Marais Erasmus Q&A: From Boland all-rounder to ICC elite panel umpire

India's Virat Kohli and South African umpire Marais Erasmus have a mutual respect for each other. Picture: Rodger Bosch / AFP

India's Virat Kohli and South African umpire Marais Erasmus have a mutual respect for each other. Picture: Rodger Bosch / AFP

Published May 5, 2024


Boland Cricket and the Rocks paid homage to Marais Erasmus who decided to retire from the International Cricket Council’s elite panel after many years as one of the game top umpires.

Erasmus stood as the on-field official in 82 men's Tests, 124 men's ODIs, 43 men's T20Is and 18 women's T20Is. He has also been the TV umpire in 131 international games after officiating in his first international match in 2006.

Erasmus had also represented Boland as a player and captained the province for many years, playing a key part in their progression from the old B-section to the A-section of South African cricket.

IOL Sport caught up with Erasmus after the Golf Day and dinner at Paarl Golf Club, which also honoured stylish left-handed batsman Stiaan van Zyl, who had earlier announced that he would be bringing an end to his distinguished playing career.

Marais Erasmus gets a framed Boland baggy cap from chief executive James Fortuin. Picture: Shafiek Mouton

How special was it for you to be honoured by Boland Cricket, a place where your professional journey started?

It was emotional. We don’t get into sport to be honoured, but when it happens to you, you really feel overwhelmed.

How did your cricket journey start?

I was born in George and we moved to the Cape when I was two years old. So as a kid, we supported Western Province in rugby and cricket. But after school I moved to Paarl to study at the teacher’s training college before moving to Stellenbosch. That’s where my relationship with Boland started, playing club cricket and rugby.

Boland were still playing in the “B-section” when you started out. So club cricket was an important part of your development as a cricketer.

Club cricket was hard in those days because we hardly had any provincial cricket in the B-section. So every team had one or two First-Class players. Playing against guys such as Roger Telemachus was a great learning curve for players. These days provincial players don’t play a lot of club cricket, which can lift the standards.

Moving to the new Boland Park in Paarl in 1994, the first official match against the touring New Zealanders didn’t quite go according to plan. But you had no reason to complain?

I took 6/22 in the match, which lasted just over a day because it was called off after the first over of the second day because of a dangerous pitch!

In the first night game at the stadium, a spectator also turned off the lights! So their was some growing pains with the pitch and stadium, but it was great playing there getting Boland to the A-section.

When Boland got promoted to the A-section, you were initially overlooked. But you went on to captain the team and laying the platform for success.

When we got promotion they phoned me and asked if I would like to captain the B-side. They signed a lot of players and told me I won’t be in the mix.

But when the season started, I was included in a friendly match because of injuries and the week later I was in the team for the start of the Castle Cup. I ended playing in the B-side three years later before I retired from playing.

What made you get into umpiring?

The time management was an issue getting into coaching, because you needed a full-time job because there wasn’t money in coaching.

So I decided on umpiring, because at the start you just do club cricket on Saturday. And Cricket South Africa said they would fast-track me, and after doing different local tournaments I umpired my first First-Class match before the 2003 World Cup.

Cricket South Africa gave me the opportunities and I needed to take them with both hands.

Ashwell Prince said the fact you bowled wicket to wicket as a player is why you could easily spot the line for LBWs! Did being a former First-Class cricketer help you in the umpiring journey?

It definitely helped being a former player. If you look at the history of the elite umpiring panel, 80% of the umpires played First-Class or international cricket.

Of the current 12, I think it’s only Joel Wilson who didn’t play First-Class cricket. It says a lot. If you played at that level, you understand the pressure and you have a better understanding of the technical aspects.

But it doesn’t mean who can’t make it having not played the game at a high level. A guy like Simon Taufel is a legend, and he never played First-Class cricket.

— Jack Mendel ✍️ (@Mendelpol) February 29, 2024

On the field, it looks like you guys just stand in one spot while the players do all the work. But umpiring must be physically and mentally draining?

Test cricket is hard work, mentally draining concentrating for 90 overs in a day. And then you get venues in places like Sri Lanka and in the south of India where the heat and humidity is physically taxing. Then you get the cold in New Zealand and England.

White-ball cricket is easier, because if you have a bad day you don’t come back the next day! But in Test cricket you have to come back again and again! But it’s so rewarding when you have a great game and that feeling helps to keep you sharp and to prepare for the next match.

