The last game of the season was a Sunday game at Bray. I think half way through September is an early end, but the hockey club takes over at that time.
The visiting club was Stage CC and they brough with them Colin Downey, who had a long and distinguished career as a football referee. what they didn't bring was a good forecast and rain was due. The match format was a 35 over game, so we had the best chance of getting a fair bit of the match played. for the second time, Matt Armstrong won the toss and elected to bat. This time opening with Cameron Jacobsen and Vish Kumar. Cam took on the bowling and smeared the runs through cow in a very entertaining way. Apparently he has scored 19 before the first boundary was scored through the off side, by Vish. Cam got out on 45 and Thomas Noakes came in feeling a bit delicate after a long evening. Despite the barracking from the cheap seats (his family) he did pretty well and dropped a couple of sixes into the hedges. He then went on to run out his partner. Jamie Kiddell and Tom Allen put on a stand and then the spinners came on and Bray quickly lost wickets until they were all out for 193 in 33 overs. A good number of wickets had fallen to steepling catches, the track was on the sticky side and leading edges were the order of the day. A good plan would have been a quick turn around and start the second innings, but instead we has a very pleasant tea.
The bowling for Bray was useful and perhaps a good deal slower that the previous week, with Chris Lowe opening at the road end, he was very difficult to get away and picked up a wicket when the batsman gave yet another steepling catch, to tom Allen. The next over Mat Armstrong picked up a very good lbw when the batsman played the wrong line. The next batsman came in and chipped Armstrong straight to long off, only to be dropped. The batsman went on the take about 30 runs off the next three overs.
At one point, the ball was played out to long off again and as I watched the batsman to make sure they made their ground, I heard the ball fizz past my head, missing it by a fraction. The fielder was the bowler I had taken off the previous week.
The drizzly rain intensified and the players were having trouble keeping their feet, so we called off the ground and went for a pint.
The 2013 season was over.
This was going to be one of my rare Sunday appearances at Bray and saw what turned out to be my biggest umpiring blunder. Worse yet for being in front of another senior umpire. The visitors were Jesters, a London based traveling side and they brought with them a premier league umpire from Cheshire.
The Bray side looked reasonably strong, not too many colts and not that many elder statesmen either, so when Matt Armstrong won the toss, he jumped at the chance of batting first in a 40 over a side game. Raoul Cheema and Sachin Moudgil opened, but made fewer than 20 runs before the first wicket fell and Vish Kumar came in. This turned out to be the high point of the Bray innings and they put on 58 by the time the innings reached the half way point. Cameron Jacobsen came in at the next wicket and went after the bowling. Bray finished on 164, which was really only going to be a defendable total if the bowlers were on song and I'd seen the MCC defend 181 a few days earlier.
Given that the opening bowler for Bray was Jamie Odell, who had played England under age cricket shortly before and had signed with Middlesex at the start of the season, things looked good. Right the way through to the end of his first run up. Jamie bowls with a fair bit more pace than your common-or-garden club colt and behind the batsman was exactly the common-or-garden colt wicket keeper, who had never seen pace like that before. Well the first over went for 12 runs, all of the boundaries were byes. The next over also included a dropped slip catch that went for four. At my end, the bowler appeared not to have had too much time between chucking out time after clubbing and the start of the game. Early on, he sent down a beamer that I no-balled. And this is where my blunder came in; I like to let friendly games take their own course and advise the players if they are on the edge of a wide or if they are getting close to bowling a no-ball or if they are running up the middle of the track, I want the game progresses without my intervention. Well, I had hoped that being called for a no-ball should have been enough to bring the lad to his senses, so although I ought to have given him a warning, I didn't. A big error.
The quicker bowlers came off and the slower bowlers came on, but after the runaway start that Jesters made, the asking rate was just too low to defend and by that time, the batsmen were well used to the pace of the track and scoring was no problem. Then the seam bowlers came back on and my bowler then produced two further beamers and we had to take him off. I've never had to take anyone off before. The lad wanted to go off the field (and perhaps have a sleep), but he had to stay on.
The only wicket of the Jesters innings was a run out and they won by 9 wickets.
Sadly, the bowler taken off for bowling three beamers didn't apologise to the batsman he hit.
24th and 25th August
The game on 24th August had the makings of a classical David and Goliath encounter, with bottom of the division Maidenhead and Bray 2nds visiting top of the table Amersham. A great deal of rain had fallen (and was continuing to fall), potentially the wet ball and outfield could have evened things up a bit and perhaps the game would be something of a lottery. In 1 Samuel 17, David was endowed with two key assets; the LORD who supported him and a bag of stones. Today, David turned up bereft of two key assets, two players.
Before the game could start, it had to stop raining and the wet wicket ends would have to be treated with sawdust and the covers removed.
A good hour was lost before starting. Bray won the toss and elected to bat. They made slow and steady progress, and as expected neither side had an easy time of it. John Hewitt worked hard and went on to score a half century before getting out. Although the rain had stopped when we went out to play, a slow and steady drizzle set in that eventually turned into proper rain. At one point, we thought we'd go off, but the rain eased and the game continued. Mud adhering to the players shoes became something of a problem and from time to time I had to clean them off, pretty much in the same way one would clean a horse's hoof (with a bail rather than a hoof pick).
Of course with a horse, you would run your hand down the leg before lifting the hoof, but I decided to forgo that part, especially as one of the players getting their shoes cleaned played for the Berkshire ladies team.
I'm not superstitious and I don't jump in the air when 111 is on the board, but three wickets fell on that score. The fact of the matter is that with the steady drizzle that had been falling, they were now playing on a good old-fashioned sticky wicket and the ball was popping, shooting and generally making a nuisance of it's self and the Bray players were for the most part , too young to have much experience on a sticky. After losing those three wickets, Bray were only able to put on another four runs and they were all out for 115 off 39.1 overs.
The champagne moment for that innings was the woman who played for Amersham diving to stop a drive. She missed the ball and landed with loud splat on a muddy wicket end. All of us had a giggle.
