London, May 24 (ANI): Cricket umpire Bowden has become the antithesis of the archetypal man looking down the 22-yard strip, the understated, sober, unnoticed chap in the white coat.
But while he loves the attention, Bowden hates the accompanying media criticism and is desperate to be taken seriously, and not for his antics.
So for three years, he has laboured under the weight of a self-imposed media ban.
He has asked the permission of the International Cricket Council to be interviewed by the Sunday Star-Times, and wanted advance notice of the question topics, to which he has compiled judicious written replies.
Then, over the space of two hours, he happily answered every question anyway, talking about everything from the crisis of faith he suffered when arthritis ruined his cricketing career, to how he sings adapted Michael Jackson lyrics for motivation. And so emerges the other reason for the media ban: Billy Bowden can’t help himself.
Bowden says he was “destined” to become an umpire, although he too admits he would rather have been an international cricketer.
When he was 21, he contracted severe viral arthritis the original reason for his bent fingers curtailing a career he thinks might, with hard work, have culminated in national selection.
Until four years ago, when he became an ambassador for Arthritis New Zealand, he didn’t talk about it publicly.
“Was it because I was embarrassed, because I was a failure, my faith was tested… because it was why, why me?” he says. “I was healthy, only 21, my life was in front of me, and it was an injustice. I wasn’t happy.”
Eventually, his strong Baptist upbringing allowed him to reach a more positive conclusion. “Arthritis has been good for me, because I am sitting here now talking to you about something I would probably never have done if I had been healthy and played cricket. God has got a plan for everyone, and that was my plan… my arthritis has changed my life and turned me into someone I might not have been.”
Twenty-five years, 46 test matches and 132 one-day internationals later, Bowden is the only New Zealand member in a 12-strong world elite panel.
He reckons he spends just 90 nights a year in his own bed. His wife Jenny, a nutritionist who writes a column for the Listener, travels with him only half the time. He leaves the country again on Thursday for the Twenty20 World Cup in England, the day after their third wedding anniversary.
While he’s told his schedule only three months in advance, it’s likely that this year’s schedule alone will include Dubai, England, South Africa (for the ICC Champions Trophy) and perhaps the West Indies.
He agrees that it is, at times, a lonely existence. Then he chirps up.
“I follow the sun, I experience cultures, the different countries, and basically, I do something I love. It can’t get much better than that, can it? Just quietly, I think any criticism that I do get in the papers, on radio or on TV, I just say to myself, that’s OK, I probably had a more fun day than them anyway.”
He once, reportedly, danced around an Auckland pub on South African captain Hansie Cronje’s shoulders and gave the craggy Australian captain Steve Waugh an impromptu hug at the end of his final test (“I think Steve liked it,” he says wryly. “If I saw him now, I’d give him another hug”). So the reality of modern-day cricket must make it even more painful; there’s little socialising between player and official.
“It’s more like business than pleasure now,” he says, “they’ve got their team, we’ve got our team.” Then he adds:
“Unfortunately you can’t be seen in the bar or cafe with them because the next day you might have to make that tough decision and there could be a journo, like you, with a photo.”
Bowden’s like that. A lot of replies, which began life about other topics, slowly meander around to the media, their treatment of him, and his attitude towards them.
He’d contend that his dad is far more obsessed. Marcus Bowden, an 83-year-old retired Baptist minister, is a big fan of his youngest son. “He looks after everything that goes in the paper, good, bad or indifferent, he cuts it out,” says Bowden.
“He might need another house to put it all in. It’s just a hobby.” Bowden tells his dad not to make agitated phone calls to Radio Sport and sports editors.
The media bans, announced to the Dominion Post in 2006 and the Sunday News a year later, were, he says, not arrogance on his part, but about improving his own performance.
Has he ever been hurt about the things that have been written? While he shrugs off how one 2007 survey of Australian players rated him test cricket’s worst umpire, the one that seems to have stung (and he accepts as valid) was when he was widely criticised for openly souveniring match balls and stumps.
This mantra, which he repeats later, appears to have come from Jenny, whom he describes as his “inspiration” and his “hero”. They’ve been together for eight years (he has two children from a previous relationship, daughter Brooke, 19, and son Fraser, 16, who captains Westlake Boys’ cricket team). “My gorgeous wife says `bingo, they are on to it, they are correct, so don’t try to fight it’,” he says. (ANI)