1990 March 1, 2014

Demented and orgasmic gesticulations

Viv Richards' over-the-top celebrations and a commentary row blighted the fourth Test of 1990 in Bridgetown

England's tour of the Caribbean in 1989-90 started with a remarkable win in the opening Test - their first over West Indies since 1974 - and although they lost the series, for the first time in almost 20 years they showed they could go head to head with the best team in the world. However, the tour was also dogged with ill feeling, with the dismissal of Rob Bailey by Curtly Ambrose in Bridgetown bringing accusations of racism and leading to BBC cricket correspondent Christopher Martin-Jenkins being taken off the air.

The teams headed to Barbados for the fourth Test with England still one up. The second Test, in Guyana, had been washed out and the third, in Trinidad, drawn in controversial circumstances after what Wisden described as "cynical West Indian time-wasting" as England chased a small target in the gloom.

West Indies were under pressure from the local media, an almost unknown feeling for most of the side who were used to dominating all comers at home, although they were bolstered by a win in the ODI which immediately preceded the Barbados Test.

West Indies took a first-innings lead of 88 despite a hundred from Allan Lamb, standing in as England captain in the absence of Graham Gooch, whose hand had been broken in the chase in Port-of-Spain, and then set a stiff target of 356 with a day and an hour to get them.

In the twilight of the fourth day England slid to 15 for 3. They had earlier surrendered the flimsiest moral high ground they might have held by blatantly and constantly slowing the over rate to try to frustrate West Indies. The simmering ill-feeling between the sides boiled over with the dismissal of Bailey late in the day.

"When I do my little jig, it is ceremonial, just a celebration"
Viv Richards

Bailey was a decent batsman whose misfortune was to play all his four Tests against West Indies. Brought in in Port-of-Spain, he had bagged a pair, and he then made 17 in the first innings in Bridgetown.

He had made 6 in the second when the last ball of an over from Ambrose appeared to flick his thigh pad on its way to Jeff Dujon down the leg side. There was a loud appeal that Lloyd Barker, the respected Barbados-born umpire, seemed to turn down, taking a step or two away towards Ambrose to hand him his cap, before changing his mind and raising his finger. Bailey stared in disbelief rather than defiance before slowly turning and, head bowed, walking off.

What was immediately scrutinised almost as much as the decision was the reaction of West Indies captain Viv Richards, who charged towards Barker from first slip "roaring appeals". Wisden described Richard's "finger-flapping appeal" as "at best undignified and unsightly. At worst, it was calculated gamesmanship." Wisden Cricket Monthly referred to his "orgasmic gesticulations"; and Mike Selvey in the Guardian said it was a "demented and intimidating charge".

In the Times, Simon Barnes went even further: "[Richards'] yelling, finger-flicking charge up the wicket looked almost like a physical threat. Certainly it conned a totally incorrect decision from poor Lloyd Barker."

Off the pitch, fighting broke out between supporters after English fans took offence at locals singing "London Bridge is Falling Down" as wickets tumbled. Police were called to quell the trouble as metal chairs were thrown.

"Viv appeals that way all the time and no one coerces me"
Lloyd Barker

The local media, understandably, took a different view of Bailey's dismissal and there the disagreement might have stayed had it not been for comments by Martin-Jenkins, commentating for the BBC and heard all over the Caribbean on the World Service. "A very good umpire cracked under pressure," he said. "It wasn't his mistake that was so sad , it was the fact that [he] was pressurised into changing his original decision. If that is gamesmanship or professionalism, I am not quite sure what cheating is."

His use of the word "cheat" was the tipping point, and with the rest day squeezed in between the fourth and final days of the Test, there was no cricket to distract anyone's attention. The Voice of Barbados immediately banned him and a phone-in on the radio station about the kerfuffle lasted almost all Monday.

The Tuesday morning's headline in the Barbados Advocate read "Biased Brits", as protesters held up banners outside the ground suggesting Martin-Jenkins be hauled off to Black Rock, the island's prison. Before the start of play Barker issued a writ against Martin-Jenkins for defamation, and against the BBC for its dissemination.

Vic Fernandes of Voice of Barbados radio summed up the local feeling. "Barbadians have a strong sense of fair play. A love of justice is one of the things we learnt from the British, so of course everyone was offended at the suggestion of foul play."

Inevitably, there were accusations of racism. "The British media corps, and in particular its broadcasting arm, has been seen increasingly throughout this tour as a bunch of whingeing one-eyed men with racist tendencies," Barnes explained. "When a tall white man in glasses talks about cheating, resentment follows as night does day."

After watching replays Richards admitted the decision was wrong but said that "it was up to [Barker] to retain his composure and make his decision". With regard to the off-the-field row he said: "There are a lot of people who are feeling pretty hurt about this, that here we are in the Caribbean and on our home soil, having these guys talk a lot of rubbish on our airwaves."

Martin-Jenkins was shocked by the response, apologised to Barker, and spent the day speaking to the media rather than talking about the game. "Some people have unfortunately taken the opportunity to introduce other issues which have nothing to do with cricket," he said. "It's all a terrible misunderstanding. It's all most distressing. The whole thing has been whipped up out of all proportion. The word 'cheating' is terribly emotive... I wouldn't use it again in that context."