During the first innings the players from neighboring Chesham turned up to watch. Their game had been rained off and they wanted to see how their promotion rivals got on. There was some barracking from the cheap seats as the game progressed.
Having too few batsmen was a problem, but missing two fielders was a major inconvenience for Bray. They worked hard and there were some valiant dives trying to cut off boundaries, resulting in some very wet and muddy players but the numbers were against them. Something else that didn't help was that there were rather too many full tosses, half trackers and too much width. When you are playing on a sticky, it's vital to use the pitch, but all too often the pitch was taken out of the equation and runs were scored too easily.
Amersham were able to pick up the 115 needed in 18.2 overs for the loss of three wickets.
On Sunday, I went over to Home Park in Windsor for the MCC game. Windsor had been rained off the previous day and although the ground was still damp, the game went ahead. Instead of the usual time game, it was a 40 over match. As ever, The Club batted first. One notable thing about this game was that there were only two members and nine candidates in the MCC team.
The Home Park setting is magnificent. Set beneath the battlements of Windsor Castle, it's tree lined and altogether delightful. It's also a very good location for anyone who likes to watch the airliners on finals towards Heathrow. There is an apocraphal quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington that "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton." The actual playing fields of Eton are nothing special at all, but you could believe it of Home Park.
Batting wasn't easy and there was a regular procession of MCC batsmen going to and from the crease, with the stands of no more than 10 to 12 runs for about seven wickets in about twenty something overs. Jonathan Perkins managed to produce some mid innings solidity and scored 39 before his wicket went down. Rather peculiarly, lunch (and tea) were taken mid innings, so we all trooped off to eat and to have the usual speeches from the home team president and from the MCC captain.
After Lunch the local press and the Middlesex/MCC photographer Sarah Williams took team photos.
The club resumed its innings with John Stevens (49) and Ben Mooney (26) bringing respectability to the club score. They they ended on 181 off 40 overs.
Windsor made a good start with an opening stand of almost 60. They carried on strongly and went on to 141-2, with an asking rate of just over 2 runs per over with 17 overs to go. In cricket, drinks are said to work magic in dismissing well set batsment, so having tea mid innings stood to be very bad news. During tea, the deputy mayor and mayoress called in and gave medals to the young cricketers who had been having their cricket day.
After tea, runs came quickly and wickets started to fall regularly too. Windsor were always in touch, but fell away at the end. On the penultimate ball of the match the ninth wicket fell and the last man came in for the last ball. Incredibly, he wandered out of his ground with bat in the air and made no attempt to play the ball. The keeper took the bails off and the MCC had won by seven runs. There were some discussions with the scorers as to whether the last man was stumped or run out, but it's clear from Law 39 that he was stumped.
This was the away fixture at Teddington Town, who play on one of three grounds in a corner of Bushy Park. I'd stood there once before and played hockey there too. Previously, access to the ground was through the park and went past the rather nice central roundabout with a fountain at the centre. However, now it was via a gate hidden in the National Physical Laboratory. Unfortunately, this was not the day to be driving. The M4 and the M25 were both gridlocked when I set off and when I got off the M4, all of the roads were heavily congested. The closer I got to Teddington the more congested the roads became. It turns out there was a fixture at Twickenham that day and of course in that part of London rugby means getting cut up by nobbers in SUVs. Worryingly, as I was about a quarter of a mile from NPL (about 30 minutes driving) one of the Bray players went past me heading in the wrong direction. The trip had taken about one and a half hours instead of three quarters of an hour, so there was only fifteen minutes to go before the start.
Bray bowled first and we had found ourselves on a track with real pace and bounce. Tom, the opening bowler at my end is tall, and hit the track hard and at a good pace too. At the other end, Jack Kelly looked as though he was spraying it a bit, runs seemed fairly easy to come by on a ground with short boundaries. However, it did mean that the batsmen were going after him and getting out. He ended with 3-54, he was also instrumental in another wicket. One of the Teddington batsmen took one in the box, which discomforted him enough to stop him scoring. A second bulls eye from Tom at my end and his day was going downhill fast. Eventually, he tried a quick run and got nowhere. Tom was taken off and Alkesh Vaja came on to bowl. A fair bit younger that Tom, he is also a good 18 inches shorter, so the ball skids on with a lot less bounce and pace, something that did for two Teddington batsmen who were caught dead in front. Alkesh came away with those two LBWs in two balls and a third wicket. Teddington ended on 153. During the Teddington innings, one of the stags that live in the park came along and grazed between two of the cricket pitches. At times people were getting really quite close to it, within a few yards. In Windsor Great Park, getting close to the deer can only be done by very painstaking stalking, or by riding up to them on a horse. As it happens, there were also a lot of people riding in the park too, all of them being lead. Again, in Windsor Great Park, you can spend a couple of hours trotting and cantering to your heart's delight without the need for someone on the end of a lead rope.
The Bray innings was a straightforward enough affair. After an early wicket, James Coyne came to the crease. Having seen him smear opposition bowling around the park on a number of occasions, he was clearly very confident. Unfortunately it didn't come off and after a few outside edges, top edges and mows, he edged to slip and was gone. Will Ballantyne came and constructed an innings of 42, but became the third batsman to go to a waft outside off stump. Alkesh came in and dropped a 6 beside a dog walker and there was one of those utterly brilliant Fenton moments. The dog picked up the ball and ran rings around its master for several minutes as the owner dived and failed to stop him. I wish I had pulled out my phone and videoed it. Eventually, the ball was returned and after a quick rub down with a towel, the game resumed. With four runs needed for victory, Alkesh thought he'd go for glory. Never a wise move, the next man in got the runs and Maidenhead and Bray had won by four wickets.
The drive home could not have been more different. Not a car to be seen.
One of the nicest grounds in the Thames Valley Cricket League is Marlow Park. Its roof has been replaced recently and is a bit new looking, but with its old sagging roof it looked a rural idyll. The club is set beside the Marlow sports centre and boats on the Thames can be seen a hundred yards away. On a good day, a fair number of people will sit around the ground and watch the game. On this day, there were rather more people that usual because a funfair had set up on the field adjacent to the ground. The carnival atmosphere was dampened a little by the fact that all the generators had been put next to the pavilion and it became pretty noisy.
