| Billy Bowden: Flamboyant
Johannesburg: One employs an arthritic, crooked finger to condemn a batsman, another occasionally hops from foot to foot while a third had to take evasive action to avoid a knockout blow from the world’s greatest batsman.
Under the glare of the television lights, World Cup umpires are beginning to shine just as much as the players.
New Zealand’s Billy Bowden is making a name for himself with his flamboyant gestures — the hooked right index finger to give the batsman out, the staged robotic raising of the arms, with right leg bent at the knee, to register a six, and the exaggerated sweep of the right arm across the midriff to indicate a boundary.
“I have always been an eccentric guy who loves to have a bit of fun,” said the 38-year-old Bowden. Bowden’s trademark raised crooked-finger is a legacy of rheumatoid arthritis in his twenties which affected the joints in his arm and cut short his playing career.
David Shepherd of England is more subtle with his behaviour. Dubbed the ‘Dancing Umpire’, he is known for his discreet little hops because of his superstition when the score reaches the ‘Nelson’ of 111 and its multiples.
He is standing in his fifth World Cup and such is the popularity of the Nelson effect that his curious habit has been honoured by a TV commercial here which has cricket fans imitating shepherd when 111 is on the board.
Fellow Indian veteran Srinivas Venkatraghavan also draws attention with his method — his right arm is held out to his side, elbow bent at 90 degrees, index finger raised and a gentle nod of the head telling the batsman his time is up.
Elsewhere in this World Cup, Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar offered a prayer after he narrowly avoided being smashed on the face by a full-blooded drive from Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar. Dar ducked in time but fell to the ground as Tendulkar straight drove Namibia’s Bjorn Kotze during the February 23 match at Pietermaritzburg.
“I could have been killed,” a relieved Dar said.
“I got saved because of my good eye sight. I actually quite enjoyed the incident. Sachin was very apologetic about it and kept saying sorry for the next two overs.”
Umpires have had to be equally able to dodge controversy in their careers. Australian Darrell Hair once received death threats from Sri Lankan Tamil tiger fighters after he became the first umpire to no-ball Muttiah Muralidharan for chucking.
Murali is the only Tamil in the 15-man Lankan squad. He was also no-balled by another Australian umpire, Ross Emerson who is not involved in this World Cup. Hair, however, is around, but has not been assigned a Sri Lanka match.
English umpires Peter Willey and Neil Mallender reignited the Zimbabwe boycott controversy earlier in the tournament when they refused to officiate in the strife-torn country.
News of Willey’s decision was greeted with anger by Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) chief executive Vince Hogg.
“Just what is the matter with these people'” The same question could be asked of all the men in the middle here.