Purgatory in Pakistan
David Frith's editorial appeared in the aftermath of the Faisalabad Test of December 1987
Umpires come in all shapes and sizes, and, by virtue of the limitations of mankind, with varying degrees of aptitude and ability for the demands of the job. The better ones are seldom noticed, getting the majority of their decisions right and, usually with a blend of firmness and good humour, maintaining orderly conduct on the field and earning the respect of all decent players. How preciously rare this kind of official seems to be.
Trouble has flared up in every Test country in the past few years: but never more distressingly than in Pakistan during England's recent tour. One upshot is that, uniquely, an umpire finds himself - hardly reluctantly, one would suppose - centrestage, alone, on the front cover of this magazine. The position was 'earned' by Shakoor Rana by his having become the worldwide focus of an array of emotions after the dreadful scene in Faisalabad when his ill-advised accusation of cheating unhinged Mike Gatting and set up some infamous photographs and days and days of coverage and comment (much of it pious and from afar and showing a grievous lack of understanding). We can only ever guess at whether the TCCB's pressure on Gatting to apologise unconditionally made for an equitable overall solution, or less so.
The TCCB officials eventually grasped the situation when they went to see for themselves. They found that the ever-mounting and sinister Pakistani campaign had reached an intolerable scale. They found too that the England team and management had been provoked, on the field and off, beyond further endurance. Unfortunately the TCCB chairman then over-reacted by authorising a £1000-per-man 'hardship bonus', the most dubious award since Gatting was given an OBE for leading England to a few victories in Australia.
No two captains would have reacted identically in the torrid situation which exploded that evening on Faisalabad's turf, where, incidentally, public floggings have been known. Gatting would have been better advised to have pursued his complaint later, in the privacy of the umpires' room, and his performance may not, in the long run, be overlooked by Chairman May. Notwithstanding the respective backgrounds, Keith Fletcher was sacked for less six years ago. We shall see, seven months hence, whether Gatting has been kept on as skipper merely to absorb the next West Indian onslaught preparatory to David Gower's reinstatement for a return to India, scene of his previous glory as leader overseas.
Two major benefits sprang from the misery in Pakistan: those who had no true idea of the conspiratorial nature of umpiring there now have no excuse for not being fully appraised; and the case for 'neutral' or shall we say 'external' umpires is complete. The Association of Cricket Umpires, with its worldwide spread of membership, has condemned (a) any action by umpires ('servants of the game') which results in the loss of a day's play, and (b) 'violent reactions exhibited by some players'. Constructively, the ACU has offered to assist in setting up an international panel. The TCCB and ICC should grasp this gesture without delay, for it could provide the basis for the salvation of the international game.
Shakeel Khan, whose umpiring made a total mockery of the Lahore Test, has disappeared into the mists. Shakoor Rana may not be forgotten so soon. His refusal to meet Gatting halfway made him, in more eyes than just his own, a champion of umpires and a national hero. And yet his career is dotted with rancorous incidents. Sunil Gavaskar has said that Shakoor will rank along with Hanif, Zaheer, Imran and others for his 'contributions' to Pakistan cricket. Ironically, he wears, not without pride, a Pakistan cap in our front picture.
During Shakoor Rana's first Test as umpire, he and his colleague gave three Pakistan and seven West Indies batsmen out lbw in that drawn 1975 Lahore Test. One of the West Indians smashed his bat in exasperation after the dressing-room door had been shut behind him. On the third evening Shakoor Rana turned to a co-passenger in the BCCP car as it headed back to the hotel and asked what was the world Test record for lbws. It was an urgent, heartfelt request for information, and it amused the co-passenger, who was unable accurately to answer the question. Now, some years on, the matter is well beyond a joke. The source of this formative anecdote? I, dear readers, was that co-passenger.