Umpires and Umpiring
And now, a look at Umpires and all that they do - and to be honest, they really do heaps. Worthy of its own dedicated page methinks. First we've got the actual rules pertaining to a game's umpire, then some discussion on umpiring, tips and tricks, and how to make yourself into a better umpire.
RULE 6. THE UMPIRE
Okay, all the above seems simple enough. And the rules are fairly simple, and easy to learn. So why is there such a vast range in the abilities of umpires (or perhaps more accurately, why is there such a vast range in the performance of umpires)? And can a so-so umpire become a good umpire, or even a "great" umpire? Having played and umpired this game since its earliest days, I believe I have at least part of the answers to the above, and some tips to help anyone become a better umpire .......
The most common weaknesses in an umpire's performance
... and a little discourse on the possible role of humour in umpiring.
Despite many claims to the contrary, I don't think there are too many umpires who do not have adequate eyesight - it just seems like it sometimes.
Sadly, this is not uncommon. As umpires can be difficult to find, many centre managers simply talk some of their players into umpiring, give them a quick guide of the score-board, and perhaps hand them a rule-book. After all, if you can play the game, you must know the rules, right?
Wrong! Centre managers should insist their prospective umpire reads and learns the rule book. They should test them with some of the lesser-known rules, and insist on demonstration of a full knowledge of the rules before allowing them to officiate over a game.
And all team Captains should be given copies of the same rule book at the commencement of the season.
Umpire's tip - think through everything that could happen in a game. Then compare your knowledge of how you as an umpire have to handle it. If you aren't absolutely certain, get a rule-book and study the relevant section. Don't just hope that particular situation never occurs - one day, it will, and you are going to struggle and look a bit silly when it does.
This is one of the most frustratingly common faults of umpires - the non-calling of front-foot no-balls especially. It is one of the easiest infringements to see, and one of the more important to call. Batsmen getting out from an obviously illegal delivery is unacceptable.
Other examples of no-balls commonly missed (or simply ignored) are bowlers pushing off the back net at the beginning of their run-up; fielders in the back half of the court crossing into the front half before the ball has left the bowler's hand, and wicket-keepers moving out of their designated area illegally.
The latter group are mostly more difficult for an umpire to see, mainly because there are so many other things to look at. However, umpires must learn to use their peripheral vision to keep tabs on these activities. Although it may be difficult for an umpire to see them, rest assured they are plainly obvious to spectators.
Front-foot no-balls on the other hand are easy to see. However, for some strange reason some umpires simply don't look at the bowler's foot. Considering the umpire has an unobstructed view of the bowler's foot, missing these no-balls is an indication of an umpire who simply isn't doing his/her job.
The last thing to mention here is when umpires miss calling no-ball for a bowler changing from over the wicket to around the wicket, or vice versa. An umpire should never lose track of which side a bowler is bowling from, even if you get one of those bowlers who changes all the time. The trick? When the bowler bowls his first delivery, mark next to his name on the score-sheet the following - L if left-handed, R if right, and O for over the wicket, A for around. Then, whenever the bowler indicates he is changing side, cross out the note and write a new one. Believe me, if you are umpiring a bowler who changes side often, it can become confusing trying to remember which side he bowled from the previous delivery, and whether he has indicated the change. The little notes to yourself mean you will never, ever miss this one.
Umpire's tip - be fully aware of all the conditions for fielders set out in the rules, and pay attention to them all for every second of the game. You will then automatically notice if anyone is going close to transgressing, and you can pay just a little more specific attention to that fielder. And if you see a fielder encroach into the front half too soon, call "no ball, too many fielders in the half", and indicate which fielder it was. I can guarantee they will be much more careful for the remainder of the game, and so will all the other fielders.
For front-foot no-balls, just look at the delivery stride of every ball bowled.
The worst mistakes an umpire can make is when they give someone 'out', who was in fact 'not-out'. and the most common cause for this mistake is guessing.
