He strives for justice in a just manner

S. DINAKAR

STEPHEN ANTHONY BUCKNOR would for sure not find a role in a Hollywood Wild West flick. He would be the 'slowest draw' in the West.

N. SRIDHARAN

Ask Bucknor, and he would tell you it does not matter. On a cricket field, he doesn't really need to be the 'quickest.'

This is a familiar sight for the players and the fans. A little shake of the head, a hint of a smile, and the finger going up, slowly...but fairly.

To the batsmen...it is the finger of death. A 'slow death'. And a long walk back.

The Montego Bay born 55-year old Jamaican is now the umpire with the most Test appearances. Bucknor broke the famous Dickie Bird's mark of 66 Tests, when he walked in at the start of the recent England-Sri Lanka Old Trafford Test.

It was a great moment for this disciplined, unassuming, no-nonsense man, who along with India's Srinivas Venkataraghavan and England's David Shepherd, is an outstanding contemporary umpire.

He takes his time, but makes certain that he gets it right, which cannot be bad. Of course, there has been the odd mistake, but then, the umpires are only human. "Patience is an important virtue," he said once, and it would be hard to argue against his reasoning.

Bucknor has another significant landmark to his credit. He has stood in three successive World Cup finals - '92, '96, and '99. Only the second man to accomplish the feat after, of course, Bird.

Astonishingly, Bucknor had just four Tests and four ODIs behind him when he was chosen as one of the umpires for the England-Pakistan summit clash. His cool demeanour and firm decision-making had made an impact straightaway.

At six foot three inches, Bucknor has an imposing presence on the field. Even the most vociferous shouts fail to intimidate him, and he doesn't take much time to make his point - he means business.

The players are quickly warned if they tread into the danger area and had there been a 'red card' in cricket, Bucknor would not have hesitated to flash it at the erring cricketer.

Interestingly, Bucknor had been a soccer referee of repute, having umpired in a World Cup qualifier during the late 80s. And it was only the FIFA ruling that prohibited referees from doing the job after 45 years of age, that forced Bucknor to give up the 'double role.'

Though Bucknor still coaches football when he finds time, cricket comes first now for this rather special man who, predictably, finds a place in the International Cricket Council's panel of elite Test umpires. He deserves the honour.

In the early stages of his career, Bucknor, a proud man, did come under some fire for refusing to use technology on 'line' decisions - replays later showed that he was not quite on the mark.

However, he has changed with the times, and these days, doesn't hesitate to put the question before the third umpire, when there is an element of doubt in his mind.

He also has the reputation of being a bold, fearless umpire. There was proof of that in the West Indies domestic cricket, earlier this season, when Bucknor 'called' Windward Island off-spinner Shane Shillingford in a Busta Cup match.

Bucknor realises that umpiring is a hard, exhausting, demanding, thankless job, where the occasional error tends to get highlighted. The pressures on men handing out verdicts is enormous, what with the advent of technology putting every debatable decision under scrutiny.

It is the challenges that keep 'the fit and sharp' Bucknor going. A career that began with the India-West Indies Kingston Test in 1988-89 has risen to rarefied heights.

Probably his most important ally has been the support of the players, for they know, here is a man who strives to hand out justice in a just manner.

Well, he is certainly not trigger happy. Another reason why Bucknor would not find a part in a Wild West flick.