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The ump with the crooked finger

By Ashish Magotra
March 08, 2003 18:57 IST
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Brent 'Billy' Bowden is not your ordinary umpire. He has his own fan following, and when he is on the field he is anything but a silent spectator. He is part of the show or, should one say, he is the show, entertaining as only he can.

In person, he seems to be your normal, everyday guy, but as soon as a four or six is struck, he metamorphoses into a dancer and choreographer.

Brent 'Billy' BowdenBorn April 11, 1963, Billy has arthritis in his elbow. That is the reason why he stopped playing. But like any young buck he wanted to get to the top.

"I still wanted to be involved and I thought that umpiring would be a good option. It's the best position out in the middle; you can have a little bit of fun and get a lot of the sun."

Slightly unconventional when it comes to umpiring, Billy certainly has a style of his own. The crooked finger 'style', if one may call it that, was first used in 1996. The players were confused, unable to understand his decision. But in recent times, it has become an accepted norm.

A four is greeted by a walk away from the crease, with his arms twirling around in an unfathomable manner. For the sixes, he crouches low and rises in a climax of waving arms. But his personal favourite is, undoubtedly, the leg-bye. Like a perpetual spring, he somehow manages to bounce on his left leg, and while patting his right leg, signals the extra to the scorers.

So, is the crooked little finger intentional or is it just a style that came naturally to him?

"It just came naturally. Everyone has a personality. All cricketers and umpires have personalities and it's just the way I express myself; I love the game. No one is bigger than the game and I just love to enjoy myself and meet the challenge. When I see good shots being played, I just enjoy and express myself my own way. The main objective for the umpires is to get their decisions right and work as a team. But one-day cricket is exciting. It's got colour, music and I enjoy that. I can be serious too, but at the best of times I like to enjoy myself. Today we are here, tomorrow we could be gone."

That, in a nut-shell, sums up Billy's philosophy of life: have fun when you can, as long as it doesn't interfere with your duty.

But with Billy's antics on the ground one wonders whether flair does indeed make a difference?

"No, it doesn't, because I feel it is natural and that's the way I enjoy myself. So when I am signaling a boundary or a leg-bye, the ball is basically dead. So the concentration is relaxed, but then I get back into the zone and focus, get back on, concentrate on the moment; it only takes one second, bang and then you relax again. It's like switching a light switch on; switch off.

"But I still make mistakes. Everyone will make mistakes. But as long as you are consistent that's the main thing. Players know that umpires are going to make mistakes and I think of my role as an umpire. I want to get respect, not just in New Zealand but the world over. If I get respect then my job is done."

Sure, Billy's getting the respect that's due to him. When he was selected to officiate in the Super Six games in the 2003 World Cup, it was clear that the 39-year-old has arrived on the world stage.

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Ashish Magotra