New Zealand umpire Billy Bowden, who steps into the super-charged atmosphere of the third Test between Australia and India, is no stranger to controversy.
With the crooked finger and eccentric gestures, Bowden has earlier been written off by the Australians as the world’s worst umpire, yet he has been tasked with keeping the volatile series on track. His call-up for the Perth Test to replace Steve Bucknor came after poor decisions by the West Indian in the second Test. Australia, already 2-0 up in the series, are now ratcheting up the pressure for the third Test with passionate talk of setting a world record 17 consecutive Test wins.
Despite the difficult situation, New Zealand Cricket umpires’ manager Brian Aldridge says Bowden can take the pressure. “If anyone can handle it Billy can,” said Aldridge. “It’s a feather in his cap, the fact they (the ICC) have got confidence in him considering the climate they’ve got at the moment.”
Bowden will stand in his 42nd Test in Perth and already has a sense of deep emotions between Australia and India after officiating in Australia’s 377-run first Test victory. There were no complaints then but two years ago a poll of Australian cricketers rated Bowden as the worst on the ICC’s elite panel.
For Brent Fraser “Billy” Bowden, umpiring, and its reported $120,000 salary, came about after his promising playing career was cut short by rheumatoid arthritis in his early 20s. When he arrived on the international scene in March 2000, it was evident a combination of his personality and the disease had produced an animated character.
While his flamboyant gestures left him the target of criticism for grand standing, they are a by-product of the arthritis that affects his elbow, left wrist and fingers.
Bowden says his faith is of paramount importance as he officiates. “God is my best friend. He’s always been my third umpire. He’s there behind me, beside me, in front of me,” he told the New Zealand Herald, adding he believes God already knows what decisions he will make in his next series.
When Bowden was hit by arthritis and saw his dream of playing cricket had gone, he realised “that sometimes God has other plans for us. It taught me that every day you’re alive is a blessing. You have to take each day as it comes, because you never know when you’re going to be called to heaven.”
Bowden, though, is not beyond controversy as an umpire. He angered the West Indies during their tour of Australia a year ago, when the tourists claimed they were victims of dubious decisions, and he was also offside with Australia during the 2005 Ashes in England.
Bowden was also caught pocketing the match ball from that Test. He explained that he wanted the ball as a souvenir because it was his first Ashes series, but it was later returned after the England and Wales Cricket Board stepped in.