The umpires I admired

Looking back to the days of Douglas Sang Hue, Col Egar and Charlie Elliott

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Charlie Elliott (right) didn't suffer stupidity, and was not shy of admonishing spectators  •  Central Press/Getty Images

Charlie Elliott (right) didn't suffer stupidity, and was not shy of admonishing spectators  •  Central Press/Getty Images

The untimely death of South African umpire Rudi Koertzen in a car accident was a further reminder of the fragile nature of life. It also highlighted the importance of umpires and the role they play in cricket.
Koertzen had an uncommon saying - that he "was never scared to apologise". As one who did not always agree with umpiring decisions, I preferred the mantra "Get it right in the first place."
However, the fact that Koertzen created an atmosphere that allowed players to remind him he'd made a mistake is a credit to his umpire's friendly nature. While I never played under Koertzen, I watched him perform in some of his 128 Tests and he maintained control without challenging players. But that wasn't how I found South African umpiring to be on my two official tours, in 1966-67 and 1970.
In general, it was bad, with a couple of umpires who were blatantly "patriotic". Before I toured India and South Africa in 1969-70 - poor programming by the Australian board - I had heard a lot of uncomplimentary remarks about Indian umpiring. I found Indian umpiring was okay and any mistakes were genuine. The South African umpiring, however, was appalling, and Tony Greig later told me that provincial players had at one time decided on a moratorium on walking if they were out because the officiating became so biased.
I put the lack of criticism of the umpiring by the Australians ahead of the South Africa tour down to white players not wanting to criticise the apartheid environment. As I used to say to people who asked if the South African tour was the best for Australian players: "If you were white, you might've enjoyed it."
The best three officials I played under were Australian Test umpire Colin Egar, the quick-fire West Indian adjudicator Douglas Sang Hue, and England's leather-voiced Charlie Elliott.
In addition to being a very good umpire, Egar had a way with players. He would use your first name when asking what guard you wanted and then when confirming you had the right spot. One day he said to me: "I never spoke to you in the middle until you started a conversation." He'd learned very quickly that I didn't like talking until my innings was established.
Sang Hue, of Jamaican-Chinese origin, umpired all five Tests on our tour of West Indies in 1973 and right through World Series Cricket. He had the quickest trigger finger I've ever seen but he got most of his decisions right. He made one mistake that series - he gave Lawrence Rowe not out lbw in Jamaica - and Rod Marsh reckoned it was the best decision of the series as it probably stopped a riot.
People talk about umpires' integrity but Sang Hue took it to another level. During the series he wouldn't stop and talk when I said good morning to him. When the series finished, I congratulated him on his performance and asked why he hadn't stopped. "I didn't want anyone to think I was biased," he answered.
He also had a quirky sense of humour. During WSC, West Indies appealed for lbw against an Australian batter one time. One of the appeals came from midwicket fielder Collis King. Sang Hue simply looked at King and said, "What you can see from there?"
Apart from being a very good umpire, Elliott will be remembered for his extremely loud voice. "Sit down!" he would boom out to any patron who was moving behind the bowler's arm, and this proved to be a great amusement. Players would sometimes ask Elliott to admonish a patron just to hear his trumpet-like voice.
Elliott umpired 42 Tests and he didn't suffer stupidity. We thought he was unfairly punished for his strong opinions.
I played my career with home-country umpires officiating. While some decisions could be dicey in those times, with the advent of television replays, this shortcoming is more easily overcome.
It's time for a permanent return to one home-country umpire, as, like players, they enjoy the honour of officiating at local Test grounds. If we accept the adage that all umpires are impartial.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist