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Steve Bucknor: Redoubtable Jamaican umpire who had fair share of run-ins with India

Steve Bucknor © Getty Images
Steve Bucknor © Getty Images

Born on May 31, 1946, Steve Bucknor had his fair share of controversies in his umpiring career spanning two decades. But he was also showered with praises on many occasions and went onto stand in more than 300 international games. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at his splendored umpiring career. 

Jamaican umpire Steve Bucknor has always divided opinions among cricket fans and scribes alike. During the early part of his career, Bucknor won fulsome praise for his cool, calm and collected approach towards umpiring. Actually, he scaled fabulous peaks very early in his career. However, as years ticked by, he came in for sharp criticism for some of his umpiring decisions. Interestingly, most of the times he was involved in a controversy; he would be umpiring in a game that involved the Indian team.

If we trace Bucknor’s career, in 1988, he stood as a referee in a CONCACAF World Cup football qualifier match played between El Salvador and Netherlands Antilles. Bucknor then, went onto make his eagerly anticipated umpiring debut in the world of cricket during the One-Day International (ODI) played between the West Indies and India in 1989 at Antigua. He also stood in a Test match between the same sides at Sabina Park, Jamaica in 1989.

He climbed up the ladder quickly. The redoubtable umpire known for fortitude and immense concentration prowess was suddenly standing in the bubbling tensions of 1992 World Cup final between England and Pakistan. In a see-saw contest that Pakistan won, Bucknor was praised for his umpiring. The only controversial decision that went against England all-rounder, Ian Botham was given by New Zealand umpire, Brian Aldridge.

During the South Africa-India Test at the Wanderers in 1992-93, Bucknor had his first brush with controversy involving the Indian setup. Jonty Rhodes, South Africa’s middle-order batsman was playing a sketchy innings and should have been adjudged as run out when batting on 26. Unfortunately, Bucknor didn’t refer it to the third umpire and Rhodes went onto make a career-defining innings of 91 and lifted South Africa’s sagging spirits. The entire Indian team pleaded for Bucknor to refer it, but he stood by his decision.

Bucknor had got into a very bad position and that led to him judging it as not out. In fact, he was one umpire who throughout his career seemed to dislike the advent of technology in the world of cricket. Javagal Srinath, who effected that direct hit looked crestfallen and heartbroken.

By 1994, International Cricket Council (ICC) came out with Elite panel of international umpires. Undoubtedly, Bucknor was one of the umpires who was selected  in the Elite panel. It wasn’t a major surprise that he went onto umpire in five World Cups, including the 2007 edition in the West Indies.

Unfortunately from Bucknor’s point of view, he came in for sharp criticism from his detractors during the ICC 2007 World Cup final between Australia and Sri Lanka. The Australians had already celebrated their moment of glory after Sri Lankan batsman at the crease  accepted for all purposes the offer of bad light. Australia was well ahead on the basis of Duckworth Lewis (D/L) method and even the ground staff started to pack things up. However, a sudden twist in the tale saw Aleem Dar and Bucknor deciding that the match to continue till the completion of 36 overs in virtual darkness.

As a result of misinterpreting the rules, Bucknor was subsequently suspended for ICC World Twenty20 (T20) held in South Africa in 2007. It turned out to be a blot in his career. But the worse was yet to come for Bucknor, as he was involved in a series of controversial decisions that went against India during the Sydney Test in 2007-08.

The whole of India seemed to be against Bucknor and he was removed from officiating as an umpire for the third Test played at WACA. It has to be said that Bucknor’s umpiring during the Sydney Test was abject poor, but perhaps it wasn’t right to remove an umpire for the next Test on the basis of bad umpiring.

Even during India’s tour of Australia in 2003-04,  Bucknor wrongly adjudged Sachin Tendulkar out leg-before at the Gabba, Brisbane. But lest we forget that India’s last man, S Sreesanth got a reprieve during the Lord’s Test in 2007, as Bucknor gave what seemed like a straightforward lbw decision, not out. If Sreesanth had been given out lbw, England would have won the Test. Rain had saved India from losing. It is easy to criticise on-field umpires, but in the middle, an umpire has to make a decision in a split second and that is never easy.

Finally, at the age of 63 in 2009, Bucknor retired from the big stage. The last time he officiated in a Test match was played between South Africa and Australia at Cape Town in 2009.

‘Slow Death Bucknor’ will go down in the history as the one who umpired in most No of Tests (128). He also stood in 181 ODIs as an umpire. When, Steve Bucknor looks back at his career through the lens of numbers, he would be proud of those glittering achievements.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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