"I can't believe that I have not got by far the strongest case. If it goes against me it will set a bad precedent for the future of honest reporting"
Christopher Martin-Jenkins

For Bailey, there was no happy ending. "It was bad enough being given out," he said, "but when I got back to the dressing room, I was so pissed off I gave the fridge door an almighty kick, forgot I had taken off my boot and ended up breaking my big toe."

England showed grit as they battled to save the match on the final day and with an hour to go and only five wickets down - and with Robin Smith and Jack Russell dug in - it seemed they would. But the new ball and a devastating spell of five wickets in 7.4 overs from Ambrose levelled the series and set up the finale in Antigua. Sadly, it was to be no less controversial.

What happened next?

  • West Indies won the final Test by an innings to take the series 2-1
  • Bailey, still troubled by his toe, played the final Test where he made 42 and 8. He did not play for England again, and after retiring became a first-class umpire
  • The legal case between Martin-Jenkins and Barker was eventually settled two years later. Barker received an undisclosed sum, and a letter to his attorney said Martin-Jenkins regretted remarks he made on the BBC World Service had it caused the umpire stress or embarrassment

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2014, 20:43 GMT

    Hitthebatsman. Have you ever umpired a game of cricket or any sport ? Do you know how hard it is ? do you understand pressure an umpire feels under at times ? For goodness sake we are all human and are prone to a little intimidation from time to time from those who have a powerful reputation. But just because he is an umpire you have to go on about him being weak and incompetent. Lloyd Barker was a very good umpire in his time and from what I remember it was the first time he buckled a little bit. Lay off him give him a break. It is the arrogance of Richards here. He thought he was all powerful. You can see he demanded that wicket. I would be frightened out there

  • Will on March 4, 2014, 18:17 GMT

    "Just a weak umpire"? "Do others appeal differently"? Watch the clip would be my advice and put yourself in Barker's shoes. The most powerful man in the Carbbean running was running at Barker with a maniacal look on his face. Now, tell me how often you've seen Shahid Afridi, Dale Steyn or Brett Lee do it? Yes, the umpire buckled, but Sir Viv's actions were not worthy of a Test Captain, a man of such talent or the game.

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2014, 21:21 GMT

    He was out that's what the records books says. Move on.

  • Mark on March 2, 2014, 18:29 GMT

    Yes, this series was significant as being the first cricket series covered by Rupert Murdoch's newly created Sky Cable and Satellite Channel in the UK.

  • Rizwan on March 2, 2014, 18:13 GMT

    Umpires from all the test playing countries have been put under pressure by the local supporters

    Once Holding was so incensed by a New Zealand Umpire , he kicked the stumps. Australian umpires gave some appalling decisions against Sri Lanka in 1995- Kapil Dev accused Sri Lankan umpires of playing favourites when India were beaten in the 1985 series - Shakoor Rana of Pakistan caused an international diplomatic incident.

    An Indian Umpire on one occasion raised his finger to give an Indian batsman out and changed his mind and meekly folded his hand to the astonishment of everyone watching.

  • Donna on March 2, 2014, 16:40 GMT

    Viv Richards actually gained a great deal more of my respect for standing up to people who needed to be put in their place! We got those kinds of decisions all the time and it was fine with the English. Their total lack of respect continues up until now and that is why I'm here reading old articles instead of watching the current match in Antigua. I have no interest in watching cricket when it is being administered solely by Indians, Australians and Englishmen. We should be past that by now!

  • Warren on March 2, 2014, 5:58 GMT

    this is based purely on umpire error. do any of Shahid Afridi, Dale Steyn, Brett Lee, and many others appeal any differently? granted, it was a different period but you would expect an international umpire to not buckle under that sort of pressure. Yes it was obviously not out but Viv was at 1st slip, not the best place to see an edge down the leg side. i think its just a case of Viv gettting overly excited (in a very tense situation) to try and win the game. the umpires are supposed to be able to ignore that kind of influence. That sort of thing happens from age group level upwards anyway...

  • Anwar on March 2, 2014, 4:24 GMT

    Before this test Devon Malcolm had publicly stated he had the formula to take Sir Viv's wicket. Obviously Sir Viv could not let him get away with that. Sir Viv actually sat at the bottom steps of the pavilion and cried when he got out for Round 78. This all over shadowed a brilliant 164runs made by Carlisle Best.

  • Dummy4 on March 2, 2014, 3:51 GMT

    Hey thanks for watching my video, great article too! Viv Richards is till a hero of mine too, but this was a very suspect piece of cricket.

  • Cham on March 1, 2014, 23:09 GMT

    I'm sorry but isn't this just a case of a weak umpire?!?... If you say 'not out' initially, you better stick with it regardless of the appeal! that is what umpires do... in modern day cricket, many players appeal ferociously, but all the umpires stick with their original choice!..... Nothing wrong with Viv being over excited here... It was simply a weak and easily intimidated umpire...