Open main menu




Some remarks on umpiring are very necessary for the beginner in cricket. Many boys are called upon during the various games they play at the public and other schools to stand as umpires; and seeing that umpiring tests the skill, knowledge, and common-sense of some of the oldest and most experienced hands who perform this duty in the big games of the year, it must follow that similar tasks will prove rather difficult for young players who are scarcely out of their teens. I know from my own experience that umpires come in for a considerable amount of abuse and hardly any thanks for the work they do. It is the old story of more kicks than halfpence.

There can be no doubt that umpiring gives scope for and encourages some desirable qualities among boys. When they stand as umpires at the wicket they learn to fix their attention upon some definite object; for they have to watch the game closely and steadfastly if they are to give their decisions with even fair correctness upon disputed points. They learn presence of mind, the power of thinking on the spot, and of deciding quickly and confidently. Moreover, the task helps them to cultivate a sense of fairness and impartiality; it enables them to learn the rules of the game thoroughly; and although some of the more intricate points that arise can only be properly thought out and properly decided by experienced players, an early training in the task of umpiring does boys an immense amount of good so far as their career in cricket is concerned, by giving them an intimate knowledge of the game. I sometimes wish I had stood umpire myself more often during my early cricket-days. It would have saved my wicket, at any rate, upon one occasion. At the Raj Kumar College, where I was at school, some of the masters used to umpire in our games; and as there were only one or two games, we ourselves were very rarely called upon. The result was, I am afraid, that we were rather wanting in a knowledge of the rules of cricket. At any rate, we were lamentably ignorant of many minor but important details. In 1890, during my first year of cricket, I was playing a game on Parker's Piece at Cambridge. I hit a ball to leg, and a couple of runs resulted. The ball was thrown in by the fieldsman, and it hit the bowler's wicket. The ball having passed 10 yards or so away, I immediately called upon the other batsman for a run. I trotted down the wicket very slowly, and very confident of my security. Meanwhile one of the fieldsmen sent the ball to the bowler, who pulled one of the stumps out of the ground. Much to my chagrin and disappointment, the umpire, on being appealed to, unhesitatingly gave me out. The loss of my wicket was the result of an ignorance of the rules resulting from never having had to bear them in mind. My idea was that, as the bails had once been knocked off, the wicket had to be restored to its original state before it could again be broken to my disadvantage. The chance of being run out never crossed my mind.

Certainly umpiring teaches one patience—a very desirable quality in cricket. Indeed there are few things more trying to the patience than standing as umpire all the afternoon with scarcely a moment's relaxation.

Perhaps it will be well to mention a few of the difficult points which come before the umpire for immediate decision. They mostly arise with regard to catches at the wicket, cases of stumping, of leg-before-wicket, and of catches caught very close to the ground.

With regard to catches at the wicket, the umpire must be guided by two things. Sometimes circumstances prevent him from being helped in his decision by more than one. In the first place, he should notice whether there was any sound when the ball passed the bat. In the second place, he should notice whether the ball turns at all in its flight after passing the bat. In other words, he has to rely not only upon his eyesight but upon his hearing in arriving at his decision. When a catch at the wicket is appealed for, an umpire should, if possible, take into consideration both sound and sight. When he is able to do this satisfactorily, he usually has a very clear case, and no difficulty in deciding it. When, however, he simply hears a sound without noticing precisely how near the ball was to the bat in passing it, he is liable to be rather at a loss. In these circumstances he ought to be very careful as to his decision. I myself have seen many very bad decisions given by umpires who either had not been paying-full attention to the course of the ball, or were prevented, perhaps through no fault of their own, from watching it closely. In cases like these the decision very often goes against the batsman because the umpire has heard some extraneous noise which he does not take the trouble to locate—especially if he is assaulted by a loud and unanimous appeal. It is an unfortunate fact that there is a growing tendency in first-class cricket to make unnecessary, and therefore unsportsman-like, appeals. When the umpire has nothing but the sound to guide him the case is very often doubtful, and whenever this is so, a decision in favour of the batsman ought to be given. The sense of hearing is often at fault, so too much faith must not be placed in it. The batsman may be using—rather foolishly, perhaps—a bat with a creaky handle. Most bats with very supple handles are liable to make a slight creaking sound when suddenly bent in the making of a quick stroke. Or a deceptive noise may be made by the wicket-keeper's gloves. Stumpers nowadays are, rather to the disgust of fieldsmen and bowlers, in the habit of putting a lot of sticky substance upon their gloves. When,, after placing their hands together, they open them to receive the ball, one often hears a sound not unlike that resulting from the contact of bat and ball. So an umpire ought to be very careful in judging by sound alone. On the other hand, when he sees the ball deviate from its original course precisely at the moment when it passes the bat, he may be fairly certain, in fact quite certain, that the batsman has touched the ball. Catches at the wicket are rather an intricate subject. An appeal for one often catches the umpire unawares. Nothing but the closest attention to what is happening can save him from this.