Usually when an umpire is guessing, it is obvious to onlookers. It can result in the worst and most obvious mistakes, and go a long way to giving an umpire the reputation of being a poor umpire.
When a batsman plays at a ball, and his body totally obstructs the umpire's view of the contact, an umpire has to be extremely careful in giving that batsman out caught. If there are two clear sounds, the umpire could rule a combination of leg and bat was involved in the contact, but that is still bordering on a guess - it could have hit one leg and rebounded into the other. If there was only one sound, there is simply no way the umpire can know if it was the bat or the body. The result should therefore be "not out", with an explanation that the umpire couldn't see the contact so therefore cannot give it out. Regardless of what actually happened, in circumstances where the umpire doesn't see the contact, the not out decision is the correct decision by the rules.
Remember, under this circumstance, fielders will always appeal confidently - most of them are probably unaware of just what happened too, but they no doubt feel obligated to assume it was the bat. The umpire is under no such obligation.
Other situations where poor umpires are prone to guessing include juggled catches where the fielder's body covers the last juggle or two, making it impossible for the umpire to know if the ball hit the ground or not; fielders appealing confidently for a catch behind, when the umpire saw and heard nothing to indicate the bat contacted the ball, and fielders hitting the stumps with their hands or feet at the same time the ball arrives, making it impossible for the umpire to tell whether the ball actually hit the stumps or not. Regardless of what actually happened, the correct decision in these cases is "not out". Again, I would recommend a brief explanation be given to the fielding side for the decision.
Umpire's tip - this one is easy. Don't guess. If you don't know, it's not out. I strongly recommend a quick explanation, along the lines of "the batsman's body prevented me from seeing whether the ball hit the bat, so I cannot give it out". Whilst players may complain if they aren't given a wicket which they actually earned, they cannot complain about your interpretation of the situation and your reaction to it.
On the issue of catches where the umpire didn't see what the ball contacted - have a quick glance at the batsman who hit the ball (or was hit by it). If he/she stops running, obviously because they know they did hit it, give him out. This leads onto a tip for batsmen - if you hit the ball and it is caught, no matter how obvious it was, put your head down and run flat out to the other end, as if you didn't hit a catch. If the umpire knows what happened, he'll give you out anyway. But if he isn't really sure, don't give him any hints.
This fault leads to the trigger-fingered umpire. These are umpires who are so quick, they sometimes have their finger in the air before the wicket has actually been taken.
Umpires should always give their decisions promptly. This however does not mean within a split-second of it occuring. Umpires who anticipate what is going to happen are very often left looking very silly, and may be in a situation where they have to change a decision - giving catches out before the player has gained full control of the ball is one glaring example.
Sometimes a batsman can look like he/she is certainly going to be run-out by 6 feet, but they end up making their ground easily. It might be the batsman possesses a good finishing sprint. Or the fielder's throw might be just a tad too slow. Or it might simply be that the umpire's pre-judgement of the situation was wrong. An umpire who gives a decision based on an early judgement of a situation is asking for trouble.
Umpire's tip - get into the habit of watching a play to its full conclusion, then give your consideration and decision. Ignore the appeals - a 'good' side will actually appeal just before a play is concluded, especially with runouts (to give the impression the ball hit the stumps earlier than it actually did).
This may sound silly, but many umpires are guilty of some version of this one.
Consider this scenario - the ball is bowled, the batsman hits the ball to the net, and both batsmen cross safely for a score of 2. The ball is returned to the fielder who is standing beside the back stumps. The bowler takes a couple of seconds to move to the start of his run-up, and turns to the fielder who has the ball. However, before returning the ball to the bowler, the fielder notices the non-striker is standing with one foot behind the crease, and one foot outside - so he holds onto the ball for a few more seconds and watches the non-striker. The non-striker decides he is going to stand on the other side of the court, and starts to walk across the court ... one foot behind the crease, one foot outside. The fielder waits until the non-striker's foot behind the crease is lifted, then removes the bails and appeals for a run-out.
