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West Indies v India, 1st Test, Antigua, 4th day

'I think you should walk off', Lara told Dhoni

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan in Antigua

June 6, 2006

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Brian Lara in discussion with Mahendra Singh Dhoni - clearly Lara was not a happy man © AFP
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At just before five o'clock, with the shadows lengthening and everyone anticipating an Indian declaration, confusion reigned. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in the midst of a savage attack, hoicked Dave Mohammed to the midwicket region, and Daren Ganga backpedaled to take the skier. Ganga completed the catch, took a couple of steps back, moved a couple of steps sideways and ran towards his team-mates in jubilation. Dhoni turned back to walk towards the pavilion, Rahul Dravid stood up in the dressing-room, appearing to want to signal a declaration, but Asad Rauf, the umpire at the bowler's end, had his doubts.

Rauf first checked with Simon Taufel, the square leg umpire, and then took out his walkie-talkie to consult Billy Doctrove, the third official. The whole issue revolved around whether Ganga had stepped on the boundary rope (with a sponsor banner wrapped around) while taking the catch, and the two television replays were inconclusive. For the next 15 minutes, nobody knew what was happening. Ganga spoke to Lara, Ganga spoke to the batsmen, Lara spoke to the umpires, Lara spoke to the batsmen, replays continued to be inconclusive, Dravid waited, the crowd waited, the music played, but hardly anyone danced.

As time wore on, Lara appeared to grow more and more agitated and was seen wagging his finger towards Rauf and, a few minutes later, after a conversation with Rauf, he snatched the ball away from him. Further discussions followed before, after what seemed an age, Dhoni finally began walking towards the dressing-room.

At the end of the day, Dhoni clarified what had gone on: "Brian came up to me and said, 'I'm taking the charge of my players', as in taking the responsibility of his players, and 'I think you should walk off. What they [my players] say is going to be the truth'. Then we decided that I should walk off. He came late to me. Daren came first and it was tough for him because it [the boundary rope] was on his back side. And it's hard to feel a piece of paper when it's behind you. So he was not entirely sure about it, he said, 'I'm not really sure if I stepped on it'."

He added that he didn't want to dwell too much on the topic saying, "I think I accepted the fielder's words and came back. It was between them [the umpires and fielders] and I think it's a topic that can be left alone."

Bennett King, the West Indies, coach who also came for the press conference didn't want to comment on the matter; Imran Khan, the West Indies media manager, said that the two captains, match referee and two umpires had spoken about it and were happy.

Why Doctrove didn't pass a verdict remains baffling. There was clearly some doubt and, under normal circumstances, the benefit should have gone to the batsman. Neither team had, officially at least, agreed on accepting the fielders' word and it would have surely been tough for Ganga to judge if he touched the paper banner or not.

Lara too was treading on shaky ground but his moot point might have been that Dravid had already signalled the declaration - something which appeared a possibility. Maybe he was arguing about Dravid calling the players back after the catch was taken, in which case Dhoni, whether he was out or not, could not be allowed to bat again. It's a tough one to interpret, yet not that grave as to warrant such angry gestures.

The official word was that "normal play" would resume tomorrow. If at all those six runs would make a difference in the eventual outcome, everything may not necessarily be normal.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo

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