1956 November 5, 2005

The umpire and bucket controversy

When a prank which saw a Pakistani umpire drenched with a bucket of water had far more serious consequences

Best of friends: Idris Begh and Donald Carr leave the field © Daily Mirror
Although the first official full England tour to Pakistan did not take place until 1961-62, some eight years after Pakistan gained Test status, in 1955-56 a strong MCC side did visit. But it was a trip which ended in acrimony, and even led to the MCC offering to scrap the series and bring their side home.

The squad that left England was what would now be labelled an A team. The full England side had toured Australia the previous winter, and in those days it was unusual for top players to undertake major trips in successive winters. So MCC named a young side under the leadership of Donald Carr, and the 15 players, manager and a sole reporter arrived in Karachi on December 26, 1955.

The initial weeks of the tour were happy and relaxed, although at a dinner early on, Carr had unintentionally upset Abdul Kardar, Pakistan's captain. Although Kardar was a slightly aloof character, Carr had assumed that he could get away with a few light-hearted reminiscences about the pair's time at Oxford University. He was wrong, and Kardar took offence.

MCC went into the first unofficial "Test" unbeaten, but a draw at Lahore was followed by a crushing innings defeat by Pakistan at Dacca. One the umpires in that match, Idris Begh, a lively character, had rubbed a few of the tourists the wrong way with some decisions, but the mood remained good. During the Dacca match, Begh had walked past one of the player's bedrooms just as former England player George Duckworth was doused with water. Begh chuckled and Carr joked: "We'll get you too, before the end of the tour." "You'll never get me," Begh grinned.

The third "Test" was at Peshawar. Batting first, MCC were bowled out for 188, but Begh's umpiring attracted criticism. He gave four lbw's in favour of Kardar, and in the final over turned down a raucous appeal from Tony Lock which left the bowler fuming. In his diary at the time, Geoffrey Howard, the tour manager, admitted that Pakistan were the better side but in Stephen Chalke's outstanding book At The Heart Of English Cricket, Howard also recalled: "Things have been made too easy by some really shocking umpiring. It's a pity that they allow these incompetents to do it - they are without doubt there to help the home side - because they are quite strong enough to at least avoid being beaten by us without this aid."

By the end of the third day, Pakistan needed only 18 to win with eight wickets in hand. That night there was a formal dinner and afterwards the England players relaxed. In high spirits, they went across to the Pakistanis' hotel, found Begh, sat him in a chair and tipped a bucket of water over him. Fred Titmus later named and shamed Roy Swetman as the man who gave the final shove which resulted in the soaking. Howard arrived to find Begh laughing with the MCC players. "What changed everything," Howard said, " was that two of their players came along and started laughing at him as well." Titmus's recollection was slightly different, stating that Begh was livid and marched out of the room.

By the next day, a major incident was brewing. Kardar had told Begh that he had been made to look ridiculous, and Begh appeared in front of reporters with his arm in a sling - a result, he claimed, of being manhandled by the MCC players. A telegram was sent to Lord's and as tensions mounted, extra troops were quickly dispatched to the town.

But Howard handled the situation with skill, and a profuse apology to Begh appeared to have done the trick. The match soon concluded after rain delayed the start of the fourth day, but amid intense security, there were protests both inside and outside the ground. "Considering we were supposed to be cricketing missionaries on a goodwill trip fostering friendly relations," Titmus reflected, "this was not exactly good news."

Whereas the tour before Peshawar had been relaxed and friendly, now it was tense. Almost all social arrangements were cancelled. But behind the scenes, and unbeknown to many of the squad, the situation had deteriorated. Lord Alexander, MCC's president, had even offered to bring the side home early and compensate Pakistan for any loss of revenue, but the offer was politely declined and tour went on.

The fourth and final "Test" was at Karachi, and again Begh was one of the umpires, the authorities seemingly worried that were he not to be, it could be interpreted as a climb down. With the series decided, there was only honour at stake and the first two days passed uneventfully. On day three, the wheels came off again. Firstly, Jim Parks was given out caught to what appeared to be a half volley. Although Parks departed promptly without complaint, Fred Titmus at the non-striker's end advanced down the pitch to remonstrate. Later, a loud leg-before appeal against Imtiaz Ahmed was turned down, and Imtiaz pulled away before the next delivery and asked the umpire to stop Allan Watkins, at short leg, from swearing.

The Pakistan press demanded the MCC side be sent home, while the English press were equally forthright. "The sooner this wretched tour finishes, the better," wrote Crawford White in the News Chronicle. That evening Iskander Mirza, the governor general who within weeks was to become Pakistan's first president, summoned the two managers and listened to their accounts of what had gone on. Howard recalled clearly what happened next. "Having listened to what you both have had to say," Mirza concluded, "I have to say that I form the view that Idris Begh is a cheat." "But he is the best we have got," protested Hafeez Kardar, the Pakistan manager. "The best umpire, or the best cheat?" Mirza answered.

On the fourth day, MCC, who slipped to 75 for 7 chasing 125 to win, secured a two-wicket win. At the farewell dinner, Hafeez suggested that in future neutral umpires should officiate in major matches. It was more than 40 years before his idea was taken seriously.

An MCC enquiry into the Begh incident held as soon as the side returned to London placed the blame on the shoulders of Carr. "The captain," a statement said, "should have realised that this ragging, although initiated by nothing more than high spirits and with no harmful intent, might be regarded in many quarters as an attack on an umpire." Long term, it did Carr no harm, and he became the assistant secretary of MCC and then secretary of the Test & County Cricket Board, the forerunner of the ECB, as well as managing England's tour to Pakistan in 1972-73.

And Titmus admitted that once home, someone had a special tie made in honour of Begh, showing a raised finger - signifying being given out - with the initials "IB" underneath. "I have never seen anyone wear it," Titmus said. "It may even be officially banned."

In Chalke's book, Howard recalled that in 1970 Carr managed an international side to help raise funds towards a relief fund after 150,000 had died when a typhoon and tidal wave had hit East Pakistan. Carr was in the changing room before a game at Karachi when the immaculate figure of Begh appeared and announced he was in charge of the match. Begh recognised Carr and gave him a warm hug. As the pair ambled out of the changing room, Carr felt a tap on the shoulder. One of the players held out a bucket of water and said: "Would this help?"

"Idris laughed," Carr recalled. "It was fine."

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At The Heart Of English Cricket - Stephen Chalke (Fairfield, 2001)
My Life In Cricket - Fred Titmus (John Blake, 2005)
The Cricketer -Various
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo