Published on May 22nd, 2018 | by Arunabha Sengupta0
Drama Unlimited: Highlights of England-Pakistan Tests – Part 4, The Idrees Baig Affair🕓 Reading time: 5 minutes
“When Baig was discovered in a drenched and dishevelled state, he stated that six or seven MCC players, who appeared to be in high spirits brought about by beer, came into his room brandishing water-pistols, dragged him into one of the tongas, took him to their hotel and roughed him up”.
Strictly speaking, this incident did not deal with Test matches.
The series contested by Donald Carr and his men was an unofficial one. But the drama that it sparked off in the winter of 1955-56, ranging from kidnapping and diplomatic dilemmas, was a forerunner of many many controversies that would dog England-Pakistan encounters through history.
Indeed, this was the first, and not the last, time that the bad blood between a Pakistani umpire and the England squad led to the involvement of bigwigs of foreign officials.
Carr’s team, contesting unofficial ‘Tests’, included several names that went on to become quite legendary in English cricket. There were men like Ken Barrington, Brian Close, Fred Titmus, Jim Parks and Tony Lock.
The early days of the tour were peaceful enough. Carr got slightly carried away during an official dinner by reminding Pakistan captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar of their light-hearted times at Oxford. A major figure of the young nation, Kardar did not quite like the recollections. But that seemed a minor bump in an otherwise pleasant tour.
Yet, once the ‘Tests’ kicked off, the visitors were perplexed by the index finger of Idrees Baig. In each and every encounter.
Now, Baig was already a rather controversial figure. During India’s first tour of Pakistan, he had entered Kardar’s hotel room and, reportedly, asked him for ‘instructions’ for the following day of the match. What he had failed to notice was the presence of Lala Amarnath in the room.
Such allegiance to the national cause continued unabated. His index finger provided several breakthroughs as the home team cruised to an innings win in the second ‘Test’ at Dacca.
The Englishmen were, however, not too perturbed. Home advantage in the form of some patriotic umpires was an accepted part of the game in those days.
But seeds of trouble were sown during this ‘Test’. Idrees Baig walked past the bedroom of one of the players, and found that former English wicketkeeper George Duckworth was being doused with water. As the umpire chuckled, Carr called out, “We’ll get you too, before the end of the tour.”
The official grinned and replied, “You’ll never get me.”
Things turned rather more serious after that.
Let us turn to the account of Pakistan left-arm spinner Shujauddin to discuss Baig’s umpiring in the third ‘Test’ at Peshawar: “…it was during the course of this match that a number of umpiring decisions were given some of which were questioned justifiably by the visitors… (including) a couple of ranks bad lbw decisions against the tourists given by Idrees Baig.”
Remember, this was the account of a Pakistan cricketer.
Whether post-match visits to the captain’s room in quest of ‘instructions’ remained the norm or not is unknown. But Kardar picked up 11 wickets in the match, helped in generous proportions by Baig’s finger.
In the final over of the third day, Baig also remained unmoved to a vociferous appeal by Tony Lock. It left the spinner fuming. In Stephen Clarke’s fascinating book At the Heart of English Cricket, tour manager Geoffrey Howard recalled: “Things have been made too easy by some really shocking umpiring. It’s a pity that they allow these incompetents to do it — they are without doubt there to help the home side – because they are quite strong enough to at least avoid being beaten by us without this aid.”
The day ended with Pakistan needing 18 to win with 8 wickets in hand. There was a banquet that night and the English cricketers decided to enjoy themselves.
During the function, senior professional Alan Watkins remarked that the next Test should be played in the Khyber Pass with rifles.
It was in the course of the party that the news reached Kardar and company that Baig had been ‘abducted’ by the MCC players. The team had forcibly taken Baig in a tonga from the Services Hotel where the umpire was staying to Dean’s Hotel where MCC had been put up.
When Baig was discovered in a drenched and dishevelled state, he stated that six or seven MCC players, who appeared to be in high spirits brought about by beer, came into his room brandishing water-pistols, dragged him into one of the tongas, took him to their hotel and roughed him up. Kardar was so livid that he went to Carr’s room and told him that he and his team should pack their bags as the tour was over.
By the next day, things were heating up on the diplomatic front. Telegrams were dispatched to Lord’s and extra troops called into Peshawar to keep public reaction in check.
Baig turned up in front of the press with his arm in a sling – a supposed result of his being roughed up by the Englishmen.
Omar Kureishi writes, “I can’t help feeling that he started to enjoy all the attention he was getting … He put one of his hands in a sling and when he got bored with that, he changed hands. It is not given to every umpire to feature in Time magazine, but there he was on its pages in a story that poked much fun at the expense of the MCC.”
MCC president, Lord Alexander of Tunis, telephoned the Governor-General, telling him “to offer to cancel the remainder of the tour and recall the team forthwith if this would be in the best interests of restoring friendly relations.”
The Governor-General counselled against it and the tour continued.
Carr, although he had absolutely nothing to do with the incident, felt that, as captain, he should do the decent thing and take full responsibility. Howard managed the situation with skill, diffusing the flames with an unconditional, profuse apology to Baig. It seemed to do the trick. Peace, if not harmony, was restored, and Idrees Baig stood in the final ‘Test’.
On the third day of the fourth ‘Test’, sparks flew once again. Jim Parks was given out caught off what seemed to be a half volley, and remonstrations followed from the non-striker Titmus. Later, a loud leg-before appeal against Imtiaz Ahmed was turned down. Imtiaz pulled away before the next delivery and asked the umpire to stop Watkins, at short leg, from swearing.
At the end of the tour Pakistan’s President, Iskandar Mirza, also got involved. Howard and Kardar were summoned to the Presidential quarters and asked about the tour.
In At the Heart of English Cricket, Chalke writes: “He listened carefully to what the two had to say. From the England perspective, there had been a catalogue of bad umpiring decisions in each of the representative matches, almost all of them at their expense. From the Pakistan side the umpires had done their best and the tourists had shown insufficient respect in querying the decisions and in subjecting Idrees Baig to a soaking … Mirza (said), “Having listened to what you had to say … I have to say that I form the view that Idrees Baig, as an umpire, is a cheat.”
“But he is the best we’ve got,” Hafeez protested.
“The best umpire? Or the best cheat?” Mirza asked.