Dhoni should have been punished - Harper
Daryl Harper, the recently retired international umpire, has said the ICC's failure to take any action against India captain MS Dhoni for criticising his decisions in the first Test against West Indies reflected the advent of "selective management" in cricket.
This was the chief factor in his decision to quit prematurely from umpiring. He said he felt targeted by the Indian team during the game and was speaking out now on those incidents because the ICC "chose not to".
Harper, who retired before what would have been his 96th and final Test in Dominica, also revealed an incident that occurred after Praveen Kumar was removed from the attack for repeated running on the pitch in Kingston. Dhoni, Harper claimed, approached him after that and said, "We've had problems with you before, Daryl", which the umpire interpreted as an attempt to intimidate.
Dhoni's more publicised remarks came after the Kingston Test, following a series of umpiring errors. "If the correct decisions were made the game would have finished much earlier and I would have been in the hotel by now," he said at the post-match press conference. His criticism was described as "unfair" by the ICC general manager of cricket David Richardson, but neither he nor the presiding match referee Jeff Crowe elected to charge the Indian captain.
"That was my opinion [that he should have been censured], those were inappropriate comments," Harper told ESPNcricinfo from Adelaide after sending out a statement on Thursday, in which he explained his side of an episode that earned him heavy criticism in the Indian media. "Any suggestion that [went], 'If the correct decisions had been made, I would've been in my hotel room a lot earlier' - I think that's definitely inappropriate.
"Especially when only one decision in the match would have been reversed had it been a DRS situation. And I read yesterday that I made nine mistakes in the game, so yes I thought it was time someone spoke up because unfortunately the ICC choose not to.
"I think there are other factors afoot that are infringing on the game and I think the game's too valuable to allow that to happen. I'm not a politician, I'm not an administrator, I'm just an umpire, and it seems to me the treatment I was receiving from the Sabina Park Test was telling me that perhaps I shouldn't treat everyone the same way, which is a system that's worked pretty well for a long time.
"Five days passed from the time my Test had finished, until the time I worked my way through an email from the ICC that listed a number of articles coming out of India. It wasn't until then that I realised things were going a bit pear-shaped and I expected the controlling body would do the controlling.
"If it happens on my watch I take care of it, but if it happens post-match - and I didn't know about this for five days - as far as I was concerned it was up to the controlling body to look after that aspect and I don't believe that was happening in any way."
Harper said he felt he had been singled out by Dhoni and his team in response to earlier incidents in which he had pulled up various members of the Indian team up for their on-field behaviour. Praveen was removed from the Indian attack for repeatedly running on the pitch, while Dhoni was admonished after the close-in fielder Abhinav Mukund charged at Harper's colleague Ian Gould while appealing for a bat-pad catch.
"Praveen Kumar transgressed a number of times, and TV actually highlighted it with a red mat showing how many times he was running straight down the pitch," Harper said. "One criticism I received on the field was that they thought I was particularly harsh on a player in his first Test match.
"My comment to that would be a Test match is not a warm-up for anything higher, it is the pinnacle form of the game, why should someone playing their first game be any different to someone playing their last? On top of that he had played 52 ODIs for India, so he was hardly a new boy on the block.
"Abhinav, one of the close-in fielders at one stage ran more than halfway up the pitch, charging towards Ian Gould holding the ball, appealing for a bat-pad catch, which Ian turned down. I simply made a point of coming in from square leg and drew Dhoni's attention to the fact he was responsible for his team's behaviour, he was responsible for upholding the spirit of the game.
"He clearly didn't like me admonishing him for that situation, he didn't want to look at me, but I insisted the message had to be received before the next ball was bowled and the game continued. He reluctantly acknowledged I was on the planet and we moved on.
"I've got no doubt that applying the laws of the game in those two situations in particular were quite probably at the base of the criticism, the unwarranted criticism."
Harper said Dhoni approached him following the Kumar incident and said, "we've had problems with you before, Daryl", which the umpire interpreted as an attempt to intimidate.
"I decided what he meant was that I was one umpire not influenced by any personalities or teams or boards," said Harper. "He hadn't been able to intimidate me, I think that was part of it."
Harper also criticised the ICC for a lack of support in the face of concerted pressure from India's players and media, which ultimately led to him being hounded out of Test cricket a match earlier than he was scheduled to retire.
"I'm disappointed for the game of cricket that management has allowed this to happen. I think there was basically a hive of inactivity in Dubai," he said. "I think it would have been very simple to apply the code of conduct that umpires have to apply on the spur of the moment in every game they umpire.
"There was a five-day period when those [codes] could have been applied - that's enough time to play a whole Test match, let alone make a decision when you're standing behind the stumps. Nothing happened, so I guess someone had to show some leadership when it came to such an important issue for the game's future.
"It's a wonderful game and I don't want to see it going down the tube by selective management. And I am also concerned about the lowering of standards of behaviour. I've never been willing to say 'it's just a sign of the times'. Cricket has survived too long to give in to that sort of behaviour and accept it as part and parcel of the 21st century."
Using the example of the three players charged under the ICC code of conduct in the Kingston Test, Harper said the two West Indians Darren Sammy and Ravi Rampaul had shown far more contrition than the Indian legspinner Amit Mishra, who was also sanctioned.
"Three players were reported, and that's above average. Two of them came into the umpire's room afterwards, and they realised they were wrong in what they'd done," Harper said. "They both apologised profusely, they were humbled, they came in and they expressed their disappointment with their actions, they didn't avoid the issue, they owned up.
"One, Darren Sammy, was reprimanded; Ravi Rampaul was fined 10% of his match fee, and those boys were apologetic. In the other case, the first player reported was Amit Mishra, and even on the fourth day of the game he was still adamant that he'd got a bad decision.
"That couldn't be confirmed either way by replays … but regardless of where it came from, for my money that guy missed the point. There's no code of conduct for good decisions or bad decisions. The code of conduct is there to test out the strength of character, and on that occasion his character failed to respond in the appropriate way, and four days later he still hadn't worked out that he'd breached the code of conduct and thought he was quite justified.
"For me that's very sad, and shows a total lack of [a grasp of] what the spirit of cricket is all about."
Harper is no stranger to controversy or criticism of his decisions, particularly since the introduction of the DRS. Nonetheless he had a long career at the top level before being removed from the ICC elite panel earlier this year. His tenure was to conclude with two more matches in the West Indies, but he ultimately called time on it one match early.
"I was going to be on a hiding to nothing if I officiated in Dominica. It would have been all about my performance in my 96th Test," Harper said in his statement. "I'm not sure if any more scrutiny was actually possible. I loved my role but I didn't want to see the focus switch to me when it should centre on the players and the contest.
"In an ICC media release to explain my withdrawal from the third Test, ICC Manager, Cricket Operations Dave Richardson wrote 'the reality of the situation is that Daryl's statistics show his correct decision percentage in Tests involving India is 96 per cent, which is considerably higher than the international average for top-level umpires'. If this type of support had been forthcoming before the horse had bolted, I would have stayed and officiated in my 96th Test match."
The ICC intend to make a presentation to Harper, recognising his contribution to the game, during the next Test match to be held at Adelaide Oval, his home ground. It will be played against India.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo