Sunday, April 15, 2012

Men with the Dreaded Finger: Top 5 Cricket Umpires of all times

Cricket has been the most inventive sport of all time. The game has changed by leaps and bounds over the years and its latest version of the twenty overs format promises to take it to even greater heights. One thing that has not changed since the time I started watching cricket at the age of 10, is that the fate of a game is decided based on batting, bowling, fielding captaincy and the umpiring.

How many times have we seen one wrong decision swing the entire match off the balance? Umpiring errors have always added a lot of controversies and flavor to the game of cricket. However, the history of the game has seen a lot of gritty characters who have donned the hat of an Umpire with great passion and pride and have won the respect of the followers of the game with their acumen.

Here is my pick for the top cricket umpires of all time. They have been chosen on the basis of their accuracy in decisions, the popularity and respect that they command among the cricketers and the lack of controversies.

Simon Taufel
Simon Taufel
The 5 times (consecutively) ICC Umpire of the Year, Simon Taufel is definitely my first choice. Not only because he is one of the best umpires of this generation, but also because he has been the best in today’s cricket which puts the Umpire under a lot of scrutiny with technological advancements which is  mentally consuming.

David Shepherd and Dickie Bird
David Shepherd and Dickie Bird

David Shepherd and Dickie Bird are 2 English legends who have been respected for their acumen for umpiring by both players and fans alike. Even though it is not justifiable to compare them with today’s umpires who face a lot more heat than these old guns, they have been the best of their times with great accuracy and loveable character.

Aleem Dar
Aleem Dar
Aleem Dar is the most neutral and calm umpire I have seen so far. Never intimidated or animated, he keeps his cool during the tense matches and officiates with commendable dignity. Three times consecutive ICC Umpire of the Year award winner, Aleem Dar is definitely one of the best.

Rudi Koertzen
Rudi Koertzen
Next on the list is South Africa’s Rudi Koertzen, one of the few umpires at who has officiated long enough (more than 100 tests and 200 ODIs) to know the taste of umpiring both with and without technology. Having officiated in all the three formats of the game, he will be most remembered for the way he has adjusted himself to suit the technological advancements that have been a part of the upgradation of cricket over the years.

Several things have changed. Back in the old days, where only Home Umpires used to officiate matches and knowingly or otherwise, a few decisions went in the favor of the home team used to fuel controversies. Who would forget the classic case of Shakoor Rana from Pakistan, who had a verbal duel with Mike Gatting in the Faislabad test in 1987 where he wore the Pakistani sweater and Mudassar Nazar’s cap while officiating the test match. The incident caused the play to be paused only to be resumed the next day.

Then there have been incidents involving Steve Bucknor, who gave more priority to his instincts than the rules. Indians would always curse him for the number of times Sachin Tendulkar fell victim to his misjudgment. Sometimes, the umpires have to pay for sticking to the rules, as was in the case of Darrel Hair. These days, the commentators do not hesitate to criticize the umpire for making a mistake. In the good old days, the harshest of remarks would be: “Poor fellow was unfortunate this time around!” But today, TV replays and technology like the Hawk Eye portray the umpires as the villain.

Umpiring is not an easy job. It takes a man of great mental strength and ultimate observation power to do the job to perfection. Mistakes are only human, and the introduction of technology to the game has been a relief for the umpires by aiding them in making crucial decisions like run outs and LBWs. However, the constant evolution of the game always require them to be on their toes.

PS: The above produced list is my personal compilation. The readers are welcome to add their own favorites.