`Billy the entertainer does not affect Billy the umpire'

S. DINAKAR

BILLIE BOWDEN, 42, is the sunshine man of international umpiring. Someone who puts joy into what is a tedious job of immense focus; a white-collar man performing flamenco on the office table. The Kiwi has got away with his methods.

So much so that his name figures in the ICC's panel of elite umpires. The popular Bowden avers that his rather extravagant methods of `signalling' in the arena do not affect his concentration.

In this interview to The Sportstar, Bowden offers his views on various subjects.

On the use of technology in umpiring.

In the Super Series, the umpires had the option of referring any decision to the third umpire. The results are awaited. I feel the human element should remain in umpiring. That should not be taken away. There might be the odd mistake but that is a part of this great game.

On the issue of chucking — whether the umpires should call a bowler for an illegal action on the field of play.

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 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.

On the question of `walking' and the Adam Gilchrist example.

It is a noble gesture. But a batsman who walks after he has made a hundred should do the same on zero. That is the real test. It is extremely creditable on Gilchrist's part that he walks. Honesty in any walk of life has to be appreciated.

On the fine line between dissent and disappointment.

You can determine this from the changes in a player's body language. This comes from experience. The changes could be anything, a quick gesture for instance. A glare from a fast bowler at the batsman is all right, but if he says something after that... The umpires work in tandem with the match referee.

On the topic of sledging.

I truly believe that sledging has decreased in world cricket. The players are aware that there are so many cameras catching every action of theirs on the ground. The microphones will pick things that they say. They understand that they will be pulled up and could face fine or suspension. There is a lot at stake for the players. There could still be the occasional incident but for most part sledging is absent.

On upholding the spirit of the game on the field of play.

Much depends on the captains here. The umpires work in cohesion with the skippers 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.

On umpiring in India with so much noise in the stadium.

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. I enjoy umpiring in India. It is a real challenge.

On coping with the constant and vociferous bat and pad appeals when the spinners are operating — how does he deal with `intimidation' from close catchers?

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.

On grappling with the situation when he learns from replays that he has made a mistake.

That's the hardest part. 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.

On umpiring being a thankless job.

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.

On the pressures of staying in the Elite Panel of umpires — an umpire's performance is assessed by the ICC panel, the captains send in their post-match reports.

When you know God is with you, you do not feel any pressure. I know He is there for me. He keeps me going.

On unwinding after a day's work.

I love chatting with my girlfriend, either through telephone or Internet. I find it very relaxing.

On his unique ways of umpiring, signalling a six with a little dance or ruling a batsman out with a crooked finger.

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.

On the hectic life on the road as an Elite Panel umpire.

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 for throwing his weight behind the concept of neutral umpires in the 80s. It made a lot of difference.