay’s innings.
Now, of course, everything on the pitch was turned up a notch, and as the new umpire everything seemed to come to my end. There had already been a couple of contentious wides – yes, it was that sort of game – when inevitably the first lbw decision came to me, and I can still see it now.
The ball pitched outside the off stump and came back in, hitting the batsman outside the line – but he had shouldered arms, so that didn’t matter very much. And to me the ball was going on to hit the stumps. I’m sure everyone taking their first stint as umpire sees a decision like that unfold, gives it consideration as they are instructed to, and then gives it out. I can’t see how you wouldn’t. You need one to settle your nerves. So I gave him out.
However, in the next over from my end I got the really contentious one. It was a bad decision. It pitched outside the left-hander’s off stump by a margin and flicked his pad on its way through to the keeper. I thought it flicked his bat, so I gave him out caught behind. It was such a bad decision that the poor batsman’s dismissal was recorded as lbw, and everything that hit the pads from then on was greeted with an exuberant appeal from the Barton fielders, who clearly felt that they had an umpire who had no idea what he was doing. I umpired a friendly game a couple of weeks later and when I actually heard the sound of an edge for the first time, I realised what a mistake I’d made.
From then on, though, I couldn’t win. I gave two more lbw decisions which left Torquay at about 20-4. The last two got clearer and clearer, with the final one hitting the batsman on the toe of the back foot in front of middle stump, but by then my authority had gone. The away side were furious and, although I shook hands with their skipper and pleaded my honesty, matters weren’t helped when Barton’s skipper came over mid-handshake with a pint and a tenner for me as a thanks for officiating the game.
The reason I relay this long and tedious story is that my friend and team-mate Jon posted a few days ago about the DRS system and, in his usual dry and witty way, put forward why he disagrees with it. And at our level, I do absolutely agree with Jon. If any of our players where to openly disagree with the umpire’s decision they wouldn’t play for us again, and if any of our players nick or glove the club rules are that they walk. We play for fun and for sportsmanship first, and we don’t tolerate anything that might be against the spirit of the game. Ultimately, if I am given out to a bad decision after a low score, it might ruin my Sunday. If a cricketer at a higher level gets a bad decision, it might affect not only his week, but his entire career.
There are plenty of examples I’m sure, but the one that springs to mind the most is Andrew Strauss in Napier in 2008. He was about to lose his place in the Test side altogether at a time when batsmen were queuing up to join Vaughan’s successful team, and after a duck in the first innings hit a wonderful 177 to win the game. A dodgy lbw decision early on in that innings and the course of not just his career, but England’s future progression would have been very different. The higher you go in the game, the higher the stakes, and the greater the inclination to let the umpire decide rather than walking or declaring a catch grounded.
In any case, the idea that ‘batsmen should walk’ is something of a class construct. In the days when professionals bowled and gentlemen batted, it served the club ‘amateurs’ well to spread the myth that they would pretty much give themselves out if they felt it was justified. Grace himself, by all accounts, never walked; I love the story that is told of when he was clean bowled but calmly replaced the bails back on top of the stumps, pointing to the crowd and announcing ‘they have come to watch me bat, not to watch you bowl’.
I think DRS is a great idea. The intention is get rid of the ‘howler’ (the caught behind that was so far from the bat that everyone thought it was an lbw, for example), and I think it does that. I particularly like the fact that any marginal decisions stay with the on-field umpire, and if sides are only allowed one review per innings that takes out any spurious appeals ‘just in case’ the bowler’s foot was a millimetre over or whatever. And I think that it doesn’t just remove any doubt about the marginal decisions – it pretty much proves that the umpires are right most of the time.
I don’t think DRS would suit the Cavaliers, though. For a start we wouldn’t arrive in time to set up all the cameras, and our guy monitoring the screen would be Matt who would probably still be asleep when the innings started. When fielding, we’d use our one review in the first over and spend the rest of the game bleating about how that one ‘would have definitely been out if we had DRS’. And when batting, I’d use our one review to question Kev’s dodgy lbw decision and find he was right after all.
Actually, it’s a rubbish idea.