Trad jazz and birthday parties

Posted in ECB ACO

As we move into the autumn, I find myself reflecting on what has been, to all intents and purposes, my first full season having finally retired from playing just a year ago.

I think I have been very fortunate to clock up nearly 50 games, bearing in mind that, with one exception, I have not been umpiring on Saturdays. I have umpired on all but four Sundays since mid-April and, despite the wet weather, none of these games has had to be cancelled and only one abandoned (at tea).

My three weekends off saw me firstly in Scotland and then, in July, on a jazz boat on the Thames (trad jazz is a passion of mine), whilst last month I was attending my sister-in-law's 60th birthday in Reading, which also acted as a homecoming for my brother's elder stepson, who now lives Down Under.

He and his brother both attended Reading School and were, in their time, captain of the 1st XI. I seem to remember that they were both mentioned in Wisden.

I have particularly enjoyed umpiring a wonderful variety of games midweek and very much hope that I may be able to build on this next season. I am, perhaps, fortunate that I no longer have to work for a living and am in a position to be able to accept appointments at short notice. I do find that I take far more notice of weather forecasts now.

I don't think I fully appreciated and realised just how much cricket is played and the opportunities that present themselves to someone like me. Umpiring has brought a whole new perspective to my summers.

I have met some lovely people and visited some very attractive grounds. I think my wife is resigned to the fact that holidays during the summer months are now a thing of the past!

I would urge anyone who is thinking about donning the white coat to take that extra step and give it a go.

My first appointment in September was a county under-13 semi-final at Leicester Ivanhoe, where the visitors were Kibworth. This is a ground I played on just once, many years ago, so it was good to go back. The visitors prevailed by 5 runs in a game which ended in near darkness.

I will remember the evening for the fact that my colleague, who I was meeting for the first time, arrived at the ground in plenty of time, promptly fell asleep in his car and very nearly didn't make the start.

For the second consecutive Sunday a wicket fell to the very first ball of the match as table-topping Peterborough Town completed their season with victory over Wisbech Town who, despite their Cambridgeshire contingent, look set for the dreaded drop.

For their part, Peterborough will have to wait for various teams to complete their fixtures to see if they can hang on to top spot in Division 1 of the Rutland & District Cricket League (R&DCL).

My next appointment saw me in the scorebox as Leicestershire 60+ locked horns with their Somerset counterparts.

It is many years since I formally performed this particular role and it was really interesting to sit there trying to interpret the umpires' various signals. If I can't, who can?

It gave me a real insight into this aspect of a game of cricket. There is so much to do and not always very much time to do it. One has to work out a system and sequence of scoring and stick to it.

My colleague, who was in his 80s, was very experienced and gave me plenty of tips and hints. An unbroken third wicket stand of 151 swept Leicestershire to an emphatic victory. A regular in the Somerset side is Bobby Gould, the former professional footballer and Wimbledon, Coventry and Wales manager.

A few days later I was back in the middle, making a first ever visit to Oundle. How would they react, I wondered, to just missing out on making the Cockspur Cup T20 Finals Day at The Rose Bowl?

Well, they were certainly very sluggish in the field as visitors Barnack progressed to the dreaded 'Nelson' - were you watching, David Shepherd? - before losing their first wicket. Thereafter, Oundle were pretty much in control, in a match in which there was plenty of incident to keep my colleague and myself busy, and strode to a six wicket victory.

Following their resounding victory over Somerset, Leicestershire 60+ travelled into neighbouring Derbyshire for a third meeting between the sides this season.

In a rain-affected match it was the home side who prevailed, thus bringing to an end their visitors' season.

Incidentally, in the Derbyshire ranks was John Hampshire's brother, Alan. I also had the pleasure of watching, at first hand, some wonderful leg-spin and googly bowling from a Derbyshire player who was clearly a very fine bowler in his day.

Later in the month I went to Lutterworth but not in an umpiring capacity. I was there to help a good friend of mine celebrate his 70th birthday.

It was an entirely fitting location as John, in his pomp, was a top London club cricketer with Winchmore Hill, (I believe he made at least one appearance for Middlesex 2nd XI) before moving to Leicestershire in the 1970s and playing for Market Harborough in what was then the Central League.

I remember, on one occasion, watching him bowling to Alvin Kallicharan who was forced to bat with much circumspection and was quite unable to take any liberties.

A week later, my original match at Godmanchester having been cancelled, I made my way to Stamford for a winner-takes-all clash with Finedon Dolben, who have come from nowhere to challenge for the Division 2 title.

On the day, Finedon were much the better side and clinched the title. I believe they will be a big asset in Division 1 in 2011.

My last scheduled game, due to be played on 3rd October, was, perhaps not surprisingly, cancelled and that, sadly, brings us to the end of an eventful and hugely enjoyable season which, for me, has stretched for almost six months, although it seems like only yesterday that I was checking all my kit.

I tell myself that next April is only really just around the corner. My consolation is that, as an avid Northampton Saints supporter, I can now look forward to a winter of top-class rugby interspersed with plenty of walking (another of my passions).

Having said that, one of my colleagues will be umpiring in South Africa in the New Year. Now there's a thought...