Smile, don't be grumpy: Billy Bowden

World-class umpire and fine entertainer believes in always enjoying the game

Chennai 30 April 2012
There are mavericks in every field; the kind of people who change the way their profession is seen. When it comes to cricket umpiring, Billy Bowden is that man. Quirky and eccentric, funny and cheerful, Bowden is a departure from the stereotype that the umpires are bound into. With his inimitable style of signalling decisions and delightful sense of humour, Bowden adds colour to the profession of men with white coats.

Currently, in India to officiate in the most colourful cricket league, the 49-year-old umpire from New Zealand spoke to about the importance enjoying your job while being totally dedicated to it, and his experience in the Indian Premier League.

How is umpiring in a league like this is different from umpiring in the international matches?

The main difference is the amount of matches we officiate in over a short period of time along with the travel. Umpires need to be both mentally fit and physically in good condition to withstand the heat and demands placed on them pre and post match.

What about the IPL appeals to you the most?

The opportunity to test your umpiring skills amongst the world’s best players in the most competitive and highly skilled T20 competition in the world. I also enjoy visiting all the different cities in India and experiencing life on and off the field, while mixing and mingling with fellow umpires and all the people who love cricket in India.

With the kind of shots played in the shortest format, does the importance of fitness and quick reflexes increase for an umpire?

T20 is not for the fainthearted umpire! The fitter and younger you are, the better chance you have of surviving any 150 km/h power shots that come towards you. Being totally alert and focussed on each ball is the key. Umpires rely on the bowler stopping the ball as well. But there are no guarantees, especially when you have the Gayles, Pollards, Pietersens and Sehwags batting at the other end. Maybe wearing some sort of helmet isn't too far away.

You are known the world over for your peculiar style of signalling various decisions. Is that something you’ve developed over the years?

All umpires are unique! Believe it or not, we have personalities like players do. We all enjoy and love the game and have a part to play. You'll see each umpire’s style of signals and giving out decisions is different. It shows the character and personality of an umpire, I believe. Yes, I have had arthritis since 1986, so giving out decisions with a bent or crooked finger is partly due to my arthritis condition.

With your cheerful demeanour, you’ve broken the conventional belief that an umpire is this grumpy man standing on the field making decisions. Was that the motive behind developing this style?

I think we all take the game too seriously at times. It's only a game after all and not life or death. If you work hard, respect the game, don't take the game for granted and are honest with yourself and others, then there's no reason you can't enjoy the moments at every given opportunity. I say don't get grumpy, be happy!

Is your umpiring style indicative of your sense of humour?

Spot on! No third umpire needed for this decision. You took the words right out of my mouth!

What is the funniest thing you’ve done on a cricket field?

It may not be that funny, but I had a bit too much chilli and spicy food in India one night before a match. When the bowler was about to bowl, he got a whiff of something when he passed me and lost his rhythm and had to stop suddenly. He turned back and asked if I had a dead animal in my pocket!

Who is your favourite umpiring partner, the one who understands your sense of humour best and complements it best?

All umpires get to know you over the years and have a certain understanding on how you tick. But two that 'connect' best to my sense of humour are Aleem Dar and Asad Rauf.

For all the decorativeness in your style, you remain one of the best umpires in the world. How do you balance the two – the fun factor and the seriousness involved in your work?

Having a good balance between fun and seriousness comes down to the individual at the time. It's important to have a good feel for the game, and what brings the best out of you in your umpiring comes with experience. Since making my international debut in 1995, I’ve endeavoured to utilise my experiences to maintain a professional attitude and respect for the game. One should learn more from failing than succeeding. But it's important I enjoy my umpiring and strive to be the best umpire I can be. Once I know in my heart that I have reached my true ability as an umpire, then I will call 'over and time' for the last time!

Do you have an umpiring role model?

No I don't. But I have looked, listened and learned from past and present umpires on how they prepare, plan and what techniques they use. At the end of the day, I found that all umpires have similar techniques, routines and trigger points when umpiring at the international level. The only difference is our personalities and style. It would be a boring world and a waste if we were all the same huh? Yes, being the best umpire you can be is what it's all about; nothing more and nothing less. So why not smile, have a bit of fun and enjoy what you do along the way?
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