Unfairly Blamed!

October 18, 2020

Umpiring controversies and Pakistan cricket

Occasionally in cricket the spotlight shifts from the players to the two gentlemen on the field who are assigned the task of ensuring fair play. Today we recall a few instances from Pakistan’s Test history where the umpires have stolen center stage from the players. In each of these cases Pakistan has been on the receiving end.

The Idrees Baig  Affair

Pakistan had drawn its initial Test series in England but the English cricket establishment still did not accept Pakistan as their Test equals and instead of a full-strength side sent an MCC A team to tour Pakistan in 1955-56. Led by Donald Carr, the team drew the first unofficial Test in Lahore while Pakistan won the second at Dhaka. The two teams met again in Peshawar for the third Test. At the close of play on the third day Pakistan having been set a winning target of 148, were 130 runs for the loss of 2 wickets, just 18 runs away from victory with 8 wickets intact.

A reception by the Peshawar Cricket Association was scheduled for 8 pm. Eight members of the MCC team, including the captain Donald Carr, had gathered in the room of the vice captain Billy Sutcliffe for a private drink of beer before this ‘dry’ dinner. During this meeting a plan was hatched to play a prank on the Pakistani umpire Idrees Beg.

The MCC team was staying at Dean’s Hotel while the Pakistani contingent and the umpires were housed at the nearby Services Club. The initial plan was to invite Idrees Baig to Billy Sutcliffe’s room for a drink after dinner and soak him with water there, but when Baig refused this offer some MCC players hired tongas and went to the Services Club itself. Wearing masks they located Baig, who was still wearing his dinner jacket, gagged him and forcibly brought him to Dean’s hotel where he was taken to Sutcliffe’s room and drenched with water.

Baig complained and an emergency meeting between the managements of the two teams took place. The MCC initially refused to accept that they were wrong, insisting that this was just a minor practical joke. It was only when the BCCP Secretary Brigadier Cheema threatened to send the MCC team home, that they accepted their mistake and apologised. The President of the MCC, Field Marshal Alexander also realized the gravity of the situation and sent another formal apology to the Governor General of Pakistan, Iskander Mirza, who was also the President of the BCCP. These two men had served together in the British army and the matter was resolved, allowing the tour to continue.

This attack on Idrees was totally uncalled as the umpiring had been fair and even. Of the 75 MCC wickets to fall in this series 17 or 22.66% were through LBW, run-outs or stumpings. The corresponding figure for Pakistan was 12 wickets out of 51 or 23.52%.

The Shakoor Rana-Mike Gatting Affair

In the winter of 1987 England were touring Pakistan for a three-Test series. Pakistan had won the first Test in Lahore comfortably by an innings and 87 runs. In the second test that was played at Faisalabad, England batted first and made 292. Nearing the end of the second days play, Pakistan were 106 for 5 and in fading light the English captain Mike Gatting brought in the off-spinner Eddie Hemings to bowl the last over of the day to Saleem Malik. Midway through the over Gatting changed his field bringing David Capel in from long leg. As Hemming was running in to bowl, Gatting, who was standing in the slips, signaled to Capel again. This was noticed by the square leg umpire Shakoor Rana who called for proceedings to be stopped while the other umpire Khizar Hayat declared a dead ball.

When Gatting questioned this decision Shakoor Rana told him that it was against the rules to move players while a ball was being bowled and this amounted to cheating. Gatting felt that it was permissible as his gesture to Capel had been behind the batsman’s line of vision and took umbrage at the word cheating. A heated and abusive exchange of words took place along with considerable finger wagging. Rana demanded an apology and when Gatting refused to provide one the umpires did not take the field on the third day. The two boards then got involved and a brief apology was eventually tendered by the English captain that allowed the game to resume on the fourth day.

The rules of the game explicitly disallow the sort of boorish behavior that Gatting displayed. Six months after this incident he was stripped of the English captaincy for an alleged dalliance with a barmaid, though many feel that the establishment’s mind had already been made up by the Shakoor Rana affair.

The Steve Bucknor Affair

Pakistan and the touring England side had played out two draws in the three-Test series of 2000. The third Test was at Karachi where Pakistan had never lost a test. The first innings of the two sides finished late on the fourth day and the match seemed destined for a draw. However, Pakistan were bundled out for 158 on the 5th day, leaving England a victory target of 176. As England set about this task, Pakistan’s over rate of 12.3 per hour was slower when compared to 13.8 per hour on previous days when there was a change of innings, but this did not justify the farcical theatre that overtook the match in its last half hour or so. It was sunset time and fielders were unable to sight the ball in the gloom but Bucknor told the Pakistan captain Moin Khan that the match will be played to a conclusion and ensured that it continued till England reached the winning target.

The English captain Nasser Husain is on record saying that it was pitch black in the middle by the time the match finished with the ball going in one direction in the outfield and the fielders running the opposite way. Commentating for Sky Sports, David Gower described the extraordinary scenes which he said many people on the ground ‘will be unable to say that they saw’.

Bucknor’s decision to allow the game to continue despite the increasing darkness certainly put the safety of players at risk. It is highly unlikely that it would have been permitted today when light meters rather than umpire’s whims determine the timing of close of play.

The Darrel Hair Affair

England were leading Pakistan 2-0 in the 2006 Test series when the two sides met for the fourth Test at the Oval in August. Pakistan were very well placed on the afternoon of the fourth day of the match. England, who trailed by 331 runs on the first innings, had already lost three second innings wickets and were still almost 100 runs short of making Pakistan bat again. The ball was 56 overs old when the umpires decided it had gone out of shape and asked for a replacement. As the fourth umpire Trevor Jesty brought out a set of balls to choose from, umpire Darrell Hair slowly tapped his left shoulder with his right hand indicating that England had been awarded five penalty runs because the condition of the ball had been altered by the fielding Pakistan side. Pakistan had been accused of cheating and they had neither been warned nor afforded an opportunity to defend themselves.

Stunned and confused the team played on till tea but then refused to take the field after the tea interval. After 30 minutes the umpires removed the bails and decided that Pakistan had forfeited the match, the first such episode in the history of the game. After frenetic discussions between the two boards and the referee, the Pakistan team re-emerged from the pavilion a further 25 minutes later, but the umpires Darrel Hair and Billy Doctrove refused to join them, insisting that the match was over. England were declared the winners.

At a subsequent hearing Inzamam and the Pakistan team were acquitted of all charges. A few days after the incident it was revealed that Hair had offered to resign from the ICC elite panel of umpires for a payment of $500,000 into his bank account. Subsequently the ICC announced that he would not be officiating in the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy and in November 2006 it banned him from umpiring in international matches.

After a brief restoration for two Test matches in 2008, Hair resigned from the ICC to take up coaching. A postscript to this incident is that in 2017 Darrell Hair pleaded guilty to charges of embezzlement and theft from a liquor store.


Dr Salman Faridi is a senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books. [email protected]

Unfairly Blamed!