Last day at the office . . .
It’s just after 6.00am on Friday, 14th December 2018 and it’s time to get myself organized for the final day of group matches in the ICC U19 WCQ Asia in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.
My match today is Hong Kong U19 v Maldives U19 at Prem Tinsulanonda International School (Prem), which, on a working day, is about an hour away from our hotel in the centre of Chiang Mai. We leave at 7.30am with the 50 over match due to start at 9.30am.
When I say ‘we’, I mean Allan Haggo, Alex Dowdalls and myself – yes, it’s an all Scottish PCT today. I can’t imagine that three Scottish umpires have stood together in Asia before so, today is a first, as well as a last.
The three of us are 50% of the umpiring team up here, referred to amongst ourselves as the B Team, as none of us has the opportunity to go on to the semi-finals and final on Sunday and Monday. All six of us arrived on Friday, ground inspections and workshop on Saturday, then six match days,with each of us getting one day off, and all heading home on Saturday.
I’m working with Pim Van Liemt, from The Netherlands, and Akbar Ali Khan, from the UAE, for the first time. Ahsan Raza from Pakistan is the sixth member of the team and is also our mentor. Ahsan and I go back a long way – we first umpired together in National League cricket in Scotland in 2006 and our paths have crossed many times at ICC events over the past 10 years. He’s a top man, very relaxed and quite funny but also very sharp when it comes to umpiring.
Yes, that’s a Christmas tree. And yes, Thailand isn’t a Christian country. It’s about 95% Buddhist and about 2% Christian. But that doesn’t seem to matter, as there are plenty of Christmas trees and Christmas decorations out here. But worse, much worse is the endless stream of Christmas instrumental musac everywhere – foyers, corridors, lifts, bars, restaurants, toilets. I really thought I’d be escaping all that for a week or so.
The B Team has gelled really well over the past week, something that’s very important in a small team. I’ve been really impressed how Pim and Ali have settled in, both on-field and off, given the rest of us know each other so well. Our evening debriefs each day have been positive and constructive and the exchange of information has helped us to be consistent. We’ve been left pretty much to our own devices up here as both the Tournament Director and the Match Referee are based in Bangkok.
And when I say ‘due to start’ we may not! I suspect we may struggle to get a game in today, as the matches at Prem yesterday and Wednesday were both washed out without a ball bowled. The covers just can’t handle the rain so the square has been soaked on two occasions. The Venue Manager has said it’s almost unheard of to have rain here in December, but rain it has, and heavily. I’ve heard that so many times over the past few years in different parts of the world, further evidence of climate change, which may not be good for cricket. But never mind, that’s all fake news according to Donald, so all will be OK. Someone should let Donald know we had sunshine in Scotland last summer - that should convince him.
We get to the ground just before 8.30am and Allan and I head straight to the middle while Alex (third umpire today) gets changed. The covers are off and, as we approach the square, we can see some glum faces. When we get to the pitch, we can see why.
More rain overnight has meant more water on the square and plenty on today’s pitch giving rise to a mainly wet pitch with some dry areas. That lack of uniformity is a big issue as the wet areas will never be as dry as the dry areas at any time today.
When Alex joins us, we discuss, not just the pitch and square, but also the tournament situation as we expect Hong Kong to be desperate to play and the Maldives keen not to play. And, of course, I’m quite keen to get some play today.
Having lost to Kuwait on Day One, Hong Kong must win today and not rely on Kuwait beating Bahrain in the other match in this Group. If Bahrain wins that match, Hong Kong will be eliminated. Conversely, Maldives have one point from a no result with China but, China have secured two points from two no results so, if Maldives lose today, they will finish bottom, below China. All very interesting but none of it has any bearing on our decision making, it’s just good to be aware of the situation.
Spare a thought for China. Played on Day 1 and Day 2, losing both matches quite heavily. Day off on Day 3. Washed out on Days 4 and 5. Home on Day 6.
The sun is out and the temperature is rising fast so we decide to inspect at 11.00am. We have a chat with the Venue Manager, the ground staff and the interpreter but agree there’s nothing we can do other than wait for the sun to do it’s job. We inform both teams and the scorers and go looking for coffee and banana cake.
We don’t quite know what to expect with the sun so much stronger here than at home. If this had been at home, or if this was a senior match of decent standard, we’d have called it off by now.
All three of us head out to the middle just before 11.00am, telling the players and coaches to stay away while we deliberate. There’s been a reasonable amount of improvement – what was mud is now just soft and what was soft is now firming up.
If the rate of improvement continues, we reckon we may get some play today after all so we agree to take lunch at 12.00 and inspect again immediately after lunch.