Now consider this, and combine with the above - while watching a game at a recent Australian National Championship, I noticed the umpire had an alarming lack of proper technique. Between each ball bowled, he took his eyes off the game for between 4 and 7 seconds. Between every ball! Had the above scenario occured, he wouldn't have had a clue what the appeal was for, let alone be able to adjudicate on it. Unbelievable.
Unless a wicket falls, the ball is "live" for the full duration of an over. So theoretically, at any moment, a wicket could fall. For an umpire to not be watching for up to 7 seconds between balls is totally unacceptable.
In the above case, part of the reason for the umpire taking his eyes off the game for so long and so regularly was because he was standing up. After each ball he wrote the score in the scoresheet he was carrying, then, eyes still averted from the court, he bent down and punched in the score on the keypad, which, because he was standing, was not within easy reach.
The other part was probably a lack of awareness of just what can happen in a game of indoor cricket, and a lack of training in how to write the score, AND punch the score into the keypad, AND not take the eyes off the game for more than a second at a time (except between overs of course).
The other common variation of this fault is not watching a particular "play" to its conclusion. One example is where a player fields the ball. The umpire looks away the instant the ball hits the fielders hand, assuming the fielder has securely grasped the ball. However, the fielder hasn't got a good grip on the ball, and fumbles it. The ball hits the fielder's foot and rebounds into the net, thereby scoring bonus runs for the batsman. Except the umpire isn't watching.
An almost identical situation is where the umpire assumes, the instant the ball hits the fielder's hand, that a catch is going to be completed. The umpire raises his finger and looks to the score-sheet to deduct the 5 runs from the batsman's score. Of course, the fielder fumbles and drops the catch. Embarrasingly for the umpire, he has already signalled "out" (an umpire should reverse his decision in such circumstances, or, better still, be so alert that he is never put in such a situation).
Umpire's tip - learn how to keep your eyes on the game for the maximum time. Do not take your eyes off the game while the ball is "live" for more than a second at a time. And if you find yourself struggling, call "time-out" and rectify the score-board or whatever.
Before you start the game, ensure the score-board keypad is within easy reach. Make sure the score-sheet is attached to a firm clip-board or similar, and hold it in such a way that even when glancing at it, your peripheral vision includes the court.
Watch the game carefully, and pick the moments when it is safest to write the score down and punch in the score. When the bowler has the ball in his hands and is walking to the start of his run-up is a good time. Then glance at the score-sheet and determine where the pen is to be placed. Then you can watch the court while you write the score. Similarly for the score-board - glance at the keypad, place a finger on the relevant button, then direct your eyes back at the game. You don't have to watch as you push the button. And if you get the score-sheet or score-board in a muddle, just call time-out and rectify the situation.
And never take your eyes off the game if the back-stumper or wicket-keeper has the ball and is watching one of the batsmen.
Also, watch every play until it is fully completed.
By using these techniques, an umpire need take his/her eyes off the game for only a few quick glances per ball, and the cause of the most embarrasing situations is easily avoided. It virtually guarantees you will see everything you need to see.
How loud an appeal is has no bearing on how valid the appeal is. Simple as that.
An experienced team will make every appeal sound like the batsman was out by 10 feet. They will sometimes appeal and all run in and congratulate each other on getting the wicket without bothering to check the umpire's decision. And it's often nothing more than window-dressing, an attempt to convince the umpire.
Umpire's tip - ignore the loudness etc of appeals. Just remember that teams will always try to fool you into accepting their version of what happened, and you will win no respect if teams find they can influence your decisions. You will simply get the reputation as a weak umpire, and teams will try even harder to influence your decisions.
Once a team realises that the nature of their appeals is simply not going to get you to give decisions in their favour, you will soon notice they tone down their appeals, especially the trick of all running in and congratulating each other without consulting you for your decision. Trust me.
