Over the years the game has evolved because of talented cricketers, improved infrastructure and broadcasting facilities. Above all now the cricket has become a professional sport of the highest order and some of the credit should go to the match officials who are the unsung heroes of the game. They have contributed immensely to bring this sport to a certain level.
Officials have helped cricket retain its tag of gentlemen’s game. Particularly the on-field umpires who are always under the pump to give correct decisions and maintain the spirit of the game. It is a tough task but some of them have set really high standards. Among them, certain umpires are always remembered for their integrity and professionalism.
Here is the list of five best umpires of all time :
1. Simon Taufel
Simon Taufel. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
In the game of cricket, some of the best things happen accidentally and it is true in every sense for the umpiring career of Simon Taufel. The Australian who was once a medium fast-bowler for his club, Cammeray CC saw his cricketing dreams shatter at the age of 19 with a career-threatening back injury.
With little hesitation then he took up the umpiring course and within a year he started officiating in the grade cricket. Before the dawn of the 21st century, he made his international debut at a young age of 27.
Since then it was always an upward curve for him and also won ICC Umpire of the year for five consecutive times (2004-2008).
He was known for his accurate decisions and treating the players with utmost generosity. Taufel was one who raised his arms aloft when MS Dhoni hit the famous six in the 2011 World Cup. After officiating 281 international games he stood for the last time in 2012 T20 World Cup final and till 2015 he worked with ICC to improve the umpiring standards. For an individual who considered umpiring as a hobby, it turned out to be a glorious career.
2. Dickie Bird
Harold “Dickie” Bird. (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)
One of the most remembered personalities in world cricket is none other than the yesteryear umpire, Dickie Bird. He was a soccer player whose knee injury forced him to take up a cricketing career. Termed as a good batsman by his Yorkshire teammate, Geoffrey Boycott, Bird took up umpiring when injuries took a toll on his body.
In his career spanning over two decades, he officiated 66 Tests and 69 ODIs and above all three World Cup finals.
He was an official who always had a calm demeanour on the field and looked extremely focused in his work. While umpiring he used to twitch his shoulders coupled with an idiosyncratic stretch with his forearms.
A part of the cricketing fraternity considered him a batsman’s umpire as he regularly turned down the bowler’s Leg Before Wicket appeals but still, Bird was one of the respected officials. The Indian fans will remember him for raising his finger when Mohinder Amarnath’s appeal in the 1983 World Cup final sent a nation into a frenzy. For his contributions, he was even honoured by the British Empire.
3. Billy Bowden
Billy Bowden. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)
When is the last time the fans enjoyed the on-field antics of an official and the answer is quite simple, Billy Bowden at the bowler’s end. The Kiwi was a cricketer who suffered rheumatoid arthritis in the playing days and ended up taking the umpiring job. Standing in his 1st game at Hamilton in 1995, Bowden went to officiate 308 international games.
Crooked finger of doom, crumb sweeping and double crooked finger six-phase hop are some of his hysterical actions. It provided pure joy to the cricketing fraternity but very knew that his illness didn’t allow the conventional style of umpiring. Billy was an individual with a witty sense of humour as he was the first umpire to issue the red card in gentlemen’s game when Glenn McGrath tried to bowl underarm.
His most memorable moment has to be the 2005 Ashes which is considered one of the greatest series of all time and he officiated 3 of the 5 Tests. Unfortunately, he was demoted in 2016 but he has a special place in the history books of cricket.
4. David Shepherd
David Shepherd. (Photo by Sean Dempsey – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
An umpire list without the late, David Shepherd is like an aquarium without Goldfish. The Brit was one of the finest officials who loved the game throughout his life. Before getting into the official uniform David played more than 450 games for Gloucestershire in the county circuit.
He started his career in the best possible way as his first game as an international umpire was a World Cup game. Then for the next twenty years, he was in charge of 264 ties. One of the striking things which separated David Shepherd from his colleagues was his superstitious acts on the field. The most common one being the hop and skip whenever the scoreboard read 111 (Nelson), a score considered unlucky for a batsman.
He was also famous for his white flat Cap which became a crowd favorite instantly. Shepherd was a jolly character and has frequently got praises from his fellow umpires for his ability to maintain a good environment for the players. He was the official of the most dramatic semi-final between Australia and South Africa in the 1999 World Cup.
5. Aleem Dar
Umpire Aleem Dar. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Another true gentleman in the elite panel of ICC umpires is the Pakistan official Aleem Dar. He was a former middle-order batsman for his domestic team Lahore but never cut to the international arena. Afterwards, Dar turned his focus to umpiring and at the age of 32, he stood in his first international game.
Since then he has not looked back and has won three ICC Umpire of the year awards and is still going strong after officiating 374 games. Aleem is one of the few umpires who always maintains his composure in the biggest of the tournaments. In the 2011 World Cup, he proved his skills when 15 consecutive DRS appeals against him were struck down.
His love for the game was clear as he was not even informed of his daughter’s death while he was in charge of 2003 World Cup ties. Dar is rated highly by his fellow umpires and the cricketers also respect him for his pristine umpiring. He along with Simon Taufel officiated the famous 2011 World Cup final.
These officials were an important part of the gentlemen’s game and their contributions are beyond measure.
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