In cases of stumping there is usually not much difficulty—that is, unless the umpire has gone to sleep or is looking in an opposite direction. The square-leg umpire is often by way of taking a little rest, consequently he is sometimes caught napping. But most cases of stumping are fairly simple. At times the popping-creases become worn out, so that the edges are not very distinct. Little white streaks multiply round the original crease and make a blur that may deceive the umpire. He should therefore be careful always to know exactly where the crease begins and ends. Whenever he cannot see this clearly, he should put down a little piece of paper or a small heap of sawdust to guide his eye. Remember, he is some distance off, and requires a definite object to measure by. Sometimes the umpire fails to notice when the wicket-keeper takes the ball in front of the wicket, or has some portion of his body in front of it, even though his hands are behind. By the rules an appeal for stumping should receive the answer "Not out" when any part of the wicket-keeper is in front of the stumps as the ball is taken. In this connection an amusing story is told of the discomfiture of a wicket-keeper by the decision of the umpire against him. It happened, I believe, in some game or other in Australia. The batsman had danced down the pitch and completely missed the ball. The wicket-keeper took the ball, whipped off the bails, and appealed triumphantly. But the umpire gave the man "In," on the ground that the tip of the wicket-keeper's nose had been an eighth of an inch over the wickets at the time of receiving the ball—a perfectly valid decision if the umpire's observation was accurate. A batsman is always out—that is, he should always be given out—if his foot is on the line. It is astonishing how many people are ignorant of this. The rules state that a batsman is out unless his foot is within the popping-crease. A batsman often considers himself hardly treated when given out because his foot is on the line; but of course he has only himself to blame if he does not keep some part of his boot definitely on the right side of the popping-crease.

But the most difficult point of all those which an umpire has to decide is a case of leg-before-wicket. Whenever such a case arises the umpire is in the unfortunate position of the man in Æsop's Fables who owned a donkey and could please nobody. At any rate, either the batsman or the bowler is pretty sure to be annoyed whichever way the decision goes. The batsman thinks either that the ball did not pitch straight, or if it did would not have hit the wicket. "It broke a foot, my dear sir," is quite a common remark on the batsman's part in answer to a pavilion friend's condolences. The bowler, on the other hand, does not like it if the batsman is given in, because the ball to his mind pitched on the middle stump, and, what is more, would have hit it: a ball, by the bye, which would do both is extremely uncommon. Usually bowlers are prone to draw attention to the amount of work they have put upon the ball. But in a case of leg-before-wicket they generally profess entire innocence of twist or break. The wise umpire, of course, takes no notice at all either way. He does his duty impartially and to the best of his ability. It may be useful to state that a man is out leg-before-wicket if the ball hits his leg after pitching between the two wickets—that is, between two parallel straight lines drawn from the outer edges of one set of stumps to the outer edges of the other—and continues its course in such a way that it would have hit the wicket. An umpire must not imagine the subsequent course of the ball. Unless he distinctly sees it break or twist, he should give the man out. As a matter of fact, it is by no means an easy thing to bowl a ball pitching between the wickets so as to hit the stumps. In all cases of leg-before-wicket the umpire should make sure whether or not the ball but for the leg intervening would have hit the wicket; for besides the possibility of passing on either side of the stumps, the ball might have gone over them. So the umpire must take into consideration whether the ball is rising or dropping at the time it hits the leg. It ought not to be necessary to remind all umpires that any case of doubt should be decided in favour of the batsman.

Young umpires do not always understand that the batsman is out if the ball is caught off any part of his hands, but not so off any part of the wrist or arm. It is sometimes very difficult to see exactly what the ball has hit; but if there is any real doubt, the batsman must be given the benefit of it.

Perhaps I shall be pardoned if I mention a rather delicate point. In all probability a young umpire will frequently be called upon to stand as a representative of his own side. Now this does not mean that he ought to umpire in the interests of his own side. He is there as an unbiassed arbiter of Yes and No. He should be neutrality incarnate. If he is worth his salt he will be bubbling over with esprit de corps, but he must put this and its promptings into the background for the time being. He must not fall into the error of making all appeals against his own side cases of doubt in order to be able conscientiously to give his own partisans the benefit; neither, on the other hand, must he persuade himself that doubtful cases are certain when the appeal is in the interests of his comrades. I do not for a moment mean that boys are prone to partiality or unfairness—quite the contrary; but they are rather more liable than older cricketers, whose characters are formed, to be influenced in their decisions by a natural and otherwise very right and proper desire to see their own side win. So I give this little bit of advice to them, in order that they may take steps to wrap themselves up in a cloak of impartiality whenever they are called upon to stand as umpires.

