12 years after snatching victory from the Indian side with his howler-decisions, the controversial West Indies umpire Steve Bucknor has admitted to his mistakes. The Sydney Test is one of the darkest chapters in cricketing history, infamously remembered for the Monkey-gate scandal. Apart from the Symonds-Harbhajan run-in, the match was also mired in controversial decisions of Bucknor which ultimately proved too costly for India.
Speaking to Middajy, the 74-year-old umpire admitted to his two mistakes and said, “I made two mistakes in the Sydney Test in 2008. Mistake one, which happened when India were doing well, allowed an Australian batsman to get a hundred. Mistake two, on day five, might have cost India the game. But still, they are two mistakes over five days. Was I the first umpire to make two mistakes in a Test? Still, those two mistakes seem to have haunted me.”
The first mistake that Steve Bucknor was referring to was the dismissal of Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds. It was the first inning of the match and the Australia side was tottering at 135 for 6.
The duo of Symonds and Hogg were quietly stitching a partnership when the former got an inside-edge to wicketkeeper MS Dhoni off youngster Ishant Sharma’s bowling. The Indian team appealed vociferously but Bucknor did not budge an inch and refused to give the decision in favor of the Indians. Symonds was on a paltry score of 30 at that time and later paid it dearly back to the Indian side.
Symonds was again given a reprieve later in the same inning when MS dhoni inflicted stumping and appealed to the square leg where Bucknor was standing this time around. Bucknor refused to take the decision upstairs despite it being a rather close call.
With two decisions going in favor of Symonds and Australia, the right-handed batsman used it to his full advantage and slammed a daddy hundred. Symonds scored 160 out of Australia’s 463 runs in the first inning.
The mistake that really cost the game to the Indian side came in the second inning where Rahul Dravid was given out, caught to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist. The ball had brushed Dravid’s pad but Bucknor thought otherwise and instantly gave Dravid the send-off. After a poor start in the second inning whilst chasing 333 runs target set by the Aussies, Dravid and Ganguly were setting up the match beautifully before delirious Bucknor intervened.
Bucknor’s brain fade decision making rubbed off onto his co-umpire Mark Benson who instead of asking the third umpire asked the Australian skipper for a decision.
Sourav Ganguly had edged a delivery to slips where Michael Clarke had caught the ball but while getting up, the ball had touched the ground, rendering the decision not out. But Benson discussed it with Bucknor then went to Ricky Ponting who raised his finger and asserted that it was out. Benso did not even bother going up and that left Ganguly and the Indian team perplexed.
Things escalated further when both the umpires, especially Bucknor could not calm the tensions between Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh. After the completion of the game, captain Anil Kumble famously claimed that only one team played in the spirit of the game.
The Indian tea was so miffed by Bucknor that it called for a boycott of the series if Bucknor was not removed. Fortunately, Steve was removed in the next match at Perth where India took their shot at redemption and beat Australia in one of the most difficult pitches of that time.
2008 Syndey Test was the final nail in the coffin for Bucknor, but his habit of handing controversial decisions had started way back in 1992.
In the second Test at Johannesburg, 1992-93, he refused to refer to the third umpire and ruled Jonty Rhodes not out when replays clearly showed that a direct hit had caught him short of his ground. The Indians, who had South Africa on the mat with five wickets down, were not amused as Rhodes went on to score 91 and save the Test match.
Bucknor was one of the on-field umpires when Sachin Tendulkar was ruled run out when he collided with Shoaib Akhtar at a crucial juncture during the Eden Gardens Test in 1998-99. The Eden crowd went berserk after this decision and started calling Bucknor a ‘cheater’. The crowd created so much ruckus that the match had to be stopped and only when Sachin came out to pacify the crowd that the game was resumed.
OUT or NOT OUT?#OnThisDay 1999,@sachin_rt was given OUT by 3rd Umpire Steve Bucknor when he collided with Shoaib Akhtar while taking the 3rd Run. The Eden started Shouting 'cheat, cheat' & pelted.match stopped & only after Sachin's appeal the Game was resumed
🙏POWER OF SACHIN🙏 pic.twitter.com/A1fbZcCvjj
— CrickeTendulkar Sachin🇮🇳Tendulkar FC (@CrickeTendulkar) February 19, 2018
Another incident involving Australia and Bucknor happened in 2003-04 series where Sachin was given LBW out on a ball that had hit him well above the knee roll, outside off the line. The hawk-eye later showed the ball missing the stumps by a country mile, but when the Australians appealed, Nucknor after taking an eternity gave Sachin out which left him befuddled. The commentators on air were equally surprised by the hara-kiri decision.
Steve Bucknor had also mimicked Rahul Dravid in a derisive way in a match against Australia. Dravid was penalized in the previous match for innocently applying his half-eaten lolly to the ball, the team management had reported that Dravid did not realize what he was doing and that it was an honest mistake, However, referee Clive Lloyd still went ahead with the fine and penalized Dravid by docking his 50 percent match-fee.
But what happened in the next match left every Indian infuriated. When Dravid came to bat in the middle, Bucknor rolled his fingers over the ball, looking at Dravid tauntingly and miming the action of licking a lollypop. The insinuation was direct and disgraceful. The team found it unacceptable and took the extreme step of reporting it to Lloyd.
The list is incredibly long where Steve Bucknor repeatedly crossed the line. If he wants to make amends to his regrets then he should start coming clean on some of the aforementioned incidents.