Inconsistency usually shows itself in the calling of run-outs, wides and leg-sides, and no-balls relative to the height of the delivery. We'll look at each of these in turn.
Runouts - when an umpire consistently adopts the principles of not guessing and not letting the loudness and confidence of appeals affect their decisions, they become consistent in their calling of runouts. Add to that the practise of watching and mentally determining exactly what happened before giving decisions, and you become more than just consistent ... you are on your way to becoming a "good" umpire.
Wides and Leg-Sides - with the ball screaming down at several million miles an hour, the judgement of wides and leg-sides can at first appear a daunting prospect. However, there are umpires around who have reputations for being very good judges of these, so it can be done.
Umpire's tip - before the game commences, have a good look at the wide and leg-side lines. Imagine them extending vertically for a few feet. Then, when judging a ball, quickly try to picture its path relative to those imagined vertical extensions. It may sound a little mystic, but it is a technique that does help considerably. With experience, even a ball passing the crease at a height of 5 or 6 feet can be judged accurately re: its position relative to the wide or leg-side line.
And don't be fooled by a batsman's exaggerated stretch to reach a ball. Batsmen sometimes stand, or step, well away from the wide line, and a legal delivery can often be out of reach of that batsman.
No-balls relative to the height of the ball - another area where many umpires get into trouble. I believe the worst decisions are where a ball is called no-ball when in fact it is legal, but not everyone agrees with this opinion. But this is my page, so there.
When a batsman plays a shot to a delivery which is very high, pay particular attention to the position of the bat at point of contact. This is a good guide to the height of the ball relative to the batsman's height. Remember, the ball has to be over shoulder-height, at the crease, for it to be illegal.
If the ball is not struck by the batsman, the height of the wicket-keeper's gloves can sometimes indicate how high the ball was. Remember though that because the height is judged when it passes the batting crease, not when it hits the 'keeper's gloves, a steeply rising delivery could be legal when it passed the crease, but well over the legal height by the time it gets to the 'keeper.
And always have a quick look at the batsman's feet - if he/she has left the crease, the height of the ball becomes irrelevant. If a ball is over the legal height but the batsman has left the crease, thereby making the delivery legal, let the batsman know that was why you didn't call the no-ball.
Umpires who appear timid when giving decisions give the impression that they are unsure. This leads to players assuming the umpire is guessing, and that he/she can be influenced by loud, confident appeals. This can make a game harder to umpire.
The umpires who appear most timid seem to be the ones who are most concerned about the reaction of players to their decisions. A good umpire has no concern about the reaction of players or onlookers to his/her decisions. And the more an umpire shows no such concern, the less players will show dissent. Trust me on this one too.
Umpire's tip - give all decisions with assurance and authority - strong, loud calls and good, clear hand-signals are absolutely essential. If explaining a decision, speak as if you are stating an absolute fact. And when you are turning down an appeal, don't just say nothing. State loudly and clearly that it was "not out".
This also applies to calling the score for each shot, especially if the ball hits the net close to the transition from one scoring zone to another. Decide what was scored, and announce it with confidence and total authority.
The perception of confidence and authority should not be under-estimated as factors influencing the reputation of an umpire as a "great" umpire.
Related to 9. above, an umpire who is sloppy in this area risks more than just a bad reputation.
Typically, indoor-cricket arenas are very noisy places. Without clear hand-signals, many players and spectators have no idea what an umpire is saying as they simply can't hear them.
Umpire's tip - when giving hand signals, form them absolutely correctly, and hold them long enough for players and spectators to take their eyes off the game and onto you. Three or four seconds is not too long. If it is obvious players have not noticed your call, hold the hand-signal and repeat the call. A strong call and a clear hand-signal go a very long way toward giving the very desirable impression that you are in charge and are competent and confident ... and it keeps the players and spectators fully informed.