The visitors were Maidenhead and Bray 2nds, who had won their previous game and were looking to build some momentum going into the late stages of the season. The pitch looked a little less than perfect, at the river end the surface was a little cratered and looked like it was going to do something if the bowling was accurate enough. Marlow Park won the toss and batted and from the start two things were clear, the bowling was not going to be accurate enough and the short boundary on the sports centre side was going to see some action. In short, it was August and the home team were going to make hay whilst the sun shone. One batsman on his way to 73 scored five 6s and eight 4s, most towards the short boundary. The interesting thing was the reactions amongst the spectators; in televised games the spectators all try to catch the ball. Not so the Marlow public, on several occasions men were abandoning their children, wives or girlfriends and leaving them in the firing line whilst they scarpered. One particular couple sat beside a tree at square leg and seeing the ball heading their way, he moved and let the ball hit her.
As I had expected, the pitch was distinctly two paced and the river end more so that the town end, and although there were signs that the odd batsman had weaknesses and at times the scoring rate was restricted, for the most part it was an all-you-can-eat buffet and the batsmen who did get out got themselves out. The score progressed from 200 to 250 in about 6 overs and from 250 to 300 in 4 overs. Although they were well past 300, they batted on so that Nabeel Janed could reach his ton. Marlow Park declared on 323-5 off 43 overs.
By the time Maidenhead and Bray came out to bat, it was a warm and sunny afternoon and the 1960s pop music was blaring out from the funfair, and the people were flocking in. Marlow Park started with the old ball and with spinners. Their spinners were using the pitch and bowling accurately in exactly the way that Bray had not. The buffet that had been served up earlier in the day had been tidied away during the tea interval and only scraps were left. Bray lost wickets regularly and there were other regular interruptions to play too as members of the public wandered onto the ground, clearly oblivious to the flagged white line and the fifteen people in the middle trying to have an afternoon's sport. One "gentleman" walked his family across the ground and despite any number or requests to leave wandered on showing his best "what are you going to make of it?" sulk (Proff Brian Cox has a great word that seems most appropriate here - nobber).
Bray had been limping on in partnerships of about 10 runs until John Hewitt came out to bat and in a 9th wicket stand (I think) pretty much doubled the score with one of the spinners. Then Matt Armstrong came in as the last man and he managed a flurry of boundaries before losing his stumps. Marlow Park won by 174 runs.
I'd stood in the game between Maidenhead and Bray 2nds and Farnham Royal in May and this was the return fixture. Although the home side seemed largely unchanged the visitors were an almost totally different side and to their great credit included a woman in the side. Most important for the outcome of the game, the person who scored 130 for Bray back in May wasn't there.
The weather forecast for the 27th was not great, for the previous few days, rain of biblical intensity had been forecast and there was a yellow weather warning in place for most of the south east of England. However, when I set out the sun was shining and it was 27C, warm enough to have the air conditioning on for most of the trip. The shortest route to Farnham Royal skirts across the top of Slough, and around Taplow and Burnham. Anyone who has seen the series Road Wars is going to be very familiar with the road, because it seemed to have a car chase along it in every episode. But not this time.
Farnham Royal is a neat little ground about 3 miles north of Slough, that is surrounded by trees, tidy looking houses and has a church in one corner. The outfield was yellow after three weeks without rain, but was short and lightening fast. The pitch had been used before but looked good.
Just before the game started, I was told that the other umpire had car troubles and would be late. As the home team had been inserted, one of their players would be standing at square leg and I would stand at both ends (what joy). The first ball of the match epitomised a bottom of Division 4 clash; the bowler send down one that was short and wide enough to go after, the opening batsman threw everything at it and got an edge that flew into first slip's hands and was dropped. The first ball at the other end was a full bunger and close to a no-ball for height, the second ball was another high full toss, was a no ball and came with a warning for the bowler. Soon things settled down a bit, the pitch was used by one side and the full face of the bat by the other. The young lad who dropped the slip catch was moved to point and took a good catch. The Farnam Royal No 3 (I think) was a capable looking batsman called Khan, who came in and smeared the ball all over the place, including one that cleared the hedge and went through the back window of a car parked outside a neighboring house. A small posse trouped outside to apologise and to retrieve the ball. Khan went on to score 133* and Farnham Royal declared their innings closed on 274-5, leaving Maidenhead and Bray 54 overs and an asking rate of a hair over 5 runs per over.
Not long into the first innings the second umpire turned up and I could stay at one end. He'd pretty much rushed out onto the pitch and lucky him, was still in shorts. Unfortunately, the home side has a few left/right combinations and instead of having a leasurely walk from one end to the other, I was now having to jog from square leg to square leg.
One of the great things about the Maidenhead and Bray ground is the 13th century church standing back at one corner. We often hear its bells and they have a charming lyrical note that lends them great musicality. Not so with Farnham Royal; St Mary's has bells well enough, but exactly the kind that grates on the ear and no matter how distant, sound too loud. And on Saturday they seemed to be having remedial bell ringing lessons that ended in a bell ringing detention.
The second innings started with the old ball and a young leg spinner who had been given an unhappy time in the first game. With a different opener, he was able to settle down and bowled well. The Bray batsmen were never really in trouble but inexperience meant that scoring opportunities went begging. The leggy would send down the odd half tracker and instead of breaking more car windows, the ball was defended back up the track for a dot. Will Ballantyne was able to make the most of the lose deliveries and accumulated runs at a reasonable rate, but all the time the run rate crept up. All the time the cloud cover increased too. Will went on to get a fifty and as wickets fell at the other end, he grafted and eventually got to 102*. Scoring became a little easier for Will when the new ball was taken and seam up was the order of the day. The new ball bowler at my end was bowling to Will Cunliffe, who edged direct to second slip on a no ball. the next delivery was another no ball and another edge, but this time over the slips and down to 3rd man for four. The next over the bowler had gained a good yard of pace and was the fastest Will had seen. He could defend the straight ball and scored some very good boundaries from on-drives, but couldn't tale advantage of the wider ones. He was out on 73, mostly from the other bowlers, but he did pretty well.
