January 9, 2008

Bucknor's blackballing bodes badly

What will the dumping of umpire Steve Bucknor mean for attracting umpires in the future?

Has Steve Bucknor (left) umpired his last match? © Getty Images
To lose one elite umpire could be considered unfortunate, but two in the space of 16 months smacks of extreme carelessness. First there was Darrell Hair, banished from the top table following his bust-up with Pakistan at The Oval in 2006. Now it's the turn of the most experienced man of the lot, Steve Bucknor, who's paid the price for an error-strewn showing at Sydney.

He's umpired in a record 120 Tests, as well as five World Cup finals, but Bucknor's future is uncertain to say the least. Like Hair, he has attracted the opprobrium of a powerful member of the Asian bloc, but unlike Hair, his blackballing doesn't even come with the proviso that his actions were correct within the letter of the law. Instead, in the opinion of the BCCI, his crime was "incompetence" and even allowing for the shrill levels of outrage that have been doing the rounds this week, you'd be hard-pressed to disagree.

On one level, Bucknor's removal from next week's Perth Test is a blessing. His presence on the field would have been a distraction, and the scrutiny to which he would have been subjected would have been unbearable even for a man of his vast experience - umpires are only human, as this week's events have overwhelmingly demonstrated. Malcolm Speed's explanation of the ICC's decision was that it would "alleviate the tension".

Sanity in the short-term, however, is a heavy price to pay for the precedent that this decision sets. Only 24 hours earlier, the ICC reiterated that there would be no change to the umpiring appointments for the Perth Test. A spokesman even invoked clause 3.1.7 of the playing conditions that both teams signed ahead of the series: "Neither team will have a right of objection to an umpire's appointment."

That ruling is up in smoke now, sacrificed on the altar of expediency as is too often the case in cricket's convoluted world. The BCCI have expressed satisfaction with the outcome, as well they might, although arrogantly, their sights have already been on what they describe as the bigger issue, the racism charge that has been levelled against Harbhajan Singh. Bucknor doesn't even get to be the main event in his hour of humiliation. Instead he has been left with his wings clipped in a hotel-room in Sydney, waiting to be whisked away from the mayhem.

At the age of 61, there's no knowing whether he'll be back, or whether he'll want to be back. There has long been a suspicion that his best days of officialdom are behind him - India still hasn't forgiven him for an lbw decision against Sachin Tendulkar at Brisbane in 2003-04 - but for the rest of the world, the overwhelming evidence was provided at the World Cup final in Barbados in April. Admittedly, he was just one of five men to concoct that particular farce, although it was his passivity as the senior on-field umpire that truly exacerbated the situation.

This isn't how he deserves to go out, however, nor how the game should wish him to go either, given the dread it will instill in anyone who dares to follow in his footsteps. Mark Benson is counting his blessings not to have been scheduled to stand at Perth (although his card is clearly marked), while even an ego the size of Billy Bowden's will surely house one or two fears when he steps out to replace Bucknor at the WACA.

Even so, the madness of the past week does seem to be drawing to a close. The flames of righteous indignation are beginning to die down, and while it is hardly the ideal solution, Brad Hogg's tit-for-tat citation for the use of the word "bastard" (a term of endearment in Aussie circles, a term of grievous insult among Indians) could yet be the filter through which Harbhajan's alleged monkey slur can be seen for the naïve, unthinking remark that it surely was.

But the forensic teams will be sifting through the charred remains of this contest for several weeks and months yet. What will become abundantly clear is the need for greater protection for the next generation of umpires - which means more recourse to replays, more breaks between games, and more respect from the players, some of whom made a mockery of the spirit of the game at Sydney.

But before that can happen, the replacements for stalwarts such as Bucknor need to be identified and nurtured, and it's not immediately obvious where they will come from. Tellingly, for all its riches, passion and power, India has not produced a top-class official since Srinivas Venkataraghavan. It's become clearer this week why that is the case. It's a mug's game in this modern world, where a billion armchair critics are better informed than the men out in the middle. In a week of madness, that's possibly the maddest thing of all.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Youssef on January 10, 2008, 22:21 GMT

    Some of these Indian supporters need to get over themselves. People such as vakkaraju are saying that Bucknor was blatantly biased towards the Australians. That is a despicable remark from someone who obviously knows nothing about the game. Steve Bucknor's integrity is not in question, even if his decision making in the second test is. Bucknor's eyes won't be as good as they used to be, but to suggest that Bucknor was anything other than neutral in the Sydney test match (and, indeed, throughout his career) shows a plain lack of respect for a man who has dedicated his life to the game. I often think that the Indian management and supporters think they have a right to always get their own way in the cricketing world because of the amount of revenue that India generates for the ICC. Unfortunately the ICC is caving in to the demands of the BCCI, as seen by the fact that they replaced Bucknor at the behest of the BCCI in contravention of their own playing conditions.