NOTE - I have sometimes umpired games involving deaf players. The relevance of my personal standard of giving clear signals, and holding them for some time, was greatly reinforced in these games.
I talk to players a lot when I'm umpiring. I do this to explain my decisions, particularly if there is something unusual about what happened. And I don't wait for players to question the decision - I give the explanation as part of my decision - along the lines of "out - runout - your bat wasn't grounded batsman". or "not out - fielder didn't have the ball when he broke the stumps".
The most common feedback I get after umpiring a game is that the players know exactly what is going on, and exactly why I made the decisions I did. This has always been seen by teams to be "a good thing".
Explaining decisions is simply a very good strategy to avoid dissent. Players who are not sure of why a decision went one way or the other are tempted to question. This can lead to grumbling, and open dissent. By explaining decisions, even if the players don't agree with the outcome, the doubt and grumbling and dissent are to a large extent avoided.
Umpire's tip - if you are giving someone out or not out for reasons other than the standard (eg the "standard" not-out for runouts is simply because the batsman made his ground), give the decision and immediately give the reason (as in my examples above). For things like the batsman dropping his bat over the line instead of sliding it in, I give a little chopping-action hand-signal at the same time as I'm giving my explanation. This can also help clarify things to players.
This is one area where I am totally in opposition to the standard as presented by the AICF. The AICF insists umpires at its tournaments use players' names, in terms such as "Play ball thankyou Andrew". For a start, why the heck does an umpire have to thank a player for bowling? Also, the call of "play ball" is an invite to all players to begin playing, not just the bowler. And using players' names is something I avoid as much as possible.
I believe the umpire should distance himself from any perception of personal involvement with players. Therefore, I use the terms "bowler", "batsman" and "fielder" when addressing individual players. The only time I would use names would be when I need to identify a particular player - calling no-ball because Peter moved into the front half too soon - the Captain asks who it was. Or if I had to call a particular player to me to speak directly to him.
One consequence of umpires using players' names is the possibility of players using the umpire's name. Other players, who may not know the umpire's name, could easily perceive that situation to be one where the player and umpire know each other personally. As insignificant as this might appear, any such perceptions can easily erode players' confidence in an umpire's impartiality.
Well, in my opinion at least.
The last point I would like to make is not a fault - it is not strictly speaking a tip either, as its adoption is something individual umpires may rightly reject. It is though something all umpires should be aware of. I refer to the inclusion of humour when umpiring. If you have the skill to add a little levity to some games, volatile players/situations can be elegantly avoided. However, this strategy is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Incorrectly applied and it can make things worse - much, much worse. All I would recommend is that as you gain experience as an umpire, you do not totally dismiss the idea that there is place for a little gentle humour in your list of skills.
To round this section off, I'll relate one particular little example of the application of humour. It didn't diffuse a volatile situation, but it didn't do my long-term reputation as an umpire any harm either, especially as I had only just started umpiring. (For those who remember it, the centre was the now defunct Morley ICA - one of the very first indoor cricket centres).
The wife of one of the owner/managers, whom I didn't really know at that stage, was bowling in a mixed game (if you ever read this Sherry, forgive me, I couldn't help myself) .....
She bowled a wide. I called "Wide".
The next ball was also a wide, but wider than the first. On the spur of the moment, I decided I would have a gentle joke with her - I called "Wider".
There was quite a bit of laughter on the court, including from the bowler. It crossed my mind that here was a great opportunity to really round-off the joke, if only she would bowl an even wider ball. Bless her, she did. I called "Widest".
It was gentle, it was too good an opportunity to pass up, and it went down a treat. It also showed me there is a place for an umpire to inject a little humour in a game, something I have been known to do once or twice since that very first time ......
That concludes this session. I hope some of the above helps some of you. If you have any queries or want to comment or disagree on any of the above, please, just drop me a line.
© Indoor Cricket World 2003