SA Cricket magazine spoke exclusively to South African and International Cricket Council elite umpire Marais Erasmus about the crackdown on suspect bowling actions, contentious cricketers, the possibility of day-night Test matches – and more.
SA Cricket magazine: There has been a very obvious crackdown by the International Cricket Council on suspect bowling actions this year. Tell us more.
Erasmus: The MCC world cricket committee was a bit worried about the so-called bad actions, so it gave us the opportunity to see some of these guys’ actions tested. Shane Shillingford of West Indies, for instance, didn’t want his doosra [off-spin bowler’s variation, which turns in the opposite direction to a standard off-break delivery] tested because he knew it would be found illegitimate. Now he doesn’t bowl it in international cricket.
Marlon Samuels, from the West Indies, isn’t allowed to bowl his faster ball anymore. It’s difficult – what is fast? 89 kilometres per hour, 90, 92 – when is it fast? We want more clear lines of what is legitimate and what is not. Umpires, in general, were reluctant to report suspect actions in the past – but there is more support for the umpires now. Now you know you’re not going to lose your contract if you report a bowler.
SAC: Sri Lanka’s Sachithra Senanayake, New Zealand’s Kane Williamson, Zimbabwe’s Prosper Utseya and Bangladesh’s Sohag Gazi are among those sanctioned due to illegal bowling actions, but Pakistani Saeed Ajmal’s ban is arguably the most controversial of the year …
Erasmus: I know Ajmal hasn’t been officially tested after being reported. There have been some unofficial tests, but he is going to have to come back to the game a different bowler. I think, personally, with my understanding of what a real doosra is, it will be very difficult to do it within the rules, within the 15-degree flex limit.
South African Johan Botha, now with South Australia, look at him, I reported him. He struggled with the doosra too. I think it is just too difficult for the doosra to be bowled within the 15-degree limit – 15 degrees is not much. England’s Moeen Ali is bowling something that goes the other way now, but he seems okay for now. I don’t think the 15-degree extension allowance should be increased, because then we could change the game to baseball.
SAC: Day-night Test match cricket seems imminent, possibly as soon as next year, if various ball trials are successful?
Erasmus: With the floodlights on, and if guys struggle to see the ball, how is it going to be done? Are we going to start with a red ball and then move onto a pink ball. It’s just not practical. I’m not necessarily against day-night Test match cricket, but more testing needs to be done with the colour of the ball. They’ve got some yellow balls, I think, on the go in Australia. That trial will come through, but I think day-night Tests are still a while away.
SAC: The number of former ODI and Test cricketers becoming international umpires, like Australian Paul Reiffel and Kumar Dharmasena, is increasing. Why?
Erasmus: I think it is so much easier for guys who have played cricket at international or at first-class level to become umpires at top level. The last eight or so ICC elite umpire appointments have all played first-class or international cricket, so it seems like it is going that way. There are so many other skills you have to have – or learn – as you are going through the ranks, though.
SAC: Are you in favour of television viewers being allowed to hear communication between the third umpire and the on-field officials, on a trial basis, during this month’s ODI series between Australia and South Africa?
Erasmus: So far, in the first three matches, it has gone well. I’m glad it is on trial before the World Cup. Rather do it now than then. I’m sure it will happen in the World Cup too. There haven’t been any real issues with it so far. It’s a good thing. I’m glad to see it happening.
SAC: You’ve surely encountered a few contentious, over-insistent bowlers during your career. Will you name a couple?
Erasmus: England pair James Anderson and Stuart Broad – they are on the mark all the time. From bowling so consistently, they are obviously going to throw questions at you – and plenty of appeals. I suppose that’s the challenge of the job, calming them and those kind of players down. They’re playing with passion, they’re playing with pride for their country. We, as the umpires, have to stay calm through all of that, if they don’t.
SAC: With so much of your focus fixed on the various individual elements of the game, before and after each and every delivery, do you ever miss the greater context of a superb T20I, entertaining ODI or intriguing Test?
Erasmus: Sometimes a really good innings or a great spell of bowling do go past you because you are concentrating on other things – and your focus is on so many other things. That’s your duty. So, maybe, you don’t get that sort of enjoyment out of it. But if we can have a game, in which there are no umpiring issues, that’s where we get our enjoyment.
SAC: Fellow South African ICC umpires Rudi Koertzen, Barry Lambson and others succeeded before you, while many others will hopefully thrive after you. Which countrymen, in particular, do you hold in high regard?
Erasmus: The current three on the international panel – Shaun George, Adrian Holdstock and Johan Cloete – are all very good umpires, and could potentially move onto the elite panel. Hopefully their bigger chances will come. Hopefully I can survive on the elite panel and they can join me there.
SAC: What is the most memorable fixture you have officiated in to date?
Erasmus: The Test match at Lord’s in 2012, between England the West Indies. That was very special because my father was in the pavilion. In terms of bad days, any day when you’ve made too many errors for your own liking isn’t a nice experience – I’ve had those.
By Jonhenry Wilson