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

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