Rudi Koertzen, a former South African international cricket umpire, and three other individuals passed on Tuesday morning in a head-on collision close to Riversdale in the Western Cape. The 73-year-old was returning to Despatch, in the Eastern Cape, where he lived with his family, after spending the weekend in Cape Town golfing. Rudi Koertzen Jr., Koertzen’s son said his father died from impact.
“He went on a golf tournament with some of his friends and they were expected to come back on Monday, but it seems they decided to play another round of golf,” Koertzen Jr said. Between 1992 and 2010, Koertzen oversaw 331 international cricket matches as an umpire, which is the second-highest total after Pakistan’s Aleem Dar. These matches included 108 Tests, 209 One-Day Internationals, and 14 T20 Internationals.
“It is a very big loss foremost for his family and then for South Africa and cricket,” said Dar of Koertzen’s death in an interview with ESPNCricinfo.I stood in so many games with him. He was not only very good as an umpire but also an excellent colleague, always very cooperative onfield and also always willing to help off the field. Because of the way he was, he was also well-respected by players.”
In memory of Koertzen, the Proteas wore black armbands during their tour game against the England Lions on Tuesday,9 August 2022. Fellow South African umpire Marais Erasmus said: “Rudi was such a strong character, physically and mentally. He paved the way for South African umpires to get to the world stage. Made us all believe it’s possible. A true legend. As a young umpire, I learned a lot from him.”
He continued to oversee a few games in his hometown of Despatch at the time of his passing, as well as pitching in to aid his neighborhood club, the Despatch Cricket Club. “A legend in his own right passed away this morning and will definitely leave a great void in the cricket world,” Despatch Cricket Club said in tribute today. “We want to express our heartfelt sympathy and empathy to Uncle Rudi Koertzen’s family and loved ones.”
At the age of 43, Koertzen began working as an international umpire. His debut match was the second ODI in Gqeberha during India’s tour of South Africa in 1992–1993. As an umpire, Koertzen earned the nickname “Slow Death” for his propensity for using the “slow finger of death.” In order to signify the dismissal of a batter while the opposing team on the field was making an appeal, he would slowly lift his left arm and index finger.
“Every umpire has their trademark, that was mine. The media labeled it the ‘slow finger of death; I found that pretty interesting. There’s a story behind it, though. When my umpiring career first began, I used to hold my hands in front of me and every time there was an appeal, I would fold it against my ribs. Someone told me ‘Rudi, you can’t do that, every time you raise your hands to fold it, the bowler thinks you’re 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 wrote a book titled Slow Death: Memoirs of a Cricket Umpire after retiring as an international official in 2010. (with Chris Schoeman). Koertzen last participated in a representative game in an Indian Premier League game between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings in Bengaluru in 2011.
Paying tribute to Koertzen’s contribution to cricket, CSA Chief Executive Officer, Pholetsi Moseki said: “The passing of this Titan is a sad loss for the game. Koertzen’s contribution to umpiring, to which he spent the better part of his life, speaks volumes about his selfless dedication and commitment.
“With his demise, another curtain of a rich legacy has fallen, but will never be forgotten. In his honour, let’s decree to embody his passion for umpiring and unearth a crop of umpires who will carry the fortunes of the game into the future.”