Short pitch: behind the bowler’s arm
In the debates about over-rates in the professional game, there is one cause of delays to play that everyone seems to decry: movement behind the bowler’s arm. Television cameras pick out the culprits who have strayed into the (periphery) of the batsman’s eyesight while commentators give supercilious tuts. At matches held at Lord’s or the Oval, there’s an additional edge to criticism of those the umpires wave at to shoo off to the side. It’s the members, the supposed elite, pampered, yet too ignorant to know where they can sit to watch the match.
In club cricket there’s a similar annoyance expressed towards folk straying behind the bowler’s arm. This, though, is true only of club cricket of a certain level. Sightscreens have value and significance beyond their ostensible purpose of assisting the batsman (and wicketkeeper) sight ball from the bowlers’ hand. In club cricket they are status symbols. Clubs wishing to compete in county leagues are required to provide sightscreens. A large chunk of club cricket is played without screens.
But within those higher echelon clubs, the targets of the players’ and umpires annoyance are usually: tennis players making their way to and from the courts on the far side of the ground; kids having a kickabout; young lads taking a short-cut across the park or the vice-captain’s new girlfriend and her pals. Several decades of observing these rituals of chastisement and chasing away have led me to a conclusion. Only very rarely are the people being shouted at actually in front of the sightscreens. Most usually, they are making their way around the ground behind the sightscreens.
What harm is done to the game by people beside or behind the sightscreens?
I strongly suspect that the players are fulfilling a convention of what they believe cricketers should do, rather than responding to a real threat to the ball being clearly sighted or to the players’ concentration. Tennis players, kids kicking balls and girl friends (non-cricket playing) are all inferior beings to the men in whites. Telling those people where they can and cannot stand, walk or play is an authority that is assumed once per week and is damn well going to be exercised. The tone of their shouted admonishment – a sort of bored ire – is of a kind with that used by dog walkers instructing their hounds away from brambles, streams and other natural attractions.
My suggestion for players is to keep their eyes on the ball. The sightscreen will help; a few people wandering behind them will have negligible impact.
I have one other query about sightscreens – what happened to those coloured duck-egg blue?