Bacher: Are ICC match referees really necessary?

Ali Bacher (Gallo Images)
Ali Bacher (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Kagiso Rabada, sitting out the Proteas’ crucial fourth Test against England at the Wanderers from Friday through suspension, has been the victim of skewed priorities by the International Cricket Council.

READ: Proteas - Soak up the current pain, urges Bacher

That is the belief of Dr Ali Bacher, captain of the legendary national team of 1969/70 and former CEO of the United Cricket Board of South Africa. 

“In my opinion, it’s been an overreaction,” Bacher told Sport24 here this week, where he has been promoting his latest book South Africa’s Greatest Bowlers (with David Williams).

He was referring to the controversy surrounding the key SA fast bowler’s costly punishment over his animated celebration of England captain Joe Root’s dismissal in the third Test at St George’s Park a few days ago.

“You know, Test cricket is staged over five days, your mood will go up and down, there’s a lot of pressure, it’s a tough game mentally. Every now and then someone will lose it for a moment - it’s part of the game.

“They’ve got match referees now (former Zimbabwe player Andy Pycroft held that role in the Port Elizabeth Test - Sport24), and I think they sometimes overreact,” said Bacher.

“It’s funny, I am quite close to Michael Holding, and he is pretty strong in his TV commentary about (flashpoints) and doing the right things on the field.

“I reminded him once, and he’s a smart chap, about the time he kicked over the stumps in a fit of anger in a Test for West Indies in New Zealand! So these incidents will happen.

“Are they focussing on the wrong issues, too? To me, sledging is much more an area where there should be a serious clampdown ... the personal stuff. That is when it is becomes totally unacceptable.

“When we played Australia in my time, it was unbelievably tough, fiery and competitive, but nobody swore at each other or made personal insults. You knew you were in a contest, but there was no sledging.

“The (Jos) Buttler incident, where he let rip verbally at Vernon Philander in the Newlands Test, was far worse, to me, than Rabada’s. I can tell you that a few guys I played with, if they’d heard that sort of crude stuff suddenly directed at them from close up, they’d have been seriously tempted to take matters into their own hands.

“Match referees ... are they really that good, that effective? I am not sold on it. Today, the umpires are outstanding, unlike in my day when they were often terrible ... error-strewn, biased. The only good ones then were probably in England, guys who were former county players and knew the game.

“Today’s umpires have the technology to back them up, and I am happy for (final power) to rest with them ... I am not sure of the need for match referees; not so set on it.”

*South Africa’s Greatest Bowlers: Past and Present, by Ali Bacher and David Williams, is published by Penguin/Random House and available at leading bookstores.

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