Pakistan's Muhammad Rizwan shares a light moment with South Africa's umpire Marais Erasmus during the ICC men's 2022 T20 World Cup 2022. Picture: William West / AFP

Is there less pressure on you as television umpire, or is it the same as the on-field umpires?

It’s a different kind of stress as the television umpire. On the field, there is going to be a mistake. It’s a given because we are all human. But you can’t make a mistake in the TV room, because the expectations are different.

With TV umpire also work a lot harder now. When I started the SABC producer called me the tea-drinking umpire, because you only had to look for stumping and run-outs.

Now your looking at every ball to check for the no-ball, and sometimes you have to ask the on-field umpire what the review is for because of everything going on.

What was the most memorable Test match you were involved in?

The first Test match at Lords was a memorable one, but also because I took my father to that Test. It was quite emotional for both of us.

There was Test in Adelaide where Virat Kohli had a 100 at tea and it looked like India would win the Test. I think they needed less than 100 runs to win with about wickets standing. It was the first Test after Phillip Hughes’ tragic death.

The first couple of days was quiet, but it got emotional as the Test progressed on and off the field. Nathan Lyon then bowled India out in the last session to win the match.

But I was involved in some great Ashes Tests played in a great atmosphere, with the Barmy Army singing.

— Jack Mendel ✍️ (@Mendelpol) February 29, 2024

Favourite cricket ground around the world?

Lord’s is special ... that goes without saying. But I’ve done a few Boxing Day Test matches at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of 80,000 people, which was a great experience.

India vs Pakistan in front of 93,000 people at the MCG in the T20 Cricket World Cup in 2022 was unreal. You cound’t hear anything, when there was a an appeal for caught behind you almost had to guess.

Cricket in India is incredible. I’m just an umpirde, but I can’t go to a shop. In Sydney, I can walk around, nobody is worried about me, but in India people will instantly recognise you and you will be mobbed.

In 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic, you got the chance to umpire in South Africa in Tests on home soil. What was that experience like?

I never thought it would happen. I have to be 100 percent honest with you, I didn’t enjoy it. I like the neutrality, because it shield’s you to a certain extent. Perception is a big part of our job.

During Covid, the visiting teams said we looked after the home team, and the home team would say we’re being too strict as far as they were concerned. We couldn’t win.

However, it was special to be able to umpire in a Test at Newlands.

In that Newlands Test, we all remember Virat Kohli speaking into the stump microphone and criticising the broadcaster after a DRS decision didn’t go their way. How did you managed big personalities on the field?

When I started out, Ricky Ponting was still captain of Australia and Mahela Jayawardene was leading Sri Lanka. Those guys tried to intimidate young umpires. So I went through that school.

If you stand your ground against Virat and those guys, they tend to have more respect for you. You have to be tough, because a guy like Virat is that student in the school who can’t sit still!

He was very respectful and if you reprimanded him, he would apologise. But he is also very smart in targeting the opposition’s best player.

You have umpired in matches played in different conditions. Where did you find it the most difficult to get the decision’s right?

For me it has to be Sri Lanka. The ball turns in India, but it doesn’t bounce as much. So you just need to get your angles right. But in Sri Lanka it also bounces, so you have to get the angles of the spin right, as well as the bounce.

One of my worst games was in Sri Lanka, where I made about six mistakes. Your head is just constantly spinning.

But every country has it’s challenges. In fast pitches like the Waca, you had these faint edges down leg side. In England it’s the swing and seam. So you have your hands full everywhere.

What advice would give people who get into umpiring?

There's a great opportunity to make a living from umpiring and earn good money. It’s very rewarding if you are committed, but don’t think you’re going to start today and be on the Wanderers next week.

It’s hard work and it took me 10 years before I did my first Test match from starting in club cricket. So you have to be committed.

What’s next for Marais Erasmus?

Hopefully a lot of golf!

No seriously, I have committed to Cricket South Africa to umpire domestically next season while also playing a mentorship role.

I think the seasons after that I’ll probably be a match referee and do the odd franchise tournament.

But I’m only going to travel overseas if my wife can travel with me. It’s the reason why I quit, because you’re away from the family for a long time. During last year’s World Cup, I was 57 consecutive days away from home!