The clouds got thicker and darker, but rain radar didn't show an awful lot coming our way and when a light shower came and went I thought we had been lucky. However, the clouds got thicker and darker and we had a lot more rain. The pitch was covered and the rain stopped but is was now very dark. We got back on, but it was clear that it was just a matter of time before we went off as the rain started again. At one point I was at square leg and I would see the ball coming towards me quite easily, but it was almost impossible to see it going across. In my next over, the bowler told the others that he couldn't grip the ball and some of the fielders were saying they couldn't see the ball. I discussed it with the other umpire who wanted to see the over out. As far as I was concerned, the conditions had become dangerous and that left me with no choice but to abandon the game. Something I hate doing.
Maidenhead and Bray ended on 197-3 and claimed 7 points for the draw.
By the time I had driven the six or seven miles home, it was dark, the rain was unrelenting and had turned into a thunder storm and I didn't feel too bad.
I keep my phone with me when I umpire because on the only occasion I left it in my bag it was stolen. On Saturday I used the My Tracks app to see how far I covered during the day's umpiring. In 90 overs of the 100 over game, I covered approximately 10.6 miles. I'm not sure how accurate that is, a lot of GPS spikes go way outside the ground.
18th and 20th July
This week’s game wasn’t umpiring, it was a couple of days at the Lord’s test watching what proved to be a record defeat for the Australians.
I had got my dates wrong, I thought I was taking a friend to the test on the first day and I had booked (expensive) tickets for an air show for the Saturday, I had to let my son give my ticket to one of his friends. I really need to put these things in my phone’s calendar.
I turned up around 7.30-8.00 on Thursday, I had anticipated I would be so far back in the queue that I’d have to take one of the emergency backup seats under the Compton and Edrich stands. When I joined the queue, I has walked about three quarters of a mile from the Grace Gate and was in Grove End Road. The Rover ticket holders’ queue was snaking away from us coming up Grove End Road in the other direction. In fact the waiting time was shortened and the Lord’s staff opened the gates at 8.30, some excellent and very considerate work on their part. I found a seat in the Allen Stand, next to the pavilion and just behind the press photographers (good work by them too, they kept their heads down and didn’t interrupt our view) then went for breakfast in the pavilion. I ate in the Old Library and on leaving said hello to one of the pavilion stewards, who told me that the Queen was about to arrive. So I waited for a while, said hello and good luck to Chris Rogers (of Middlesex) and chatted with some people I knew. After a short wait, the queen came, chatted with the players and the game began.
|The end of the queue 3/4 mile from the gate||Setting up for Lunch|
|Early morning music||The Queen at Lord's|
England had won the toss and batted. From the pavilion, the flight of the ball is pretty clear, but from where I was sat, it’s better to watch the batsmen at work, so I was pretty pleased to see England batting. Also, the press had been talking about the track being dry, with a view to giving Swann something to bowl into, so England needed to bat first and let the conditions work their magic.
The first ball came and Alastair Cook looked leaden footed, but it wasn’t long before some boundaries were scored and everybody started feeling a bit better, unfortunately that didn’t last and in the blink of an eye England were 28-3. The rest of the day was spent watching Ian Bell accumulate runs. I was in the Long room when Bell and Trott went out after lunch and the applause was loud. I went in again as they came in for tea with Bell and Bairstow. They were cheered like heroes. Bell had a standing ovation on 100 and then another when he got out on 109. I felt rather less at ease watching Jimmy Anderson bat, his style is very personal.
On the Saturday, I got up at 4, walked to the station and got on a train just after 5. I walked from Paddington. Praid Street was quiet and the Edgware road was deserted. I was at Lord’s shortly after 6, but wonder of wonders, I was by the East Gate, only a couple of hundred yards from the Grace Gate. The wait was pretty long, but I was able to chat with the people about me and we all tried looking the other way when the Jelly Bean lady came along, but we usually end up handing over the money. I was listening to an audio book when the next old lady chugger came along. She got some more money and then I got nailed for a paper. That one was useful, because I had to leave something on a seat the reserve it. Once again the gates were opened at 8.30 for members and I was able to find some good seats and to head off for a full English breakfast. I met with some MCC members and walked around the ground for a while before my friend turned up.
|The Saturday queue||
The Saturday queue at Lord's
|Working at Lord's in a neat uniform||Working at Lord's looking tidy|
|What I don't mind seeing at Lord's||
This is what I wore
And how scruffy can you get without being kicked out?
|Joe Root gets to 100||The crowd at Lord's give Joe Root a standing ovation.|
The Bresnan Root partnership made slow going, but eventually started moving along and irritatingly, we had the second 99 run partnership with Bresnan unable to keep a short ball under control. After that Bell came in and we had a 150 run partnership. We were lucky that Bell stayed long enough to make those runs, there was a disputed catch, with the third umpire ruling that Smith didn’t take it cleanly. I was obviously a long way from the action, but my impression was that the ball didn’t carry. Later, I was perfectly in line for Bell’s pull to Chris Rogers and saw it all the way off the bat into Rogers’ hands.
At lunchtime we were entertained by the Band of the Royal Marines, who had been playing at Tidworth for the Rundle Cup the previous weekend. Those people are having to put up with a lot of hot weather. One of the photographers on the pitch photographing the band is someone who is often seen at Lord’s and has been seen on TV as he wandered around the pavilion terrace, holding up play. He must be the scruffiest person that has ever been allowed in the Lord’s pavilion. Lord’s has issued a set of fairly clear guidelines on dress in the pavilion. Members and visitors alike have to reach a certain minimal standard to be admitted. It’s my opinion that this character looks more like a tramp with a camera ban a bona fide snapper. When I photograph at places like RMA Sandhurst, I dress to the standards expected of the people who work there, so that’s a clean shirt, that’s been tucked into my trousers and shoes that have been cleaned and polished and not just within the last decade, I wear a jacket or blazer that doesn’t look like I’ve slept in it. I’ll leave this polemic at that point as I don’t want to start sounding like the daily hateMail.