There is no doubt that a cricketer, man or boy, if he wishes to qualify himself for this onerous duty, must have a love for the game and a proper feeling towards it. It is not easy to be a good umpire, and consequently it is well worth trying to become one.

No one should be chosen as an umpire who is not gifted with perfect eyesight and an accurate sense of hearing. My experience of people is, that they hear and see extraordinary things sometimes. It is to be hoped that all umpires are of a class who see and hear that which is, rather than that which is not. An umpire must also, as I have already jnentioned, be quick and prompt with his decisions. He must cultivate the faculty of grasping situations without hesitation, and the power of reviewing circumstances in the shortest possible space of time. Directly an umpire shows the slightest sign of hesitation, he is apt to lose the confidence both of the fielding side and of the batsman. While he is umpiring he should follow every ball with the closest attention, and let no detail of the game escape him. The moment he relaxes his attention and allows his thoughts to wander in vague, directions, he is sure to find himself at a loss. It so often happens that the one fateful decision of the match has to be made by an umpire who has—perhaps for one second only, and only that once during the match—allowed himself to think of something else than the game. School umpires as well as others are no longer called upon to choose the pitch upon which a match is to be played. The groundman does all this nowadays: in earlier times the umpire was responsible for the particular spot selected. Groundmen are very capable people, so there is not much fear of the wickets being wrongly pitched or the creases badly drawn. All the same, I have several times in country matches played upon wickets about 19 yards in length. The first time I did so I thought I had become an enormously strong bowler. It was no trouble at all to keep a good length or bowl yorkers. In fact, my first two overs consisted entirely of yorkers, and for the moment I could not find out the reason. Later on it became apparent enough.

In school games it is sometimes customary to run out all the hits. When, however, there are fixed boundaries, it is well for the two umpires who stand for their respective sides to decide before the game commences exactly how many runs each boundary is to count. It would also be a good thing if schoolboy umpires took the trouble to go out into the field at the proper time. Much time is frequently wasted in school games by inattention to this point. Punctuality is a great virtue in cricket. School umpires are sometimes in the habit of taking up their positions very leisurely, and without paying much attention to where they stand, either at the bowler's end or at the other. It is most important to stand at the proper place. Unless this is attended to, it is impossible to see properly. The umpire at the bowler's end should stand about 2 yards away from the bowler's wicket and directly behind it. But he must be careful in no way to hinder the bowler as he runs up to the wicket to deliver the ball. It is best to stand with the shoulders in the same line as that of the wickets, with the face turned over one shoulder towards the striker. This position will enable the umpire to have a clear view of the bowling, and to follow the game without any difficulty. He should be very careful to avoid moving or fidgeting about, otherwise he is sure to annoy the batsman by attracting his attention. He must notice that the bowler does not go over the bowling-crease with his back foot, or place either of his feet outside the return-crease when he delivers the ball. If he sees the bowler doing either of these things, he should promptly call "No ball." But he must not carry promptness to a vice. He must wait until the ball has actually left the bowler's hands, otherwise he is liable to make a very laughable mistake. If he says "No ball" too quickly, the bowler may be able to retain it in his hand instead of delivering it. Such a case occurred last year in the match between Surrey and Nottingham. Lockwood, the Surrey bowler, dragged his back foot over the bowling-crease, and was at once no-balled. Immediately afterwards he pretended to deliver the ball but did not do so. The umpire no-balled him before ascertaining whether the ball had left his hands. Of course, a difficulty arose. The question was, whether a ball that had not been bowled could be regarded as a no-ball, and entered as such in the score-sheet. However, Humphreys, the umpire, insisted upon having the no-ball scored, and was perfectly right in so doing. He had made a mistake in not waiting until the ball actually was delivered, but without a doubt acted quite within his rights. The bowler was, of course, trying to take a point off him, and deserved to be penalised. It would, I think, be a good thing that in cases where, in the opinion of the umpire, the bowler has tried to take an advantage of him, the umpire should be empowered by the rules to add some runs to the score of the side opposing that of which the offender is a member.

It will be noticed that the umpire ought to assure himself that the bowling-crease is of exactly the right length on either side of the wicket. Nor should it be forgotten that the popping-crease is regarded as being unlimited in length; consequently the batsman is in his ground provided his bat or some part of himself be grounded behind this unlimited line.

