Bucknor's hat-trick (20 June 1999)

20 June 1999

Bucknor's hat-trick

Tony Cozier

Steve Bucknor will awake in his room at the Royal Garden Hotel here this morning and follow his usual routine.

"I'll do a few exercises, abdominals, stretching, that sort of thing, I'll read a verse from the Bible, scan through the papers and have breakfast," he says.

Then the 53-year-old Jamaican will summon a taxi for the journey of two miles to Lord's, the most famous cricket ground in the world, where he will umpire the World Cup Final, the greatest international event in the game, for the third successive time.

"I always aim to get to wherever I'm on duty at least two hours before the start," Bucknor stresses.

West Indians, among them the most prominent, have a reputation for unpunctuality. If he had fitted that stereotype, Bucknor would have got nowhere in a specialised sporting job that demands order and discipline.

"The only time I can remember being late was for a Test at Lord's when I turned up at five past nine for an 11 o'clock start," he said. "When I walked through the gates, five minutes past my usual turn-up time, the MCC secretary called out: 'You're late, Mr. Bucknor.' He'd never seen me late before."

Three finals

Bucknor joins the celebrated Englishman, Dickie Bird, as the only umpire to have stood in three World Cup finals. Bird carried the first three finals in 1975, 1979 and 1983, all at Lord's, before a panel of international umpires was introduced.

Bucknor's finals were at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1992, when Pakistan beat England, and at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore in 1996 when Sri Lanka upset Australia.

He accepts that he owes his position to the fact that the West Indies have not made a final since 1983. Since then, two so-called independent umpires have been appointed for World Cup matches so that he is qualified for all but West Indies matches.

Bucknor came within five runs and a couple of balls of missing out on the 1996 final in Lahore when the West Indies were pipped by Australia in the semifinal at Chandigrah.

"I actually had my bags packed and was about to leave when the West Indies collapsed to that defeat," he said. "It was sad for the team but a chance for me."

His partner then, as today, was David Shepherd, the portly, cherubic Englishman.

"We've done quite a few matches together over the years and get on really well," Bucknor notes. "You'll see us chatting between overs, checking with each other on last balls and that sort of thing.

"Above all, we try to keep things happy, to keep the players relaxed," he adds. "Everybody makes mistakes but the thing is to get the players' respect and I hope we have."

Significantly, Bucknor and Shepherd were the two umpires appointed for potentially the most volatile matches of the tournament between India and Pakistan at Old Trafford.

Clearly, the organisers wanted the two most tried and trusted men in charge and, as it turned out, there was none of the anticipated trouble.

A former county player for Gloucestershire, Shepherd's superstitious habit of hopping from foot to foot when three digits on the scoreboard are the same - 111, 222, 333 and so on - have made him identifiable the world over but his reputation, like Bucknor's, is based on his reliability.

Bucknor's trait is the length of time he takes to raise his finger after an appeal and the apologetic smiles that follows. In fact, he first nods his approval before formalising the decision in the approved way.

Bucknor gave up playing cricket as a moderate all-rounder in his native Montego Bay and took up umpiring, he explains, "after seeing too many bad decisions".

First Test

He stood in his first Test at Sabina Park in 1989, West Indies against India, and in his first One-Day International that same year. He has now officiated in 44 Tests all over the world and today will be his 78th, and most treasured, One-Day International.

"I left home ready for this," he said. "It's the pinnacle of your career when you're chosen for the final of a World Cup and I'll be doing my third."

He acknowledges there will be some nerves this morning - "I'll look at the papers but won't be able to read anything" - but nothing compared to those he felt in his first World Cup Final in 1992.

"I'd only done four Tests and four One-Day Internationals when I was chosen for that tournament," he recalled. "It was really something for me when I was appointed for the final."

And, he noted, Shepherd would probably have been his partner then as well but he was ineligible when England got through.

One of the most notable, and unexpected, aspects of this World Cup has been the number of wides called, over 900 in all before today's match.

"We may have been a little stricter but we didn't have any specific instructions," Bucknor said. "The situation has been accentuated by the conditions and, I suppose, the white ball. Bowlers found it very hard controlling it."

To have better guidelines, he has had white lines marked on either side of the stumps.

"I'm the only one who has asked for them but they give me something to go by," he said, noting that he'll ask for them again today.

After today's match, Bucknor packs his bags and flies back to Jamaica - but it will be only "to get a change of clothes".

He is one of the umpires for the first Test between England and New Zealand at Edgbaston, starting July 1.

Source :: The Barbados Nation (http://www.nationnews.com/)