Widen Cricketers' Almanack

England in Pakistan 1987-88

Martin Johnson



On the second day of the Faisalabad Test match, there had already been one unsavoury incident, following Shakoor's rejection of a bat-pad appeal from Bill Athey, when, three deliveries from the end of play, an extraordinary sequence of events was set in motion by a furious on-the-field row between Gatting and the umpire. Shakoor accused Gatting of sharp practice in allegedly moving a fielder without informing the batsman (which Gatting denied). Within seconds the two were locked in a toe-to-toe, finger-wagging exchange - scenes that were to arouse mixed reactions from TV viewers in Britain. Shakoor accused the England captain of heaping abuse on him; Gatting claimed that he was sworn at first and also called a cheat.

It was not until the following morning that the full magnitude of the row became clear. Shakoor refused to take the field until he received an apology from Gatting, and Gatting declined to apologise unless the umpire reciprocated. The third day's play was lost while officials of both camps strove for an acceptable solution. At one stage a settlement looked forthcoming, but Shakoor (prompted, it is thought, by the Pakistan captain, Javed Miandad) dug his heels in again after initially agreeing to joint apology.

Negotiations continued through the night and into the rest day, with Shakoor confined to a hotel room. But Mr Lush's exhaustive attempts to resolve the impasses were frequently frustrated by the elusiveness of Pakistani officials. On the afternoon of the abortive third day, Ijaz Butt, secretary of the BCCP, left Faisalabad for Lahore; when Mr Lush undertook the two-and-a-half-hour drive there himself, in the hope of discussing the situation with the BCCP president, Lt-General Safdar Butt, he was told that the general was out to dinner. He was thus forced to stay overnight in Lahore so that he could meet the two Butts next day, along with Haseeb, who was both a BCCP member and chairman of Pakistan's selectors.

Throughout, the England Management were in contact with Lord's. By coincidence, the TCCB's Winter Meeting was being held on the day that was the rest day in Faisalabad, and it was there that the private decision was taken to instruct Gatting to apologise if no compromise could be reached. Both the manager and the captain were furious at the order, but they had little option but to comply. Consequently, on the morning of the fourth day Gatting handed the umpire the following, hand-written note. "Dear Shakoor Rana, I apologise for the bad language used during the 2nd day of the Test match at Faisalabad (sic). Mike Gatting, 11th Dec 1987."

In London, the TCCB issued a statement which read:

"It was unanimously agreed that the current Test match in Faisalabad should restart today after the rest day. The Board manager in Pakistan, Peter Lush, was advised of this decision immediately and asked to take whatever action was necessary to implement it. In reaching their decision the members of the Board recognised the extremely difficult circumstances of the tour and the inevitable frustration for the players arising from those circumstances, but they believe it to be in the long-term interests of the game as a whole for the match to be completed. The Board will be issuing a statement on the tour when it is finished, but in the meantime the chairman and chief executive will be going to Karachi for the final test next week."

In Faisalabad, Mr Lush issued a statement which read:

"The Test and County Cricket Board has instructed me as manager of the England team to do everything possible to ensure that this Test match continues today and that we honour our obligations to complete the tour of Pakistan. We have tried to resolve amicably the difference between Mike Gatting and umpire Shakoor Rana following their heated exchange of words which took place on the second day. We all hoped this could have been achieved in private and with a handshake. Umpire Shakoor Rana has stated he would continue to officiate in this match if he received a written apology from Mike Gatting. The umpire has made it clear he will not apologise for the remarks he made to the England captain. In the wider interests of the game Mike Gatting has been instructed by the Board to write an apology to Shakoor Rana, and this he has now done."

The players themselves had already agreed to refuse to play on if their captain received such an instruction, but when it came, they eventually decided to continue under protest. This they made public in the form of a fiercely worded statement voicing their unequivocal support for the captain and their disgust with the Board.

"The England players deplore the fact that it was not possible to effect a compromise solution between Mike Gatting and umpire Shakoor Rana. We would have expected the governing bodies of both countries to use their influence and authority to resolve the problem."

What is beyond dispute is that the umpire was the first to use foul and abusive language to the England captain. This was clearly heard by England players close to the incident. Mike Gatting was ready to apologise two days ago for his response, provided the umpire would do the same.

We also wish to register a unanimous protest that the TCCB should consider it necessary to issue instructions through our manager, Peter Lush, to order the captain to make an unconditional apology to the umpire. By doing so, the captain, in the wider interests of the game, felt he was forced to act against his own free will.

An earlier statement from the TCCB said that the problem had been left in the hands of the England management to resolve as they though fit. The instructions issued to the manager last night left him virtually no room for manoeuvre.

The TCCB exerted pressure on Mike Gatting and on the rest of us and we are unanimous in the view that the same wider interests of the game referred by our Board had been completely ignored by the BCCP, who did not exert similar pressure on the umpire.

"The incident was sad for cricket but the solution forced upon us is even sadder."

There was suspicion in the England camp that the TCCB had bowed to both political and financial pressures, regardless of their wider interest claims. This the Board denied, although it was later conceded although it was later conceded that a senior Foreign Office official had voiced government concern, and also that a substantial slice of the tour guarantee money had yet to be paid by Pakistan. Such was the strength of feeling conveyed back to Lord's that when Mr A. C. Smith, the Board's chief executive, and its chairman, Mr Raman Subba Row, flew out to Karachi, they were in a conciliatory rather than a punitive mood.

Gatting, who had been contemplating resignation, was placated by Mr Subba Row's announcement of the Board's full backing for him, plus the concession that the Board was at fault - not only for not appreciating the full extent of the team's problems, but also in not sending representatives to Lahore when the first hint of serious unrest surfaced. Furthermore, Mr Subba Row accepted the players' claim that Shakoor had initiated the swearing episode and also had called the England captain a cheat. This, said the Board chairman, had been totally unjustified. However, he was less successful in his attempts to secure a belated apology from the umpire, although after the tour it was learnt that Gatting had received a letter from Shakoor Rana. It was not made public by the England captain at the time (during the Third Test) because it was an expression of regret rather than an apology.

It was odd, none the less, that Gatting declined to mention at the time that he had received a communication, however unsatisfactory he personally felt it to be. Even odder, though, was the decision to try to keep secret the award of £1,000 to each player by way of a hardship bonus When, as it inevitably did, it came into the open, the Board was badly placed to fend off allegations that the money had been awarded either by way of a bribe to save the tour or as conscience money for its poor handling of the affair. Mr Subba Row was later reprimanded for acting unilaterally, and it is highly unlikely that the Board would have agreed to the payment. Whatever England's grievances, they had received extra financial reward for having performed poorly, both as cricketers and as ambassadors for their country.

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