It was quite an amusing sight. Young kids seeking autographs from an umpire. Steve Bucknor was surprised himself. He never had imagined he would have a fan following like this in a country which he had never visited before.
It was his performance at the World Cup, watched by the cricket lovers in South Africa, that made him such a popular figure at the Kingsmead and the Wanderers.
The tall West Indian is considered the most competent man in the business after Dickie Bird. His total command over the situation puts him in a different class. Bucknor is aware of it.
The first thing he voiced after landing in Durban was his dislike for the TV monitor. “I am going to ignore the monitor,” he said. Such was his self-confidence. Probably over-confidence as it turned out to be at the Wanderers when he ignored the monitor and made a costly error as far as the Indians were concerned. But like a true gentleman Bucknor admitted his mistake in not declaring Jonty Rhodes run out.
Bucknor played club cricket in Jamaica. He was a fast bowler and a batsman. And as he said, “always the captain of the club I played for.”
He took to umpiring after getting too many bad decisions. “I told myself that I must try to correct this as best as I can. I started umpiring in 1972 when I was still a young man.”
Bucknor was 26 when he did his first club level game and 15 years later was standing in a Test against India at Sabina Park.
Bucknor believes he has surpassed himself by standing in a Test match so early. He was 43 when he did his first Test. “I never thought about umpiring in Test matches. I think I am having a good time. In 1987, I had my first international experience during the West Indies Youth series. They found me better than most of the Test umpires in West Indies. In 1988, I did my first first-class match (Jamaica versus Trinidad and Tobago) and a year later my first Test. It was reported that I was the best umpire in my country even though I had stood in just one Test.
The first Test was a bit of a surprise for me. I had a fairly good series against India and from thereon it has been a movement upwards.”
The World Cup, Bucknor believes, was the highpoint of his career. “I was given some of the tougher games. The more highlighted games like the England-Australia match. In all those matches, there was stress and tension. And there was the television too. But I went about it in my natural way and the reward came when I was given the final,” Bucknor is proud when he says that.
The confidence came from his first Test. “I thought I had done a good job. I told myself I was good for the Test matches. The Press, the players and the public thought I was good. I am grateful for their faith in me.”
Bucknor found himself in the centre of the storm on the first day of the Test at the Wanderers. His refusal to consult the third umpire was seen as arrogance by some. But Bucknor had a very simple explanation.
“I thought he (Jonty) was in and decided that way. But I realise I was wrong. I tried to get into position but it was not to be. I wasn’t in the best of positions. I admit I made a mistake.”
In fact, there was no need for Bucknor to give an explanation but he was gracious enough to admit he “erred.” As the soft-spoken West Indian said, “As far as I am concerned, I will not try to cheat anyone. I always make a decision from my heart. I suppose all umpires err. It is the number of mistakes you make, and not the good decisions, which are taken as proof of your abilities. I accept my error and would like to live with it.”
His approach to umpiring has always been the same. He took to this profession with an aim to serve the game better and is keen to keep up his good work. “I believe in what every umpire believes, fairplay and honesty. I call a spade a spade and try to do my best. An umpire is as professional as the player. I believe that I must do my best in every match so that I get the next. Umpiring is the way in which I make a better part of my living.”
With the game assuming far more importance in today’s competitive world, it was natural that umpires would come under tremendous pressure from all quarters.
Bucknor is not affected by this trend. “Umpires have always been under pressure. It is a matter for the umpire to rid himself of because the players will always do it.”
He is such a cool-headed person, it is difficult to imagine Bucknor ever succumbing to pressure. How does he gear himself to tackle the tricky situation on the field? “If it is out I give it. If it is not, I say not out. After I say not out, it stays not out. That’s the end of the appeal as far as I am concerned. I have always known to be under pressure. There are so many other pressures in life. To be successful, you'll have to go along with the pressures. You have to put these pressures behind you if you want to move up in life.” True.
A week before he left for South Africa, Bucknor battled with himself, undecided whether to take up the assignment or not. His youngest son was ill but recovered just in time for his father to fly to South Africa. Bucknor still appeared concerned about the health of his son when he spoke to The Sportstar at the Wanderers.
To be successful, one has to make sacrifices, and Bucknor made plenty in his rise to stardom. “I always was involved in playing when I was at school. If it was not cricket, it was soccer. I was never off the sports field. I played seven days a week and till I die I would never leave the sports field.”
Umpiring is the heart and soul of Bucknor’s life. “I make my money from umpiring and this is how I think I can improve myself financially and assist my family.”
Bucknor agreed that umpires needed to be given more powers on the field to get rid of the pressures which comes from the players.
“The unfriendly and abusive players, I would hate to see things reach that stage. The Match Referee has helped in improving the behaviour of the players. An unfriendly or abusive player can be fined or recommended for suspension. The Match Referee will treat everyone according to his sin.”
On the field, Bucknor is in total control of the situation. He subtly inspects the ball regularly for any signs of tampering. “I look at the ball constantly. It’s better to be safe than be sorry later on. There is no point discovering any ball tampering case during the interval. My vigilance should prevent it right at the start. Once the bowler knows you are inspecting the ball regularly, he won’t take any risks.”
Being a cricketer has helped Bucknor in understanding the nuances of the game, the psychology of the players when they appeal and the best way to deal with them on the field. “I won’t say that only former cricketers be considered for umpiring. What is essential is a good knowledge of the game and its laws. Having been a player, I have a knack of understanding things on the field.”
Bucknor prepares himself adequately for a match. He does not mind reading the laws everytime before a match. He keeps himself fit and points out that he has “no belly.”
His views on the third umpire are very candid. “The third umpire is just experimental. I would rather have two umpires. In South Africa, I think this could be the last of such experimental plans. I hope so. There has been this talk of giving an umpire a rest day but look at umpires in England. Sometimes, they stand for 21 days at a stretch. So what is a five-day match?”
Bucknor is a qualified FIFA referee and at home is also a qualified soccer coach. That means he is busy 12 months of the year. In fact, there is overlapping at times as he finds himself assigned soccer and cricket matches. There is no off-season for Bucknor, but he enjoys it. “No holidays for me,” he smiles. He does not need holidays.
For, as he says, he loves to be on the sports field all the while.
This article was published in The Sportstar of December 26, 1992
- Spurs’ Postecoglou issues social media warning as Sessegnon speaks out
- PSG held to goalless draw at Monaco
- Late Okafor strike earns Milan 1-0 win at depleted Lazio
- Bayern Munich concedes late equaliser in 2-2 draw with Freiburg
- Bengaluru FC vs Kerala Blasters LIVE streaming info, ISL 2023-24: When, where to watch; Preview