1982 August 30, 2014

India's Constant problem

How a row over the appointment of an umpire at the start of 1982 eventually led to the Shakoor Rana-Mike Gatting stand-off

The short series between England and India in the first half of the 1982 summer was not overly memorable. England easily won the first Test at Lord's, the second was ruined by rain while the third was stifled by a placid pitch. But a row in the build-up to the opening Test when India objected to David Constant, one of England's top umpires, standing in the Test series, set in motion of chain of events that ended in Pakistan five years later and indirectly helped with the introduction of neutral officials.

The seeds of the objection were sewn the previous winter when India beat England 1-0 in a six-match series best remembered for some dire over rates and appalling negativity. As was often the case in the days before neutral umpires, mutterings about the abilities of the "home" officials grew louder as the series rumbled on, and spilled over when England asked that Mohammad Ghouse not be appointed for the Bombay Test.

Constant, who had first stood in a Test in 1971 aged 29, had fallen foul of some of the Indian side at the Oval Test in 1979 when two decisions had been hotly disputed - he gave Gundappa Viswanath caught low down by Mike Brearley and ruled S Venkataraghavan run out when the batsman believed he had made his ground. The latter was a key moment as India finished on 429 for 8 chasing a massive 438 to win.

So India arrived in England with a grumbling grievance and Constant was soon in their management's sights. Described by John Woodcock in the Times as having an "autocratic" manner, Constant was a good umpire but one who had attracted considerable criticism two years earlier for the handling, along with Dickie Bird, of rain delays during the Centenary Test. He also admitted earlier that summer of "an unaccountable error" giving Alan Knott leg-before in the Trent Bridge Test. But umpires are human, and his errors were few.

Constant stood during the Indians' match against Yorkshire in Bradford and the tourists took exception at one or two of his decisions in that game. A few days later he ordered a prompt start to the first of the two Prudential ODIs at Headingley even though the Indians believed, with some justification, that the pitch was too damp. Constant fired back that it would have been playable at 6.45am let alone at the scheduled start of 10.45am. Stuck in after losing the toss India lost early wickets and went down to a nine-wicket loss.

Constant had been appointed for the first Test at Lord's a few days later, along with David Evans, but the Indian management - led by Raj Singh Dungarpur, Sunil Gavaskar and Viswanath - formally objected to his selection.

Given the Indian board had backed down in the case of Ghouse earlier in the year, the Test & County Cricket Board (TCCB) acceded to the request. "An eye for an eye and an umpire for an umpire looks to be the maxim now," Woodcock wrote in the Times.

"I don't want to give an excuse for us losing the series but Constant made what, for us, were some costly mistakes in this match."
Imran Khan

Constant, who was still paid his £1050 match fee, was replaced by Barrie Meyer, and was not considered for the remaining India Tests either. "I am sickened by the decision," Constant said. "I am extremely disappointed I did not get the necessary backing from the TCCB. The Indians complained of bad decisions but as far as I am aware they did not itemise them. I think I can say I have done a fine job during my umpiring career. This comes as a great blow to my ego."

Dungarpur, India's manager, said he was "absolutely satisfied" with the outcome. The TCCB, in a display of unconvincing rhetoric, said it gave Constant its "strong support" but that it "could not appoint an umpire who did not have the confidence of both sides".

Constant did get the support of his fellow umpires, who issued a statement backing him, while the TCCB came in for general criticism, not so much for backing down for the one match but for immediately sidelining him for the series.

The TCCB stated that Constant would be reinstated for the Pakistan series in the second half of the summer and it did just that, bringing him back for the second and third Tests. It may have wished it had not.

Constant's return came after a fractious first Test in which Pakistan manager Intikab Alam claimed six decisions by Evans and Ken Palmer went against his side in a 113-run loss. The second Test passed without incident, Pakistan winning by ten wickets. But the storm erupted in the decider in Leeds.

In a low-scoring match Pakistan took a slender 19-run first-innings lead, but when they batted again two decisions from Meyer rattled them as they slipped to 169 for 8. Then Sikander Bakht and Abdul Qadir stopped the rot and had added 30 vital runs when Bakht was given out by Constant, caught by Mike Gatting at short leg off Vic Marks. Even without the benefit of replays, it seemed clear Bakht had missed the ball. The last wicket fell immediately and England squeezed home by three wickets.

Once more Constant came under fire but there was some sympathy. Both sides had fired off a barrage of raucous appeals throughout the series and the behaviour of some players was poor. "For putting Constant under such uproarious pressure, by appealing the way they did against Sikander, England's fielders were inviting retaliation, or perhaps retaliating," wrote Woodcock.

There were no such feelings from Pakistan skipper Imran Khan, who told reporters: "I don't want to give an excuse for us losing the series but Constant made what, for us, were some costly mistakes in this match."

When Pakistan returned in 1987, they objected to the selection of Constant but the TCCB refused to withdraw him from the panel. In the first Test at Lord's, Pakistan's manager Hasib Ahsan, a constant source of easy quotes for the newspapers all series, criticised a decision made by Constant in explicit terms. It was widely reported and Constant offered to stand down for the remainder of the Test, eventually being persuaded to stay.

He was appointed for the fifth and final Test of the series, leading to Ahsan telling the press that it would be difficult for his side to concentrate as "they have no confidence in Constant". Inevitably, given the pressure, there was an on-field argument when Constant turned down an appeal for a catch behind, leading to Ahsan calling him "a disgraceful person".

The wounds were still fresh when the following winter England toured Pakistan in one of the most infamous series in the game's history. After a first Test slighted by terrible umpiring - against both sides - the nadir came with the Mike Gatting-Shakoor Rana stand-off at Faisalabad. England had complained about the appointment of Rana but, perhaps unsurprisingly given what had happened months earlier, the PCB had refused to back down,

  • "For almost two decades Bird and Constant were accepted as the top two umpires in the English game," wrote Angus Fraser on Constant's retirement, "but he found his career hindered by distrust from Asian teams, harking back to a decision in the Pakistan series of 1982, and he umpired his last Test in 1988, when he was just 46."

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

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