I went to listen to Simon Taufel at the Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture last week (http://www.lords.org/news/2013/july/taufel-delivers-mcc-spirit-of-cricket-cowdrey-lecture/). He had some pretty interesting things to say about umpiring, it really made me think about how difficult it must be, especially with all those cameras on you looking for your next mistake! He talked a bit about neutral umpiring, quite a recent development in the international game (1994). Of course at club level, where finding a volunteer to umpire at all can be difficult, neutral umpiring rarely happens. Most of the clubs I’ve visited haven’t had too much trouble with umpire bias, although this story offers a possible exception – http://www.takingthefield.com/stories/1960s-club-bowling-legend-bert-davies-and-7-lbws-one-innings – the story features an umpire who gave his son-in-law 7 successful LBW appeals in one innings, but perhaps he was just bowling particularly well that day! The point Simon Taufel made wasn’t that umpires would be biased towards their own countries, but that neutral umpiring was important as it took away that suspicion.
Mike Gatting and Eoin Morgan joined Simon Taufel on stage for questions after his lecture. Mike Gatting was a particularly interesting choice of speaker as he was involved in a major controversy involving umpiring a few years before neutral umpiring was made compulsory. The incident occurred in December 1987, England were playing the 2nd test of the series against Pakistan in Faisalabad. There had been tension during the day when Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana had rejected a bat pad appeal, but things did not escalate until the last over of the day. Shakoor Rana accused Mike Gatting of moving a fielder after the bowler had begun his run up in order to distract the batsman. Gatting disagreed and an angry exchange of swearwords and aggressive gestures from both parties was the result (all observed on camera and broadcast across the world!).
Both parties retreated to their ‘camps’ and overnight it was established that Shakoor would refuse to stand the next day without an apology and that Gatting would not apologies unless Shakoor apologised too for his part in the incident. Neither would budge and so the third day of play was abandoned.
On the evening of what would have been the third day Gatting received instruction from the TCCB in London that he should apologies, which he duly did reluctantly in the form of a short hand written note.
Dear Shakoor Rana, I apologize for the bad language used during the second day of the Test match at Faisalabad. Mike Gatting.
And so the match was able to continue and ended in a draw (which was perhaps the best outcome in the circumstances).
In most other sports an argument between a player and official on the pitch would not be so much of a big deal, but respect for the umpire has always been seen as vital to the spirit of cricket. The event had a big impact on the cricketing world and renewed pleas for neutral umpires.
The idea of total respect for umpires is an interesting concept and one many cricketers were raised with as children. Yet umpires are only human and do make mistakes, and where does the ideal leave DRS, a process that involves players challenging the umpires decision? Simon’s lecture didn’t really answer this questions and the role of the umpire will probably go on being discussed for as long as cricket is played (even after they’ve all been replaced by hawkeye/hotspot enabled robots!)