The afternoon session dragged a bit, I was starting to feel drowsy, the scoring rate was slow and my early morning was starting to catch up and before I knew it I was snoozing. Worse yet, I had planned to meet up with Patrick Kidd and missed the appointment. I had a double espresso and watched Joe Root get his ton from the Allen Stand upper tier, then met Patrick and we went for a pint. We chatted for a while and then went back to our seats to watch Root put the Australian bowling to the sword. The crowd kept wondering whether there was going to be a declaration, whether it would be the Bell 50 or the Root 150 until eventually it was clear that we would not be seeing England bowl. The extended batting did enable England to put together a record beating run margin but we all felt that we wanted the England attack to be at them.
The consensus seems to be that Cook is just too cautious. There were comments that the press wouldn’t blame him if the Australians could chase down 500, but Cook didn’t want to risk anything as attainable as a 500 run second innings target. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill described John Jellicoe as “the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon” and perhaps Captain Cook may view his actions in the same light. It may be cricket, it may even be the Ashes but can’t we have some fun too?
6th and 10th July
This was a pretty good week; warm weather and interesting cricket.
On Saturday I drove up the M4 to the British Airways Concorde sports complex at Cranford to stand with Maidenhead and Bray 1st XI. It's a vast complex that accommodates football, hockey (I think I've played there) tennis and cricket. The car park also had several large lorries in it too. When I asked where the umpires changing room was, I was taken up to a large block and told "number five." When I was getting changed someone who looked like he'd been playing squash wandered in and stripped off. Although the other umpire had left his things in the room, I decided I'd take mine out with me. The other umpire had also turned out in a white coat and was wearing a tie, I was very impressed by the dedication to tradition, 30C had been forecast and I was in shirtsleeves.
The ground looked pretty good, the grass was shortish and wiry, and the track was hard with the odd crack here and there. It turned out to have both pace and bounce and was probably the best club track I've seen this season. The bowler at my end was tidy, but the bowler at the other end started making inroads almost immediately. Adam Dean was returning to 1st team action after injury and the previous week's disastrous visit to High Wycombe with the 2nd XI. After he had taken five wickets, something interesting happened, the incoming batsman had the sight screen shifted so that it was in the right place! Adam ended the innings with 7 wickets, I think. Only two had gone down at my end. British Airways 2nd XI finished on 123 off 29.5 overs.
Having experienced these early innings breaks all too frequently, we decided to start the second innings and play twenty two overs before tea. The openers went along at about four runs per over and were on about 60 when the first wicket went down. Unfortunately for the home team, that meant that James Coyne came in. He went on to score 54 in about 20 deliveries and after 18.5 overs the game was won and we went in for some tea.
In the second game, the Sir Michael Parkinshon XI played the Crusaders. This was the last game of the Crusaders European tour before heading back to Australia. The ground had never looked lovelier, although finding it taken up with a primary school sports day was a little alarming. Double bookings do happen from time to time and the school were able to finish their use of the outfield a few minutes before the cricket started. The tourists turned up in a coach and dozens of visitors came in, most wanting to know what time the bar opened.
The Parky XI was a mixture of players from around the area, mostly friends of friends or people that people knew. It turned out that a number of them were ex Berkshire players and the captain was Shaun Udal. Also in the side was Cameron Jacobson, who I'd seen in the MCC vs Oratory School game a week earlier.
My colleague was Darrell Hold, who I'd stood with in a league game some years before. He's an ex first class and ODI umpire, so I was on my best behaviour. The visitors batted first and went along at 3-4 runs per over for quite some time. The odd wicket fell and as the shine went off the ball and the bowlers, the scoring rate increased. From time to time we could hear cheers coming from the pavilion as the Australian test side made inroads into the English batting. Cameron came on to bowl, but cricked his back as he bent down to pick up the ball and Shaggy finished the over. I was quite pleased about that, it's another name to drop from time to time.
After 50 overs the Crusaders had put together 248, which was good going on a low and slow pitch. The Australian out cricket was very good and the bowlers, who had been getting in lots of overs during the previous few weeks were just a little better than the batsmen could easily cope with. The cricket balls provided for the game had the Crusader name and emblem on one side and the other was marked "Solid Hide Missile," which I thought quite funny. But then I'm easily amused. Wickets fell regularly and eventually the Parky XI were all out for just under 200.
Sir Michael had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing radiotherapy, so we were all pretty please to see him at the game. He watched for a while and then afterwards presented the Crusaders with a replica Ashes urn. I was pretty pleased because I was given a Crusaders top during the presentations. Unfortunately the biggest they had was a medium, so I may have to stop dodging salads before I can wear it.
After the game the visitors sat out in the sun and were encouraged to spend the last of their Stirling before heading off to Heathrow in the morning.
It was a good week.
29th June and 1st July
A busy few days, a local club game on Saturday, photographing polo all day on Sunday and then an MCC game to stand in on the Monday.
Saturday's game was Maidenhead and Bray 2nds against the improbably named Hight Wycombe Dragons. It turned out that the team had picked up the name from Green Dragon Lane and the eponymous pub that sits beside it. They were a likeable bunch who enjoyed their cricket. The game was played on what looked like a cross between a village club and a council rec. The track, which had concrete post settings at each corner and was not much harder that the Lord's outfield, and the grass on it was not much shorter. It would be a disservice to green seamers to liken that patch of turf to one. As you might expect, the outfield was, well, flourishing. In amongst the buttercups, daisies, clover and dandelions was the odd blade of grass. Here and there were some clippings that had fallen from a mower, showing that perhaps it had been cut, perhaps once, probably a long time ago. It reminded me of some of the grounds the MCC had played on in rural Italy and like them there were no sight screens. Well, in fact there were some, but one was covered in graffiti and the other one was missing most of it's bars. Set beside the "square" was one of those awful astroturf pitches that had been fashionable among village clubs in the 1970s. This one was mostly buried under the muck and mud that made them so slippery and impossible to play on with the slightest hint of moisture.
