Umpiring is not as much fun as it used to be. For one thing, a modern umpire has to be smart. No more crumpled raincoats, tobacco-scented flat caps or elaborate sideburns. In ODIs they are even obliged to wear red shirts. Most people can't pull off red. The Duke of Wellington might get away with it, perhaps Pamela Anderson or Noddy, but for anyone else, wearing a red shirt in public is invariably a cry for help.
In T20 it's worse. Umpires are forced to be part of the show, declaring the game open like the Queen at a boat-launching. I understand that at this year's IPL they will all be asked to dress as their favourite singer and to announce the start of the match in character (look out for Marais Erasmus as Dolly Parton).
Once, the elderly man in white was a cross between a strict schoolmaster and an avuncular local policeman, but now he is reduced to the role of harassed administrator. Laden with microphones, light meters and playing regulations, he is forced to submit to the humiliations of the DRS and to undergo endless performance appraisals, like some junior office worker in the sales department of a tedious logistics company.
The modern umpire must be tactful. He mustn't, by inflection, insinuation or irony, give any hint of an impression of expressing an opinion. He must have an encyclopaedic knowledge of international diplomacy. He must stand up straight at the crease; no slouching, pipe-smoking or sneaking a bite from a Scotch egg between deliveries.
And he is no longer able to indulge in those little amusements that made all those hours standing in a field worthwhile. No longer can he claim to have heard a nick at five to one because his tummy is rumbling. Gone are the days when he could get away with enlivening proceedings by changing his mind five seconds after giving someone not out. There's no point, because the killjoys would just review it anyway.
Ball one was delivered in the manner of a man fresh out of the bath, who has been contemplating for several minutes the possibility of bowling a perfect offbreak by pitching the soap against the towel rail and landing it in the wash basin, but who neglects to dry his hands first, and so ends up flinging the slippery bar out of the window and into his next door neighbour's ornamental koi pond.
After pausing for chuckles all round, Umpire Cloete gave the ball to Abdur and like a fairground attendant at the coconut shy stall, invited him to have another go. Ball two was undoubtedly an improvement on ball one. It had plenty of revs. It was delivered on a tantalising line (just outside Imrul Kayes' left ear) and it had flight in abundance, but it still missed the ground by about a metre or so.
Legally the umpire should have stopped it there. Perhaps, for the sake of the bowler, that would have been the kindest thing. But none of us wanted that. We wanted to see what would happen next. And so did Johan. Cue ball three: a nipple-high full toss that put the "er what the hell was that" in beamer.
Sadly, Law 42.6.b. and the ICC playing conditions could be denied no longer and Abdur was removed from the game, crushing once and for all the romantic notion I had nurtured for many years that modern cricket might have room for the lob bowler.
Perhaps in his formative years, Abdur had also read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story about Tom Spedegue, the schoolmaster who is plucked from village cricket to play for England on the basis of his lobs. Spedegue's droppers, honed in the New Forest by lobbing a ball over a rope strung between two trees, were delivered on such a trajectory that they passed over the batsman's head and landed directly on top of the bails.
Sadly there is no romance in modern cricket. Spedegue won the Ashes and was carried shoulder-high from the field. Rehman was sent off. But at least, thanks to the old-world sensibilities of Umpire Cloete, he ended up with a hat-trick of sorts.