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Fury in Faisalabad

Martin Williamson looks back at what was probably the most acrimonious Test of all time

Martin Williamson

November 26, 2005

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Flashpoint: Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana face off at Faisalabad © Graham Morris

The Faisalabad Test of 1987 is remembered as one of cricket's lower moments - if not the lowest. The images of Mike Gatting, England's captain, and Shakoor Rana, the Pakistani umpire, standing face-to-face and yelling obscenities at each other were broadcast across the world, allowing headline writers in countries with little knowledge of the game to go down the predictable "it's not cricket" route.

At the time relations between the teams and the respective boards were at a low ebb, and an acrimonious tour of England earlier that year and some poor umpiring by Shakeel Khan - against both sides - in the first Test at Lahore had only served to raise existing tensions even more.

As a long second day at Faisalabad drew to a close, England were in a strong position. Pakistan were struggling on 106 for 5 in reply to England's 292 and Gatting wanted to eke out an extra over and so brought on offspinner Eddie Hemmings. Adjusting his field, Gatting informed Salim Malik, the non striker, that he was bringing up David Capel from long-leg. As Hemmings started his run-up, Gatting signaled to Capel he had come far enough. Technically, the move was legal as Gatting had told the batsman and his gesture was not moving a man and, as he was out of the striker's vision, was not going to distract him.

But Rana, at square leg, was unhappy and yelled out "stop, stop" as Hemmings delivered the ball. His colleague Khizar Khan had the quick sense to call dead ball.

Both fielders and batsmen were initially bemused, but as Gatting asked what was happening, Rana said: "You're waving your hand. That's cheating." Gatting explained that he was not moving his man but telling him to stop and suggested to Rana that he go back to square leg so the game could proceed. Rana turned and started walking away, but as he did so he was clearly heard to say: "You are a fucking cheat."

Gatting might well have turned a deaf ear - and as England captain he certainly should have done nothing on the field - but he was tired and already fed up with what he perceived as unfair umpiring. He had been on the receiving end of a poor decision at Lahore and England had been riled by Rana wearing a Pakistan sweater under his jacket, and he lost his cool. Rather like a bulldog on the attack, he marched towards Rana and the two went head to head, exchanging equally inappropriate insults. What the world saw were images of Gatting shouting and jabbing his finger towards an equally belligerent Rana before being dragged away by Bill Athey. Whatever the provocation, Gatting was in the wrong.

"Gatting moved a fielder behind the batsman which was against the law and when I called it a dead ball he abused me which was against the values of this gentleman's game," Rana later recalled. "When I told him that it was against the rules, Gatting retorted saying 'We made the rules'."

Gatting leads England on to the field for the third day's play ... but it never started © WCM
A dreadful episode quickly became even more serious. That evening, Rana threatened to withdraw from the match, but many believed that he would calm down by the next day. However, when England arrived on the ground in the morning, the severity of the problem soon became clear. Rana was not willing to resume. Both managements were immediately embroiled in a series of meetings. Rana was demanding a written apology, which Gatting agreed to on the condition that Rana in turn apologised to him.

Shortly before 10.30am, Gatting led England on to the field in front of 2000 spectators and an increasing number of armour-clad riot police. But there were no umpires and no batsmen. After several minutes of utter confusion, the players headed back to the pavilion. They remained at the ground for another six hours.

Draft statements were prepared but accounts differ of what happened next. Some claim that Gatting agreed to sign and Rana refused. But Raman Subba Row, at the time the chairman of the Test & County Cricket Board (the forerunners of the ECB), said that while he tried to broker a deal "Shakoor went along with it, but Michael did not". That condradicts Rana himself, who later said: ""I was never going to apologise ... I`d done nothing wrong. I'm still very proud of Gatting's written apology. I keep it under my pillow and read it from time to time." Whoever was playing hardball, it was left to a stressed Peter Lush, the tour manager, to tell reporters that there was a deadlock.

The telephone lines between Faisalabad and London were already red hot, and by that night the Foreign Office were involved. Discussions continued into the rest day but one thing was clear - there had to be a solution, whatever that took.

"This serious row has been brewing for some time," Sir Nicholas Barrington, the British ambassador, wrote to London. "It could well lead to cancellation of the rest of England's tour. Needless to say, such a move would create great deal of ill-will in Pakistan towards Britain, and could have damaging financial and legal consequences. However poor the umpiring decisions are, and however aggressively competitive their Pakistan opponents, they should just grin and bear it."

Shortly before 10am the next morning, the fourth day of the match, Gatting delivered a hand-written apology to Rana. He was deeply unhappy at being ordered to apologise and had even considered refusing to do so. As it was, he told journalists that he was considering his position as captain and player. His team-mates reacted by producing an outspoken, contract-breaching statement, protesting at the board's instruction.

Although the game resumed - bad light ended England's hopes of victory - the ramifications of the incident rumbled on. English board officials flew to Pakistan to talk to the squad and assure Gatting of their full support. Meanwhile, the Pakistan board, keen not to be seen to be backing down, named Rana as one of the two umpires for the deciding Test. To add salt into a gaping wound, the other appointed official was Shakeel Khan, who had so angered England in the first Test. After tense negotiations, the Pakistan board showed admirable common sense and named two less controversial umpires for the match.

Truces rarely come as uneasy: Gatting and Rana at the start of the fourth day © Getty Images

But the English board officials hardly showed equal tact. After speaking to the players, they said that they were unaware of the provocation the team had endured and that no action would be taken against them. A week later they went one better, announcing that each tourist would receive a £1000 bonus in view of the difficulties they faced on the tour. If any single gesture was designed to ensure that the bitter mistrust between the two countries lingered, that was it.

Gatting admitted that "it wasn't a very proud moment of my career ...It's one of those things that has gone down in history. It will probably always be remembered. Lots of people said, 'You should have hit him.' Well, that would never have done. What we did was probably not the right thing anyway. But at the same time, in the heat of the moment, 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."

Rana bore no ill-will towards Gatting, although it seems the feeling was not altogether mutual. Not too long before his death in 2001, a British tabloid paid Rana £7000 to fly to to London where he surprised Gatting outside Lord's. "I went to shake his hand," Rana grinned. "He said 'Oh God, not you again' and drove away."

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

The Cricketer -Various
Wisden Cricket Monthly -Various
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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