The home team batted first and lost wickets regularly. The ball held up in the turf and moved prodigiously; it was clear from the start that this was not going to be a high scoring match. It was also clear from the start that boundaries were going to be few and far between and would need a full toss to assist with scoring them too. Eventually, the Dragons made 85 off 29.5 overs, giving the visitors 70 overs and an asking rate of 1.2 runs per over.
Maidenhead and Bray went back out to bat, the kettle hadn't boiled and tea wasn't ready.
It was clear from the start that however much the home team struggled, the visitors were going to struggle more. The bowler from my end was a fourteen year old that bowled leg spin and googlies and had the batsmen tied in knots, he was almost unplayable. He overstepped a few times but other than that was pretty flawless. The bowler at the other end was even more spectacular, he bowled four consecutive wicket maidens. At tea he had 1-10 off 10 overs.
The visitors slumped to 15-5 and like vultures, the red kites gathered and circled.
After tea there was something of a recovery and the odd full toss meant that some runs could be made, but the damage had been done and after about 30 overs Maidenhead and Bray succumbed to the Dragons and to the pitch.
Monday's game was an altogether more impressive setting, with the MCC visiting the Oratory School. The cricket coach there is Chad Keegan who played his cricket at Middlesex and Sussex and among the school alumni is Dan Housego (nickname The Estate Agent), who has also played at Middlesex. The school is somewhere north of Reading and somewhere west of Henley in a stretch of Berkshire where the roads all go in almost exactly the wrong direction. If finding the school is difficult, finding the pavilion from the main gate is nightmarish, involving a labyrinthine series of paved and unpaved tracks. The ground its self is charming, the pavilion is a black building made attractive by a bright yellow balcony, beside which is a small shrine that looks like it may be a war memorial. Next is a wooded hill and adjoining that are the school buildings. The final side is open and offers a spectacular view down onto the Berkshire countryside.
Many of the club players were local to the school, one was a parent and one had taught at the school. It had the making of a very pleasant day. The MCC batted first and although the pitch was a little slow made good progress. They ended with 205-5(ish) of around 50 overs. The school lads came out looking to knock off the runs but were all out with four overs left in the final hour. Captain Cameron Jacobson (who I coached as an under 9) top scored with a 62.
Warm sunshine, great hospitality and great cricket is exactly what we look for in a day's cricket, and this one didn't disappoint.
It was back to Bray for what could be kindly called a "mid-table" clash, Teddington Town were visiting. It would be fair and romantic to say that Teddington play at a charming ground in the picturesque Royal Bushy Park, surrounded by trees and deer. But I've only visited that ground once and it was wet, cold and wet with drizzle on a chilling wind.
It had been raining on the previous day and although seemingly dry and hard, the Bray pitch can go a bit two-paced and sticky under conditions like that. The visitors won the toss and batted with a couple of tidy looking batsmen. The opening bowler from my end was a shortish seam bowler of no more than medium pace, as an under-age player he had seven overs. It turned out that his pace and hight were almost exactly perfect to extract the maximum variation of bounce and pace from the pitch. He had a couple of close lbw appeals and then produced two deliveries that held up in the pitch and caught the batsmen plumb in front. In his last over another batsman went for a heave across the line and was caught at square leg. Fortunately for the fielding side, the mistimed shot didn't go too hard as the fielder had drifted off a bit and the catch came as a surprise.
As that fielder had to come on to bowl next, it was a good wake up call. He was a much taller bowler and had much more pace and produced movement off the pitch. For much of the time he was unplayable and the batsmen were lucky not to be good enough to get anything on the ball. His one wicket was electrifying, bowled at pace it cut back in and removed the off stump, even though the batsman had gone forward and covered up.
All this time the real activity was going on at the other end. Anthony Ball had picked up five wickets the previous weekend and despite the damp ball, passing rain showers and chilling wind, he managed to chip away at the visitors batting. The final two wickets came in the 30th over. Number 10 went forward, dragged and was stumped. As the appeal went up, he wiggled his foot back to get behind the line and failed. Number 11 cam in, went forward and lifted onto his toes, and was stumped. Ball had his second five wicket hall in two weeks. Stumpings are not common, so to get two in an over was exceptional.
Maidenhead set 70 overs in which to score 101. The players came straight back out as there was a "spot of bracing dampness in the air," they wanted to get on with the game before the forecast showers developed. Unfortunately, by the time three overs had been bowled, the bracing dampness had developed into a cataclysmic downpour with thunder.
Eventually the rain stopped and eventually the sun came out to reveal half an inch of water standing over much of the square. The Bray side spend a lot of time mopping up and getting the ground back into a playing condition and after three hours of work, and an entire bag of sawdust, we were back on.
Conditions were marginal and we umpires had told the captains at the restart that if people couldn't keep their feet, the match would be abandoned because of an unfit ground. Players physical safety comes first.
The first wicket fell and James Coyne came in at number three. Last time, he had made a 45 ball ton and this week he looked to continue where he left off. A boundary off the first ball and a single off the next, to keep the bowling. In the next over, he plundered 21 runs, although one shot did pass through cover point's fingers for what could have been a spectacular catch. In the next over gully had more luck and Coyne departed for what could be described as a breezy 26. His knock took the game away from Teddington, Bray needed something like 50 off 55 overs and it was just a matter of time. They ended up using only 25 of the 70 overs they had available and won by 6 wickets. This was the only game in the division that was completed.
There are many things that are more unpleasant than a wet umpire's coat in the wind, but when you're feeling that all-over body ache from the cold and the wet and you hat is on the point of dissolving into papier mache, it doesn't feel like that. I've been looking longingly at the warm and waterproof coats the umpires wear in the Champions League. I think the answer may be a white sailing coat, something made of gore tex and perhaps with a fleece lining. And perhaps that might be all the excuse the sun needs to start shining again.
During the week, I'd stood in a Julian Cup game for Maidenhead and Bray and they had just scrapped home, so I felt somewhat optimistic as I went round the M25 for their game with Chenies and Latimer.
