Bucknor's best call could be to hit 100 and declare

Click to follow

Sometime this spring, Steve Bucknor will become the first umpire to stand in 100 Test matches. It may well happen in the series between India and Pakistan, an emotionally fraught contest which will require the imperturbable demeanour of a man who always looks as though he has nothing more pressing to do than sip a long mint julep on the verandah.

Sometime this spring, Steve Bucknor will become the first umpire to stand in 100 Test matches. It may well happen in the series between India and Pakistan, an emotionally fraught contest which will require the imperturbable demeanour of a man who always looks as though he has nothing more pressing to do than sip a long mint julep on the verandah.

Bucknor's record is estimable. The West Indies umpire is 13 matches ahead of the second most capped international umpire, David Shepherd, and 26 in front of Srinivas Venkataraghavan in third place. Such durability is recognition of his status, but there were occasions yesterday when it was possible to think that being on 99 not out was starting to affect his judgement.

There were three leg before appeals against the England batsman, Graham Thorpe, all from the South Africa captain and occasional off-spinner, Graeme Smith. Bucknor refused them all. On another day he might have given them all. On any day a court of appeal would have overruled him on at least two on the grounds that the ball hit Thorpe's pads in line and was going on to hit the stumps.

True, one of these was more out than the others, the second when Thorpe jabbed half forward and missed a ball keeping low, and the fact that Smith was on his knees beating the ground and begging suggested that he agreed. England were still more than 60 behind. Bucknor has always been an umpire who weighs up all the tenets of law 26 before dispatching a batsman, but he must have left his check list on his dresser yesterday.

For much of his career - do not forget also the 127 limited overs internationals - big-time umpiring has been like stepping into the lions' den armed with a chair leg. Bucknor has invariably kept the beasts at bay by the quiet certainty of his approach. Even when there was a farrago over his judgement of the light in Johannesburg during the last Test he was serenely unruffled.

In Karachi a little more than four years ago, England were pushing for an improbable victory in the final session as day turned to night. The Pakistan captain, Moin Khan, wanted to go off for the light, which was obviously too dark for cricket but Bucknor insisted that the teams stay on because of Moin's ludicrously slow bowling rate earlier in the innings.

As it happens, Thorpe was one of the batsmen that night. Arguably he was seeing the ball better then than he did yesterday. His feet were disorderly for much of the time and his scoring options appeared to be becoming fewer. Of his 86, 51 came behind the wicket, nurdled to third man, or nudged round the corner. No matter, because his first obligation was to save the match.

Thorpe has had his share of good fortune against leg before appeals in this series. When he had made one in the second innings at Durban he survived a perilously close call and went to score 118 not out.

Bucknor is 59 this year. In the first Test he umpired, Kapil Dev took 6 for 84 and Viv Richards scored 110. That was a cricketing generation ago. He deserves his century and the golden bail he will receive from the ICC, he really does, but the mint julep on the verandah may not be too far in the future.

Comments