  • SS on January 10, 2008, 21:22 GMT

    After officiating in more than 100 games Steve Bucknor deserves better treatment. No doubt some of the decisions were appalling but still did not deserve to be called as 'incompetent umpire'. What a shame!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ravi on January 10, 2008, 19:39 GMT

    Living in USA we are still big fans of Cricket being played around the world. The test in Sydney fell to a new low. When 7-8 decisions go against one team, the test match becomes a farce! Ponting and Brett Lee are couple of players admired for their grit and fair play. I think Ponting has damaged his reputation in this test. He still fails to realize that if the game was played fairly then Australia would more likely have lost it and next time when he raises his finger the umpires will have this test in mind.

    While defending all his actions and celebrating he forgot the humility and fairness that brought him admiration. I think the game of cricket should be between batsmen and bowlers. Yelling obscenities for a well set batsmen referring to his wife and mother is not playing hard and it's not being a gentleman. Which brings me to conclusion. Cricket is a gentleman's game, let's keep it that way. Love for a team will come back, if you can play fairly & win.

  • faisal on January 10, 2008, 18:34 GMT

    man i don't know whats wrong with umpires in Australia who ever goes their start making wrong decisions and interestingly all mistakes go against the visiting team not Australia. if you remember few years back when pakistan and West Indies were their umpire Billy and co. gave 29 decision against the visiting teams in a triangular series. i think this is not a coincident. we have to bring technology in, thats the only solution.

  • Sunil on January 10, 2008, 16:59 GMT

    Hey for all those ppl who believe that removal of steve bucknor was a crime. Tell me how should we have dealt with it when steve has done these grave mistakes not for the first time ...but am sure its been repeated consistently.Its better to drop the person who has done it consistently so that he could explore his actions and come out stronger. Is it rare that you find top performers getting to see the exit ? It has happened with a lot of cricket greats. So why this hue and cry for steve? But we should respect steve for one thing. He has decided not to speak out anything in public. This way he has avoided a lot of controversies that could have rose if he had chosen to reply. I would be pleased if he takes a vacation, ponders over his umpiring decisions and comes back to cricketing fraternity. Every one has a tough phase and am sure Steve would bounce back. Ultimately its Steve who has to decide whether he was consistently wrong or not. I just feel that Steve needs some rest to hit form

  • Randal on January 10, 2008, 16:31 GMT

    Apologies Mr Bucknor. On behalf of the citizens of Australia I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to you. To think we now live in a world where possibly THE most respected cricket umpire in the world gets treated like some sort of naughty schoolboy is, I feel, appalling. To the BCCI and anyone who supports them, SHAME ON YOU. You rort the system to fit your own petty desires and stomp on anyone who stands in your way. You lost the test - GET OVER IT! Shall we go through the record books and point out all the suspect decisions that have gone in India's favour over the years - especially at home? Here's the truth Indians, the game of cricket is totally about character. Those who succeed in it must have character or be found wanting. The Indian team are full of good cricketers but are being found wanting (all bar Tendulkar). What does that tell you? Harbajhan tried it on and is now trying to hide behind mummy's skirt. And you have the gall to call US arrogant... HA!

  • Paul on January 10, 2008, 14:57 GMT

    To Crick Connoisseur: Not everyone has forgotten what the game is about - refer my first entry below. By the way I agree with everything you said. Cricket is not a machine - it is an art form. Mind numbing the correct word - why such a big deal about this issue? Every other side in the world gets dud umpiring calls - what about Kasprowicz's caught behind? That one cost Australia the Ashes!

  • Paul on January 10, 2008, 13:09 GMT

    Chilled Beer should be called shrilled beer. 'Your' batsmen (you said our below) were horrible. Someone else included RP Singh as a dodgy decision...well Benson gave him out, not Bucknor. Also, his non-shot was asking to be given out, same as Dhoni - I do not agree necesarily with the no shot offered interpretation of the LBW law - I am a purist after all, but this has been the case since the late 80's - look at Alderman in the 1989 Ashes series, poms were dropping like flies not offering a shot outside off stump. Really people, try to think of better arguments before going to print - this whinging does nothing for your credibility. Most people though are now getting it - India are not up to it and need to improve a lot very quickly.

  • Campbell on January 10, 2008, 12:45 GMT

    Could not agree more The_Wog. The cheating and double standards are coming from the BCCI and the Indian media and no one else. It is true the umpiring decisions did not go India's way in the Sydney test but the opposite was the case in Melbourne. The problem for India, despite the poor decision against Dravid, was they could not keep out a couple of part time spinners on a good wicket. They would have lost no matter what umpiring decisions were made.

  • Vijay on January 10, 2008, 11:49 GMT

    Dear Andrew It is more the ICC rules that stipulate -" a batsman has to walk once that finger goes up"- that is the culprit in this sordid drama.Appeals by the bowling side and by the batsman should have a third umpire referral.In present day terms a request for referral is treated as dissent and the player gets slapped with a fine or a ban.We do know the shortcomings of technology even in the days of Channel Nine three dimensional technicolour when it comes to close run outs , delicate nicks and perilously close takes near the grass.But technology can definitely be a useful arbiter when the human eye with its poor perception of vision , a huge parallax handicap and the human mind with a distinctive bias towards recent events cannot decide in black and white.

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