The first thing I looked for on arrival at the ground was the umpires' changing room. This was an old rural ground with quite an old and basic pavilion; two changing rooms, toilets, showers and a bar. When it was built, umpires were expected to mess in with the players or come and go in uniform. However, league rules had been introduced that required clubs to provide umpires with their own changing facilities and the club had provided them, in the shape of a box off the back of a GPO lorry.
In fairness it was quite large enough and they had equipped it with lights, a few coat hangers and two large armchairs with flowery covers.
Compared with other clubs, it wasn't a bad effort. At Beaconsfield, they had effectively converted the loft space above the scorers box into the changing room. It was hot and cramped and their was always the likelihood that you would bang your head on something or fall down the precipitous steps. Henley have installed a nice little cabin behind their picturesque wooden pavilion, thereby maintaining the quaint appearance and providing the needful. Wormesley still don't provide separate umpires rooms, even though they host YB40 games and many clubs will put the umpires in a nasty little store cupboard next to the water heater. The best umpires' room that I've used has to be Lord's, which as you might imagine has lots of space, showers, toilets, TV and a fully stocked fridge (so too does Wokingham).
Back to the game.
Maidenhead batted first and got off the mark in the first over, and lost their first wicket third ball of the game. At this point the home team may have started rubbing their hands together, realising that the visitors had now scored seventy nine runs for the loss of twenty one wickets. But celebrations would have been premature, number three for Bray was James Coyne, world champion at raquets doubles. The hundred came up after 10.3 overs and Coyne made is ton off 45 deliveries. It wasn't a chanceless innings, but some of the stroke play was spectacular. On a several occasions, the fielder on the cover boundary had only two or three steps to cut off the ball but never made it. Some 6s were dropped into the adjoining paddock and the horses came over to see what was going on. The second hundred was a single wicket partnership and took perhaps ten overs more than the first, but looked assured and cultured. The third hundred was altogether quite scrappy as wickets fell regularly and the tail was in. Maidenhead and Bray declared on 303-9.
When the home side batted, they found runs a little harder to come by and wickets fell regularly. At one point an opening bowler had been unable to complete his over and Coyne took over, and in a moment of pure cricketing magic took a wicket first ball. The Bray fielding was better than in previous weeks, with most slip catches going to hand although one chance will have left a nasty bruise mid thigh.
As the wickets fell, the resistance increased as the home side moved from attack to defence. After a fair time at the crease, the eighth man down was upset at getting out and there was an Athertonesque moment as he entered the changing room and a plastic chair left it. The last wicket pairing involved a good deal of farming of the strike but at last number 11 was run out and Maidenhead won by over 100.
Disappointments have been coming thick and fast this week. On Thursday I had been expecting to stand in a game at Radley, one of the better cricket schools with alumni that include Andrew Stauss, Jamie Dalrymple and Robin Martin-Jenkins, and a delightful timbered pavilion that nestles in one corner of the ground. On Friday I had been at Lord's and watched a distinctly lack-lustre England side fail to score freely and fail to take wickets regularly. The Saturday game ought to have been the highlight of the week, I was back at Bray and was seeing the 1st XI.
They had been skittled out for 30 last Saturday, but today they included last week's centurion from the seconds, an old Wellingtonian and a current Harovian, and even one lad that had played Berkshire under-age cricket (I, of course, have played Berkshire over-age cricket). The Harefield opening bowler was an under 17 but looked perhaps under 12, but he bowled like a seasoned veteran, first tying down one end and then knocking over quick wickets. The bowlers from my end did pretty much the same thing and they were helped by the previous few days torrential rain. It wasn't a sticky wicket, it was just damp in places. After one catch, the ball had a good dollop of mud stuck to the seam, where it had pitched and kicked. Under the thick cloud, the ball swung nicely and wickets continued to fall regularly. There were two in two deliveries and one lad ran himself out, and in under thirty overs the home side were all out for forty six.
Tea was taken, except the urn hadn't boiled yet and there was no tea, and then the home side went out to bowl. At this point I have to hold my hand up and own up to a blunder. I thought that a full toss had reached the batsman over waist hight and I called no ball after checking with square leg. He nodded agreement and the over continued. In fact there was a miss communication and his nod had been to indicate that the ball was good for hight. The Harefield openers were both young lads and they knocked the runs off in only 10 overs.
After the game I apologised to the bowling captain for my mistake and I got home four hours early.
I was back at Bray for a 2nd XI clash between Maidenhead and Bray and Farnham Royal. The visitors come from a nice little ground north of Slough and visiting their ground one time I heard perhaps the funniest sledges I'd encountered. A High Wycombe batsman was having a difficult time and he was making Nick Compton's second innings in Leeds look positively electrifying, from somewhere in the slips a voice called out "send down a piano, see if he can play that!"
Anyway, there I was at Bray and the sun was shining. The odd damp patch on the square from the previous day's rain was drying out with a helpful breeze and all we were in for a good day's cricket. At a fabulous ground like Bray it's easy to wax lyrical about the English idyll as the air was full of the sound of birds and church bells. But that's getting away from the fact that we were there for cricket and the fact of the matter was that it was not just birds and the Heathrow inbound that filled the air; the ball was in the air on a regular basis too and went to hand on a regular basis, before continuing it's interrupted flight to the ground. Gravity was particularly effective on Saturday and there were six dropped catches in fifty two overs.
The Bray bowlers were for the most part, pretty miserly. One opener was having his first game after little pre-season practice and was prone to pushing one down behind the legs and paid the price, but for about the first thirty to forty overs, the visitors were being held to about three runs per over. Then one of the batsmen scored a boundary and showed some intent, and the game changed. All of a sudden the fielders scattered to the boundary and singles became easy to come by and the gaps between the well spaced fielders became easy targets. What initially looked like a target of perhaps less than 150 became an actual target of 215. I was certain that an in-out field would have at least kept the visitors below 200.
