Two weeks in the life of...

Posted in ECB ACO

Glorious May! Who was it that coined that misnomer? After a beautiful start to the season which saw the grounds in better condition than they have done for a number of years it all changed in May.

This was certainly true on Friday 15th when I drove up to the Riverside in Chester-le-Street for what was supposed to be the second day of the West Indies Test. It turned out to be a complete wash-out. Fortunately I was on a ‘corporate’ trip and so was still able to take full advantage of the excellent hospitality on offer.

After so much rain on the Friday I was not optimistic for my match on the Saturday but, thanks to the hard work of the groundstaff at the Undercliffe club, we were able to start on time. These, generally unappreciated, club servants put in tremendous hours of work for very little thanks.

In the JCT 600 Bradford Cricket League we have received a grant from ECB to progress the marking of pitches and their improvement. It was a key match for both Bankfoot and Undercliffe, first and second in the Second Division. In the end Bankfoot were able to extend their lead with a five-wicket victory.

Neither the ECB nor even the efforts of Ray Illingworth, now the groundsman at Farsley, could save the day for the cup match on the Sunday. After only eleven overs the heavens opened and that was it for the day.

Before this season it would have meant the continuation on Monday, Tuesday evenings etc until a result was achieved. With the feague attracting players from further and further afield this became impractical and so other methods of determining a result have been introduced - in this case a bowl out. So, my colleague and I took the field in pouring rain while Farsley beat Baildon 2-1 after no fewer than twenty balls had been bowled.

Another innovation the league has introduced is a mid-week Twenty20 competition. This has been done at the request of the clubs and is seen by them as a way of increasing mid-week activity and income. A generous sponsor has been found and the finals will be played under floodlights in August. Most of the clubs already have sponsored coloured clothing and they will be encouraged to wear this.

A few years ago the JCT600 Bradford Cricket League introduced a management board to replace the old league committee. This board, consisting of the officers, two players, two umpires and two club representatives has proved far more efficient and enabled the league to adapt more quickly to the needs of clubs and players.

Cricket everywhere seems to be split between the traditionalists and the modernists. I will freely confess that I am all in favour of coloured clothing, floodlights and the excitement of Twenty20 while acknowledging that there is still a place for the more traditional game. The limited-over game certainly keeps umpires on their toes and improves technique.

I could have had another day watching it rain on the West Indies on Thursday as there was a one-dayer scheduled at Headingley but Nick Cousins had asked me to go with Lorraine Elgar to 1st4Sport, which is the accrediting body for the new qualifications being introduced by ECB ACO. As a member of the Level 2 Taskforce I have had previous meetings with 1st4Sport and they are always most helpful and supportive.

And so to Saturday and a second team game with a new umpire whom I am assessing and mentoring. The recruitment, training and progression of umpires is a constant challenge to us all and we are fortunate to have sufficient umpires to fully staff every match but it is a constant battle.

Sunday saw an early start for the drive up to Richmond in North Yorkshire for the second round ECB National Club Knockout match between Richmondshire of the North Yorkshire South Durham League and Scarborough of the Yorkshire League and what a match it turned out to be.

This was my first visit to the club and I was most impressed by the setup - an extensive playing area with views of the castle and priory and a large modern clubhouse. The club has three adult teams and six junior teams of various age groups.

Scarborough batted first and scored 259 for five in their 45 overs. Richmondshire started their reply steadily and were always up with the run-rate despite losing wickets on a regular basis. In the end they finished on 258 for eight - just one run short.

These ECB competitions take you out of your comfort zone and give you the chance to visit new grounds and see different teams and players.

It was back to the JCT600 Bradford Cricket League on Bank Holiday Monday and a local derby match between Pudsey St Lawrence and Pudsey Congs.

Many of the local clubs in the league were established by the local churches in Victorian times to try and give the local youths healthy outdoor recreation. Nowadays there is no love lost between these two teams.

Over the last ten years Pudsey Congs has been the stronger but this year St Lawrence is in the ascendancy and is in a mood to repay everything it has had to take from its neighbours. This led to a lively match and my colleague and I had to be on our toes.

The situation was made even more lively by a reunion of old players being held that day. After a few hours in the bar they were not shy in offering advice to players and umpires. Unfortunately rain spoiled the second innings with St Lawrence in a strong position to avenge the defeats of recent years.

In such circumstances there is always one team wanting to play (St Lawrence) and one team claiming the conditions are unfit (Congs). There always seems to be more problems when we are not playing than there are when we are on the field.

It was a different atmosphere on Wednesday with a ladies match at Leeds Met University. These young ladies really love their cricket and play the match in an excellent spirit.

On this day we were treated to a fine innings of 162 not out by Rachelle Petty who is a member of the England squad. Whilst she may not be able to match the men in terms of physical strength, her timing and footwork were exquisite. The coach, Andy Siddall (coincidentally from Pudsey Congs) has worked really hard with these ladies and their improvement is plain to see.

So you have a view of my umpiring activities over the last couple of weeks. During the season it is centred around the JCT600 Bradford Cricket League but I am also heavily involved in the ECB ACO Level 2 Education Taskforce and my role as Regional Appointments Co-ordinator (North) for ECB.

Both these roles involve occasional meetings at Lord’s as we seek to replace the education system of the old regime with a more practically based one. The five Regional Appointments Co-ordinators are responsible for all ECB appointments up to, and including, county second XI fixtures and gives the regions the opportunity to progress local umpires.

Cricket umpiring certainly keeps me out of mischief throughout the year and I would not have it any other way.

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