MANAGING GROUND, WEATHER & LIGHT
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Ward is a recently retired first class umpire. He was a part of the Cricket Australia National Umpiring Panel from 2005/2006 until his retirement in the 2019/2020 season. Internationally, John officiated in seven men’s and eleven women’s one day internationals, eight men’s and six women’s T20 internationals and one test match as 3rd umpire in the test match between Australia and India at the MCG in 2014. He has officiated overseas in New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, South Africa and the Caribbean where he officiated in two Caribbean Premier League finals. Domestically, he officiated in 87 first class matches, including two Sheffield Shield finals, 84 domestic one day matches including four finals, and 117 domestic T20 matches of which five were finals. His off field contributions have been just as significant, notably as a mentor to many umpires in the Australian system and as a member of the peer voted Cricket Australia Umpire Leadership Group.
Managing ground, weather & light (GWL) can be the most challenging aspect of cricket umpiring. It can also be the most satisfying.
Cricket is a summer game and is often played in hot dry conditions. Sometimes it must be played in less than ideal conditions. It should never be played in dangerous conditions.
When assessing fitness for play regarding ground the level of competition must be taken into account. Overnight rain may render the playing surface soft & shifting. These conditions may preclude adult male cricketers from participating safely. The same conditions may well be perfectly safe for junior or female cricket.
Ground assessment field craft & dynamics:
The inspection & assessment of a ground and the subsequent communication to stakeholders re fitness for play provides a great opportunity to demonstrate umpiring teamwork and collaboration.
While inspecting conditions umpires should stay together as a unit. This will ensure they witness the same issues at the same time. This makes it easier to reach an agreed position. A united front is the desired outcome. An umpiring team that remain together physically and hold the same opinion are not easily influenced or isolated by participants that may be motivated by self interest.
An inspection should be thorough. High traffic areas including the pitch, infield & bowlers run ups warrant particular consideration. Excessive moisture, surface water or shifting turf can render conditions dangerous and a decision to abandon or postpone play would be justified.
Umpires should always try to maximise play in less than ideal conditions. A decision to continue or start play in these circumstances may be met with resistance from some quarters, usually the team facing a battle to avoid defeat. Strong team oriented umpiring is required in these instances. Communication of a decision regarding fitness for play should be made to both Captains by both umpires at the same time. It is difficult for a reluctant Captain to be obstructive in front of a peer. Once a decision has been reached it should not be debated.
Once play has started/restarted reluctant players may exaggerate restricted movement in an attempt to influence the umpires. This might include bowlers, batters or fielders. Umpires should recognise this and remain steadfast.
A decision to start or continue play is not binding. If it becomes apparent that existing conditions are dangerous or deteriorate to an unacceptable level the umpires should abandon or postpone play.
The state and characteristics of a pitch determine whether or not it is fit for play.
Ideally a pitch will offer consistent bounce and carry over the duration of a match.
This is not always the case. Curators are at the mercy of the weather and occasionally their pitch preparation leading up to a match has been severely impacted by adverse conditions.
An underprepared pitch can pose difficulties that often are not evident until after a match has commenced.
Inconsistent bounce can be dangerous. Balls spitting off a good length and rearing at the chest, throat and head of batters can cause serious injury. They will often be struck on the gloves in these circumstances as well. Pitch unevenness due to cracks, ridges, indentations or excessive moisture may be the cause.
It is important not to apportion blame as this situation is often out of the ground staffs control. Typically curators are heavily invested in their venues and work long and hard to present a pitch. Umpires need to understand and respect the emotions curators can experience in these rare but difficult periods. Diplomacy and tact is essential when dealing with this situation.
The weather leading up to and during a game can determine a venues fitness for play.
Prolonged and heavy rain prior to a match may well render the playing surface unfit.
Sodden conditions are dangerous.
Many competitions have extreme heat policy. Umpires should be aware and familiar with these playing conditions.
Lightening is dangerous and a conservative and cautious approach should be adopted (no risk). Ground staff need to be considered when timing the postponement of play.
The laying of covers should be completed well before an approaching thunderstorm hits.
Umpires should share observations regarding impending weather events. One umpire may have a superior view of approaching conditions.
Poor & deteriorating light can render conditions dangerous. Signs of poor light may include motorists employing headlights and street lights automatically activating.
White ball cricket can persist longer in poor light than red ball cricket.
An umpire operating from the bowlers end with the benefit of sightscreen, light coloured pitch & depth of field perspective can be oblivious to light issues. Square leg umpires often have a better sense of conditions. They may have difficulty following the path of the ball due to gloomier background and their opinion and observations are crucial.
To maximise play umpires need to cooperate with fielding Captains. Sharing concerns re light and suggesting the employment of slow bowlers may prolong play.
When umpires confer regarding GWL issues the conference should be timely and decisive. Umpires should not keep coming together on numerous occasions as this may convey a sense of hesitance and reluctance to make a call.
Body language is critical. Umpires should walk towards each other with purpose. The impression that BOTH umpires wish to communicate is paramount. When one umpire is talking the other umpire should be gently nodding their head in agreeance. Participants will believe the umpires are on the same page and this is a strong position for the umpiring team.
Light meters can be used in some competitions. A reading should be taken when a decision to suspend play is made. This will provide a baseline and assist consistency when applying standards.