Steve Bucknor: Over and Out

Steve Bucknor, for 20 years the master of the long, slow decision, stands in his last international match tomorrow. Cricket will miss him, writes Stephen Brenkley

To be given out by Steve Bucknor is death by torture. First the appeal, loud, prolonged, imploring. And then nothing. Only a tense stillness. Time is suspended. Packed stadiums freeze. The bowler grimaces in hope, the batsman tries not to look.

Bucknor's brain computes. Where did the ball pitch, how much did it move? Or could it have taken the edge? Was there a noise? Or a deviation? You can hear the cogs turn. He betrays no emotion. And then the slow nod. Usually, it is just one movement. Slowly comes the final blow, the raising, almost reluctantly of the index finger as if to say: "This is hurting me far more than it's hurting you. But sadly I have no choice."

For 20 years that little scene has been one of the most riveting sights in cricket, a piece of theatre of its own. At the end, it is probably blessed relief for the batsman. Over at last. There have been times when Bucknor, without knowing it, has seemed to play to the gallery. They want a slow death, they can have it. Or sometimes the reprieve, similarly considered and announced eventually with a slight shake of the head. Again no sign of emotion.

When Bucknor has made a decision the impression is of a supreme court judgement. It really is final. This does not make him right and sometimes he has been spectacularly wrong but the gravitas is unmistakable. No more. Bucknor, 62, will stand in his 309th and last international match tomorrow in Barbados, his 181st one-day match to go with the 128 Test matches. It was April 1989 when he first started doing this, twice as long as many illustrious playing careers.

"It was my time to go," he said. "I wanted to go before people were telling me it was time to go, while I could be sure in my mind I was still doing the job properly. It just feels right."

Bucknor has stood in some of the most outstanding and controversial matches, some of them made so by his presence. In India he is certainly less respected than he is almost everywhere else but then that is the penalty you pay in that hotbed of cricketing fanaticism for daring to err.

His relationship with India reached its nadir when they were playing Australia in Sydney last January. He gave two decisions that were blatantly wrong – after, that is, slow motion replays had shown them to be so – and this might not only have affected the result but prompted the ill grace and misbehaviour that defined the match. He gave Andrew Symonds not out when he had edged the ball behind and gave Rahul Dravid out caught when the ball had only hit his pad.

There was also the small matter of Harbhajan Singh being alleged to have called Symonds "a monkey". So acrimonious were feelings between the sides and towards Bucknor that he was withdrawn from the next Test by the ICC. He will not say as much but that must have hurt, must have gone some way towards making up his mind that his time had indeed come.

Bucknor perpetually declines to talk of the contentious times, understandable considering the perpetual scrutiny that umpires are under. But what people forget about that Sydney match is that the vast majority of his decisions in that match and other matches, were right. He had a higher percentage of correct calls than his colleague in that game, Mark Benson.

"The travelling has been wearing me down," Bucknor said . "It's always been hard – getting from place to place has never been that easy. I've just spent 30 hours getting from South Africa to Barbados and that is very tiring with a match the following day. I won't miss that."

The best umpires cannot afford to have moments of doubt which is why they have enduring careers. But they have to be prepared to admit that they were wrong.

"I analyse all my performances, especially the difficult decisions that I've made during the day to check that I did not do anything wrong," Bucknor said. "From time to time I look at replays and I see some mistakes, but then I look at others and I see my right decisions too. It's important for me to check them all, right or wrong, and confirm to myself why I made the decision."

India started to become disaffected with Bucknor because he three times gave out their idol Sachin Tendulkar contentiously. You mess with the "Master Blaster's" wicket at your peril. The last time was against Pakistan at Eden Gardens in 2005 when Tendulkar had made 52 and there was daylight between bat and ball. They have never forgotten.

Yet the dignity of the man has been ever present. That dignity was plain when after his last Test match in Cape Town the other day he knelt on the field and offered a prayer (pictured, left). "I was giving thanks," he said. "I'm a believer and I said 'thank you Lord, you have taken me through, and it all seems to have gone well'."

The two series this winter between South Africa and Australia have seen Test cricket at its very finest – knocking into a cocked hat the stultifying events of West Indies against England. But it would not have seemed so had Bucknor been absent. He stood in two of the six matches, enough to be involved in the experimental referrals system.

"The review system could help the game a great deal," he said. "It can be of assistance in the case of a wrong decision being made and ultimately you can get more correct decisions in a game." But crucially he would change the method by which decisions are either reversed or questioned.

"We know when the decisions are tough and marginal – we know. I believe that we are the ones who should be going up there to say, 'third umpire, have a look at this, it is marginal', because ... when a team has used its two referrals, that is when they have failed twice, they have no more.

"So the umpires still can make mistakes and these mistakes could be costly. I have nothing against the experiments but we know when the decisions are tight. And rather than having a team not capitalising because they have used all their referrals, I hope that later on it should be the umpires asking rather than the players."

Bucknor should have some input into this. He hopes eventually to be offered some advisory role as international umpire and this should be snapped up rather more quickly than he makes his decisions. For now, he is about to do some football coaching. Football is his other great love and he was a Fifa referee once, having had the whistle in a World Cup qualifier between El Salvador and Netherlands Antilles back in 1988. "I prefer umpiring to refereeing but I can't separate the sports."

A favourite memory of Bucknor, the umpire, who brooked no nonsense and knew that his word was law, came in Karachi in December 2000. Pakistan had used deliberate delaying tactics against England but when it grew dark, which was their plan, Bucknor refused to terminate play. He stood absolutely firm and England, batting on without being able to see the ball much, won. But it was a victory for umpiring that day too, a great, deserved victory.

Nothing really changes, of course. Forty years ago in an International Cricket Council meeting the formidable English administrator Gubby Allen made the point that it was possible for umpires to lose form just like players. Bucknor has no doubt had his periods of poor form but he has always come back. But not any more. The slowest draw in the west knew when to quit.

Tested Bucknor's best

*Tests 128; ODI 181 (inc. tomorrow)

*Has stood in five World Cup finals

*First Test West Indies v India (Kingston, April-May 1989)

*Last Test South Africa v Australia (Cape Town, Mar 2009)

*First One Day West Indies v India (St John's, March 1989)

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
News
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor