x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

An umpire's decision halted a Test match

remember when Test matches between England and Pakistan have always thrown up some controversy. None more so than the original captain and umpire argument.

Jan 1987: Shakoor Rana the Pakistani umpire (left) with Mike Gatting of England (centre) and team manager Peter Lush during the controversial bust up over ball tampering in the test match against Pakistan.
Jan 1987: Shakoor Rana the Pakistani umpire (left) with Mike Gatting of England (centre) and team manager Peter Lush during the controversial bust up over ball tampering in the test match against Pakistan.

There is something about Test matches between England and Pakistan: belligerent, bearded, burly captains, who are frequently pilloried for eating too much; too big-for-their-boots umpires; accusations of cheating; Mexican stand-offs; failed diplomacy; general hysteria. When the umpire Darrell Hair deemed Pakistan's captain Inzamam-ul-Haq had forfeited the Oval Test of 2006 due to a dispute over alleged ball-tampering, it created a furore.

It was not the first time. Indeed, the main reason Hair - hailing as he does from neutral Australia - was standing in a bilateral series between England and Pakistan, was the general mistrust fostered between the sides. The Faisalabad Test match of England's 1987-88 tour of Pakistan proved to be one of the most fateful and unseemly matches ever played, and made the controversy at the oval seem like a minor tiff.

Acrimony was never too far away when the two sides met, but when Shakoor Rana was appointed as one of the umpires by the home board, the fuse was lit. Haseeb Ahsan, Pakistan's unofficial manager who had a personal axe to grind with England, was delighted Rana had been picked to stand in the Test. The no-less controversial Shakeel Khan had already upset the tourists by his perceived inconsistent decision-making.

"England asked me not to select Shakeel. Let's see how they like Shakoor Rana," said Haseeb. If Rana was the bait, then Pakistan had found the most ready prey imaginable in the unyielding and imposing form of England's captain Mike Gatting. Late on the second afternoon Gatting took exception to an odd decision by Rana, as well as the ensuing implications of cheating came plenty finger-wagging, ire, and vitriol.

Gatting's reaction was more reminiscent of the way a footballer would let rip against a referee after a perceived injustice. But this was cricket - in fact, it was just not cricket. The gentlemen's game has always retained a certain prissiness when it comes to the conduct of its participants. Players, even captains, are not permitted to query the official's decision, much less indulge in this kind of expletive-laden dispute.

With neither side climbing down, the feud reached an impasse. Despite placatory wranglings, which even involved the British ambassador to Pakistan, there was no play on the third day. The Pakistan Cricket Board's secretary, Ijaz Butt warned the series could be called off. "There is no point in playing the game of cricket if this is the feeling to prevail between the umpires and one of the sides," he said.

Never before had England cancelled a tour for cricketing reasons, and diplomacy finally prevailed. Under duress, Gatting scribbled out an apology and the match continued - minus the third day. The recriminations were wide. Within six months Gatting, who was highly-popular among his teammates and had only recently led them to victory in an Ashes series in Australia, was sacked. Despite admitting to a degree of shame over the incident, Gatting always felt the storm carried at least one significant silver lining.

"It made a lot of headlines around the world and it might have helped instigate the neutral umpires that people were pushing for at the time," he said Rana was less contrite. In fact, he seemed to revel in his novel method for self-publicity. Shortly before he passed away in 2001 he said he had no regrets. "How can I regret? It made me the most famous umpire," he said. "People don't recognise me now. But when I introduce myself everyone says, 'Ah, yes, the famous umpire'."

A British tabloid newspaper set-up a meeting between the two years after the event - without Gatting's prior knowledge. "I wanted to shake his hand. He said, 'Oh God, not you again,' and drove away," recalled Rana. pradley@thenational.ae