'I'm Billy, but I'm not silly'

In many respects, Billy Bowden was the sunshine man of international umpiring. He brought joy to what was otherwise a tedious job.

Billy Bowden employed his own brand of umpiring signals.   -  AP

He had his own way of signalling a boundary or a six. Billy Bowden did so with rhythm, grace and a flourish. And the crowd had its fill. He moved his arms in a manner that was extravagant, much like a musician conducting symphony.

Asked about his methods, Bowden said to Sportstar some time back, “I am Billy, but I am not silly. I have my style, but it does not affect the way I arrive at my decisions. Billy the entertainer does not affect Billy the umpire. My concentration levels remain the same.”

> Read: Billy Bowden dropped from New Zealand's international umpiring panel

In many respects, he was the sunshine man of international umpiring. He brought joy to what was otherwise a tedious job.

His ways were similar to a while collar worker performing flamenco on the office table. Bowden wanted to express himself, break the shackles of what was otherwise a dour job. Indeed, Bowden was one of a kind. He actually made umpiring, a job that makes severe mental and physical demands, appear cool.

Not many were aware, too, that Bowden is a deeply religious man. He said. “When you know God is with you, you do not feel any pressure. I know He is there for me. He keeps me going.”

The New Zealander comprehended the thankless nature of the job yet a smile hardly left his lip. ”Our job is a lot like that of a wicket-keeper. A stumper keeps well the whole day and then drops a catch at the fag end of the last session. It is the mistake that is often remembered. Our job, too, is thankless. You get one decision wrong and all your earlier good work is forgotten. It's a hard job, umpiring. We are fighting technology, we are fighting criticism.”

Bowden wanted to retain the human element even while using technology. “That should not be taken away. There might be the odd mistake but that is a part of this great game.”

Technology, he believed, could be used judiciously, like in the case of detecting chucking. “It is not easy for an umpire to make out whether a bowler is delivering with an unfair action because he has to watch so many things in a split second. He has to keep an eye on the bowler's foot for the no ball. It is a very tough call for the umpire in these circumstances and his judgment may not be fair to the bowler. The square leg umpire is quite far away from action. Here, using the technology seems to be the answer,” he said.

Captain the key man

When it came to on-field behaviour of cricketers, much depended on captain, he said. “The umpires work in cohesion with the skipper and get their message across through him. If the captain sets a bad example himself, then it makes the umpires' job harder. The captain is the key element when it comes to maintaining discipline on the field.”

Umpiring in India was among the most demanding tasks in world cricket, he said. “It is a real test. When it comes to marginal close catching decisions, you use your eyes and ears to arrive at the right answer. In India, you can hardly hear anything on the ground. It is like one of your senses being taken away. On a lot of occasions you go with your instinct. It is a real challenge.”

On countering pressure tactics, such as vociferous appealing by close cordon, Bowden said, “If you are firm in your decision-making, then I don't think you should be bothered. You get affected only when doubts start creeping in your mind. A good umpire will not get these doubts.”

The toughest part for an umpire is when he realises that he had made a mistake. "That's the hardest thing. Because there is no way you can set that right. You hope that the error does not change the course of the match. Then you shut that decision from your mind and concentrate on the rest of the contest. You cannot allow negative thoughts to bother you. The sun will come up the next day. Life goes on."

Bowden thanked the legendary Imran Khan for throwing his weight behind the concept of neutral umpiring that subsequently opened new avenues for umpires round the world.

Bowden said, “I come from a nice and a quiet country. I never thought that I would have such a busy time travelling around the world, meeting different people, seeing different cultures and watching from close so many wonderful games. I am blessed. I thank Imran Khan. His efforts made a lot of difference.

Bowden, the entertainer, will be missed.

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