Fellow umpires and retired players paid tribute yesterday to former South African umpire Rudi Koertzen who died in a car accident yesterday morning.
Koertzen, 73, was known as ‘Slow Death’ because of the time it took for him to raise a finger to indicate a batsman’s dismissal.
He stood in a then-record 331 international matches, including 108 Tests, between 1992 and his retirement in 2010.
“My father went to a golf tournament with some friends and they were expected to come back on Monday, but it seems they decided to play another round of golf,” his son Rudi Koertzen jr told a Gqeberha radio station.
“Rudi suffered fatal injuries after an accident near Stilbaai between Cape Town and Gqeberha,” said a family spokesperson, who requested anonymity.
The South African team will wear black armbands in honour of Koertzen when they face England at Lord’s in London in a Test match.
At the age of 43, Koertzen’s first international series was India’s tour of South Africa in 1992-93; his first game was the second ODI in Gqeberha (then Port Elizabeth).
Pakistan umpire Aleem Dar, who has since surpassed Koertzen’s record, yesterday described Koertzen’s death as “a very big loss”.
“I stood in so many games with him,” said Dar.
“He was not only very good as an umpire but also an excellent colleague, always very co-operative on field and also always willing to help off the field. Because of the way he was, he was also well-respected by players.”
Fellow South African Marais Erasmus described Koertzen as “a strong character, physically and mentally.”
Erasmus, crowned three times as the International Cricket Council’s umpire of the year, said of Koertzen, “He paved the way for South African umpires to get to the world stage and made us all believe it’s possible.”
He added: “A true legend. As a young umpire, I learnt a lot from him.”
Former Sri Lanka star and former president of MCC, Kumar Sangakkara, described Koertzen in a tweet as “a wonderful friend and umpire. Honest, forthright and loved the game.”
Former Indian batsman Virender Sehwag described how Koertzen would scold him if he played a rash shot, telling him, “Play sensibly, I want to watch your batting.”
Koertzen used ‘Slow Death’ as the title of an autobiography.
“I used to hold my hands in front of me and every time there was an appeal, I would fold them against my ribs,” Koertzen said in an interview.
“Then someone told me ‘Rudi, you cannot do that. Every time you raise your hands to fold them, the bowler thinks you are going to give him a wicket’.
“So I started clasping my wrists at the back.
“The finger comes out slowly because it takes time for me to release my grasp at the back.”
Koertzen’s sense of theatre was on display in the final Test of the 2005 Ashes Test series between England and Australia.
He walked slowly to the wicket before tipping off the bails to show that play had been abandoned, confirming the match had ended in a draw, which sealed a series win for England.
He was the television umpire in the 2003 and 2007 Cricket World Cup finals but the umpiring team for the latter match, between Australia and Sri Lanka in Barbados, were censured for their interpretation of the regulations regarding bad light in a chaotic finish to the game.
Koertzen was a keen golfer, who maintained a single figure handicap until the time of his death, which came when the car in which he was travelling was involved in a collision on the N2 highway between Cape Town and Gqeberha.
He was travelling with friends on the way home to the Eastern Cape from a golf trip in Cape Town.
Three other people died in the accident.
The South African team, in England for a Test series starting next week, wore black armbands in his memory on the first day of a match against England Lions in Canterbury yesterday.
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