London:Rudi Koertzen, who on Thursday became only the second umpire to officiate in 100 Tests, said Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara are the two cricketers he has highest regard for.
Less than a week after becoming the first umpire to stand in 200 One-Day Internationals, Koertzen on Thursday became the only person after Steve Bucknor to officiate in 100 Tests by taking the field in the second Ashes Test at Lord's.
Looking back on his career, the 60-year-old South African said he was fortunate to have seen Tendulkar and Lara bat from close quarters.
"I have been fortunate and privileged to have seen some of the greatest modern day cricketers very closely. It would be unfair to pin-point one or two players but I have to name Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar for whom I have the greatest respect and I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing them bat," he said.
"They had amazing reflexes and used to pick up the ball as soon as it left the bowler's hand which helped them make batting look very graceful and elegant due to their superb timing, excellent footwork, ability to hit the gaps and score runs off good balls. While Sachin continues to delight us with his batting, it was sad to see retire Brian in 2007," Koertzen said.
"I don't think you can replace batsmen like Sachin and Brian in a day or two. The batsmen of these qualities and class are born in years and we are so fortunate to have seen them when they were at their brilliant best," he added.
Koertzen, who made his international debut in December 1992 in a match between South Africa and India in Port Elizabeth, said he was still keen on improving.
"Obviously you feel proud when you know that among a galaxy of quality umpires you are only the second to complete century of Tests and the first to stand in 200 ODIs. But it was never a target that I had set for myself after making my first-class debut in 1981," he said.
"I still have the fire in my belly to improve, umpire in more matches and continue to enjoy the sport which has given me respect and recognition," said Koertzen, who also stood in the Super Series Test between Australia and the ICC World XI in Sydney in October 2005.
Koertzen singled out Adam Gilchrist for "the most ruthless display of stroke-play" when he scored 204 against South Africa at The Wanderers in February 2002.
Among the bowlers, he named Shane Warne as the stand out bowler while expressing his admiration for fast bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Allan Donald.
"He (Warne) used to get the best out of the umpires by putting a lot of pressure on them. On numerous occasions, he bowled from my end and I have always found him testing my decision-making," Koertzen said.
On the present health of the game, Koertzen said, "I think cricket has never been healthier and it is all due to the fact that it is in very safe and capable hands. It is the only sport that offers three excellent formats which give options to everyone to go and enjoy.
"We are also embracing technology at the right time, after extensive research and considerable debate. The Umpire Decision Review System, which is being rolled out in Tests from 1 October, is an excellent initiative and will help the umpires to make more correct decisions which are already in mid-90s percentage-wise," he added.