Following an excellent lunch – the food here has been terrific all week – we inspect again, find further improvement and reckon we may be able to do better than the minimum 20 overs.
We invite the captains and coaches to join us - Hong Kong would play now, Maldives doesn’t want to play at all. We suggest a 1.30 start, which would be 30 overs. The Maldives coach draws our attention to some of the softer areas on the pitch and, to my amazement, suggests 2.00pm. I thought he was going to suggest a week next Tuesday. Allan and I have a chat and we agree on 1.45pm, which will be 28 overs. The various interested parties are all informed and I need to get my game head on.
It’s almost 1.40pm and I’m sitting in the third umpire’s tent preparing my overs card when I look up and see both teams, subs, coaches, managers, etc. waiting beside the tent. I realize this is an Eamonn Andrews moment (most of you wont get that reference) so I take the field through a guard of honour comprising both teams and my two colleagues. It’s a nice touch and it’s an emotional moment. Thanks, Allan and Alex, for marking this match with something special and memorable.
Hong Kong won the toss and are, unsurprisingly, bowling, starting from Allan’s end with a left arm spinner. Ball 2 and the striker, the Maldives captain, calls his partner for an impossible run and the non-striker is run out at my end by half the pitch having not faced a ball. No. 3 batter is bowled first ball. Second over from my end, the captain, having already barbequed his mate, has a wild swing and is caught, second attempt, at slip. Maldives 0 – 3 and the pitch has played no part. It’s fair to say the pitch is difficult, particularly when you bear in mind there is only one cricket ground in The Maldives and the pitch is artificial. These poor lads are, effectively, playing on an uncovered pitch. Having said that, this is a classic case of wrong mindset – they didn’t want to play and they didn’t prepare to do so.
At drinks, they’ve struggled to 16 - 4 after 16 overs. The pitch has been difficult, not impossible and not dangerous. The score doubles in the over after drinks with 2 sixes and a four, they reach 39 when the fifth wicket falls but subside to 48 all out. I’ve been involved, with a run out, a caught behind and an lbw. In the over before drinks a new bowler bowls at my end and starts with a beamer which misses the batsman’s head by a few inches so, a first and final warning. Third ball of his next over he bowls another beamer, hitting the batsman on the gloves so, he’s off. In the next over at my end, the replacement bowler bowls a beamer at the batsman so, another first and final. Thankfully, this one went no further. So much for a quiet day and an unnoticed exit.
We obviously have a ten minute turn round and, as we take the field for the second innings, I can hear Alex, in my radio, singing My Way – and now the end is near, etc. etc. For those of you who don’t know, Alex can sing. Alex really can sing.
The Hong Kong openers don’t find it easy either but better technique serves them well and they get the required 49 for no loss. The Maldives, to their immense credit, tried hard to take wickets, were very enthusiastic (and noisy) and made Hong Kong bat 11 overs for the win.
The Maldives lads have been great all week, loads of smiles, extremely polite and really keen to learn. On one of the washed out days, most of the players spent over an hour sitting with the umpires asking questions. They may not be too impressed with the umpires today so, I can’t see Allan or I getting invited to The Maldives anytime soon. Pity, because I believe it’s a rather nice spot.
So, China didn’t finish bottom!
It’s time for the post match presentations and I’ve been asked to present the trophy to one of the Hong Kong openers. Job done and we’re about to disperse when the venue manager pipes up with a potted bio of yours truly before Alex presents me with the match ball signed by my colleagues and a Tournament Handbook signed by both teams. It’s a decent ball too as it’s only gone 11 overs. Another nice touch and something tangible to remember the day by.
The day then got even more memorable, perhaps not for the right reason, when I witnessed one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on a cricket ground. This involved one of my colleagues and a sightscreen but I’ll say no more to save any embarrassment. It could have been nasty but, thankfully, it wasn’t. It was just very, very funny.
So, that’s that. 12 years of International cricket and 10 years on the ICC Panel and it’s all over. Maybe fitting that it finished with a rain affected match as I’ve had plenty of these over the years! It’s been amazing and I’ve been so fortunate to have had so many great opportunities to see some top players up close and to have worked with some of the best umpires in the world. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world doing something that’s really a hobby – how good is that? And sometimes I even got paid!
So many people have contributed positively, some of them massively, to my international career and I’m grateful to you all. I’ve caught up with some already, others I’ll catch-up with at the right moment.
Finally, thanks again to Allan and Alex for making my last day so memorable. It was great that I was with you guys for my last match. I’m sure you’ll both continue to do yourselves and Scotland proud. No doubt, ICC will be looking for another Scottish umpire to join the Panel so, all the best to whoever steps up.
IR / 19 Dec 18