Bray came out to bat and the visitors used the old ball, and managed to push through the first half dozen or so overs for almost no cost. Then they took the new ball and brought on the seamers. Unfortunately, that meant an all-you-can-eat buffet of very drivable deliveries that got the treatment. The first wicket went down and the next batsman tucked in. Unfortunately, he got squared up and the only decision I had to make was as easy as they come. Naturally he went off muttering. Batsman number four blocked the first ball and then charged the seamer, had his swish connected it would have been a very big six. The next ball he forgot to charge but still swished and the stumps went flying. There was the odd wicket after that, but nothing as crazy, just sensible working of the ball to whatever part of the ground seemed best. All this time, the surviving opener was cutting, pulling and driving his way to fifty and then to his century and eventually to an unbeaten 130.
After the game we sat out in the sun and enjoyed a drink with the 1st XI who had been rolled over for 80 chasing 170, but who had managed to get back in time for the home win.
This was my first MCC fixture of the season, a game at Shiplake College. The setting for the game was an award-winning tree lined ground with school buildings along one side. On arrival it turned out to be an open day and the school was swarming with small people in their best blazers.
On the pitch, fielding practice was going on for the school side and that meant high catches. Given that it was around 8C, that seemed a bit harsh, but the lads had found a way of avoiding the stinging pain delivered by 5 3/4 oz of leather hitting at speed and were dropping or missing the ball altogether.
I said hello to the club members that had arrived and introduced myself to the other umpire. He know the ground quite well, so I walked the boundary on my own, something I have always done before a game, with the one exception of Lord's. I'm not convinced Mick Hunt would be that impressed by an amateur umpire inspecting his ground. However, I have inspected the nursery ground because the boundary is a bit uneven in places and there can be lots of cut cable ties littering the place and they can be pretty sharp.
The ground was of course perfect, a beautifully clipped outfield and a pitch that was hard and dry, with perhaps a place or two that were perhaps just a bit softer.
It was a cold day and although I had crammed on as much clothing as I could comfortably wear under my umpire's jacket, it that turned out to be less than was needed and I was far too cold. The MCC batted first against some quite accurate school bowling and it wasn't long before I had my first lbw appeal. On the boundary everyone thought it was out, a leg stump yorker; but I felt that it was perhaps outside the line of leg and perhaps angling down too. No matter, the lad put the next ball, another yorker, on middle stump and the club had lost their first wicket. Shortly afterwards the dark skies went black and the first rain came and a few minutes later we were off. All except our hosts who had to stay out in the rain pushing the covers into place.
We got back out, but after perhaps eight deliveries more rain and another stoppage. I was quite pleased, I still had my emergency backup pullover in the changing room and I couldn't wait to be wearing it. The Association of Cricket umpires and Scorers may have been defunct for some time, but their pullovers are still superb.
To keep me on my toes, one of those anorak moments of umpiring pedantry had come along during the MCC innings, the school wicker keeper had been standing up to a slow bowler and strayed in front of the stumps, resulting in only my third wicket keeping no-ball in over 20 years of umpiring. The square leg umpire isn't having a rest between overs, they are still very much in the game. There was also a missed lbw appeal that I'd have given, the batsman swished at the ball but didn't connect, but the fielding side remained silent. I've seen that happen before and thought it odd that bowlers will go up for something that couldn't possibly be out but will miss something glaringly obvious.
With a second rain break meant the need for acceleration was imperative. The club players started to push, and runs and wickets came quickly. After receiving 41 overs the club declared on 169. On a dry summer's day with no stoppages and the temperature perhaps 15 to 20C warmer, that would have been a pretty easy ask, especially on a good pitch with a fast outfield. On a somewhat damp pitch it was a pretty good declaration and the school team had it's work cut out.
During the second (school) innings I stood at point rather than square leg for much of the time as the blindingly bright sun that had followed the rain made seeing the popping crease more than a little difficult. Umpires are directed to stand where they can best see the action. The school opening batsman was clearly struggling against the club opening bowler and was late on the first four deliveries. I was stood next to the point fielder and said that if the lad got anything on the ball it would be an edge and that a shortish third man would be a lot more in the game than gully. Imagine my delight when the next ball was an edge that flew to exactly where I said gully should have been. Moments like that almost make it look as though I know what I'm talking about.
At one point the school side had become a little becalmed, but a change in bowlers meant that they were able to pick up some rapid runs at one end and the club was able to pick up wickets at the other end. MCC captains have an extraordinary ability to keep games going and to keep the opposition interested. In the end, the school needed about 6 runs per over for about 15 overs and only really batted out the last over to ensure the draw.
After the game a parent came over to congratulate me on how well the MCC had played and how well their captain had kept the school side within reach of the total throughout the game. The MCC games are some of the most interesting games I get to stand in, the venues are usually very good and the cricket is usually of a very high standard and the games are played in great spirit. Cricket like that makes the umpire's job an enviable one.
I don't have a game now for a couple of weekends, I'll be photographing a horse show and some polo over the next two weekends. I hope it's warmer the next time I step across the boundary.
My first umpiring stint of the season was at my home Club, Maidenhead and Bray. It turned out to be something of a gentle introduction to the season, both for the players and for me, sort of. I ended up standing at both ends, but as it was only really a practice rather than a match that didn't matter. As an aside, when the premier leagues started in ~1995 my first game turned out to be one in which I stood at both ends, for 110 overs. Pretty tiring.
The club had just taken over the pavilion from the resident hockey club (some of the hockey players came along after their matches) and the changing rooms hadn't been fully reorganised. That wouldn't normally be a problem, but it meant that the umpires' changing room was a tad cramped as it contained everything that couldn't be fitted anywhere else.
Anyone who has never been to Bray really ought to visit the club. The setting is superb, it's one of the prettiest grounds I know. For me, the setting is on a par with grounds like Wormsley, although the pavilion isn't.
The game play its self wasn't that special, although the fielding was obviously better than that seen in the IPL. The most notable thing was how the winning runs were scored. Seven runs were needed of 3 balls, the non-striker called the striker through for a single and then reverse hooked the next delivery for 6! Competitive cricket starts next weekend.