An umpire has sometimes some difficulty in deciding whether or not a ball is a wide. Remember that a ball is a wide whatever be its direction, provided the batsman had no chance of hitting it at any period during its flight before passing the wicket. So a wide is a variable quantity. A ball which is a wide to Abel may perhaps not be one to Tunnicliffe. A batsman's reach means the distance he can stretch from his standing position without any exaggerated stretching. A ball has to be rather wider on the off-side to be a wide than would be the case on the leg-side. A batsman can move with ease and comfort on the off-side; on the leg-side he is somewhat constrained.

Umpires are often very chary of no-balling bowlers., But considering that a batsman is almost invariably given "Run out" or stumped when his foot is on the popping-crease, I do not see why umpires should not be very strict with bowlers who are at all inclined to drag their feet on to or over the bowling-crease.

The umpire at the bowler's end is the proper person to be appealed to for no-balls, and wides, and catches at the wicket, and leg-before-wicket, and any doubtful catches; in fact, in all cases except those of stumping, hit-wicket, and run out. However, the umpire at the bowler's end may always refer to the other umpire in cases where, for some reason or other, he is unable to give a decision. Similarly, if he thinks fit, the short-leg umpire may appeal to the bowler's umpire.

One of the rules in the game empowers the umpires to act as sole judges of fair and unfair play; also of the fitness of the ground, the weather, and the light for play. All disputes are to be settled by them; and whenever they disagree, the existing state of things is to continue. Note that the umpire must not give a batsman out unless he is appealed to.

Among other things, the much-talked-of evil of throwing in bowling—particularly in the case of amateurs—could be nipped in the bud if the umpires in school games, whether masters or boys, no-balled bowlers whenever there is the slightest doubt as to the fairness of their delivery. I recommend umpires to study most carefully the precise wording of the law on the subject of throwing. Something has been said on this point in the chapter upon Bowling.

With regard to cases of run out, whenever the batsman is holding the bat at the time it is grounded within the poppingcrease he is of course not out. If, however, in running towards the wicket and attempting to ground his bat, he stumbles and falls and lets the bat slip from his hand, he is out. The bat no longer belongs to him. He can only be in by grounding some part of his body behind the popping-crease. A batsman is out even though he be past the wicket, if at the time when the bails are knocked off no part of his body or bat be touching the ground—that is to say, he is out if the wicket be broken while he is in the middle of a jump. There is a story of a certain batsman who attempted a very short run, and finding himself rather put to it to bring it off, took a kind of long Jump from about 2 yards outside the popping-crease into the bowler's heap of sawdust. He was given out, and came back to the pavilion very indignant, declaring that he was past the wicket when it was broken. So he was; but unfortunately he was in the air.

It should be understood that the wicket is not validly broken unless the man who knocks off the bails has the ball in his hands.

In the case of a hit-wicket, some part of the batsman's body or his bat must knock down the wicket while he is in the act of playing the stroke. If the batsman slips backwards in starting to run and breaks the wicket, he is no more out than if he had not done so.

An umpire should be on his guard against all kinds of tricks. There are stories of smart wicket-keepers taking the ball so close to the stumps, and at the same time unshipping one of the bails so cleverly, that apparently the man is bowled out. Personally I have never seen this done. And such cases are rather unlikely to occur in school cricket. Still, an umpire should be armed and well prepared. One never knows what may happen.

There are innumerable small points which it would take too long to enumerate in this short chapter, which is intended especially for boys. A little common-sense and discretion will usually lead an umpire to a fair decision. In cricket, as in everything else, in the absence of distinct rules all points are decided by equity, and by equity we mean the dictates of common-sense and fairness.

The little I have said about umpires and umpiring is sufficient to show that an intimate knowledge of the rules is absolutely necessary. The sooner a boy who hopes to become a cricketer makes himself familiar with the rules of the game, the better it will be for him and his prospects at the game. There is much that is difficult, monotonous, and thankless in an umpire's task. So perhaps it will not be out of place to remind all those who take part in the game to avoid showing disgust at umpires' decisions. I am afraid umpires sometimes meet with unkind and even abusive language. Never abuse an umpire. You may meet him again, and he is hardly likely to be prejudiced in your favour if you talk to him as if he were a pickpocket when he has given you out.

It should be unnecessary, but I am not quite sure that it is, to advise all players, be they schoolboys or otherwise, to obey the decision of the umpires at all times without any outward sign of what they feel, and to show a sportsmanlike spirit by putting up in the most cheerful manner with occasional blunders on the umpire's part. This applies to every one—batsman, bowler, and fieldsman alike.