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In the wake of umpire Tanvir Ahmed’s curious no-ball calls at Mirpur, here are some instances of significant umpiring fiascos in the history of cricket…..

1879-80: George Coulthard, New South Wales vs England at Sydney Cricket Ground

George Coulthard was a ground staff engaged as a bowler at MCG. When Lord Harris and his Englishmen visited the shores, this professional was employed as umpire by the English team and accompanied the side on its tour around Australia. And being employed by the visitors, he perhaps developed a loyalty for them that did not quite tally with his job description.

Having given Harris not out to an obvious snick at the very start of the match against New South Wales, he sparked off a riot when the home team batted a second time, following on. With most of the crowd engaged in betting, Billy Murdoch, the main batsman of the hosts, was run out. The finger was once again raised by Coulthard. This decision, in particular, was not really too bad. Eyewitnesses do agree that Murdoch looked out by a distance, and walked away ‘like a man’. However, Coulthard’s past sins of umpiring caught up with him. And importantly for the New South Wales public, already miffed because of their betting losses, he was a Victorian.

A furious Dave Gregory, captain of the home team, blocked Murdoch’s way as he walked back, and asked him to go back to bat. Confusion and chaos cascaded around the field. Hundreds jumped over the picket fence and advanced towards the players. Lord Harris ran towards Coulthard, the man most likely to be attacked. And now some larrikin struck the peer from behind his back with a stick.

For a long time, Harris and his men remained surrounded by the mob, and the play was impossible for the remainder of the day. The umpire at the other end, incidentally, was Edmund Barton, who, 22 years later, would become the first Prime Minister of Australia.

1899: Dick Barlow England vs Australia Nottingham

It was WG Grace’s last Test match, and it ended in a draw. And it should not have. KS Ranjitsinhji, who saved the day with an unbeaten 93 in the second innings, was 30 when Frank Laver appeared to have run him out. The Jam Sahib was on his way back when umpire, none other than the former England star cricketer Dick Barlow, called him back. It infuriated Laver enough to have him exclaim: “Barlow, you’re a cheat!” Imagine it being said to an umpire in the modern day with stump microphones around. And imagine the ‘spirit of cricket’ in vogue 119 years earlier in those pure pristine days.

Also read: Statistics: How bad is this home-advantage issue?

Earlier in the match, Barlow had given Clem Hill, the great Australian left-hander, run out.  Later Joe Darling said: ‘Possibly Hill could was out, but what we took exception to was Barlow’s attitude in giving Hill out. The wicket was hit in the throw-in and Barlow, before anyone had time to appeal, jumped up in the air just as an excited player does in a close match with his arms stretched out and yelled for all he was worth, “OUT!”’

Darling complained to Lord Harris, who withdrew Barlow from future Tests, saying he had ‘misplaced loyalties to his old team’.

1948-49: Bapu Joshi India vs West Indies Bombay

A target of 361 was almost impossible for India in those days, especially against a strong West Indian side. However, the bowling of Prior Jones and Gerry Gomez notwithstanding, Lala Amarnath decided to go for it. In fact, he promoted himself to No 4 and set up the chase with a brisk 39. He had been raging mad, after India had lost the openers with just 9 on the board.

With Vijay Hazare joining Rusi Modi, the chase was now on. The two maestros batted beautifully and were together till 220. When Hazare was sixth out for 122,  another 76 were needed, with Dattu Phadkar there to carry on the fight.

India lost their eighth wicket at 321, but with a cool-headed Ghulam Ahmed for company, Phadkar kept them in the hunt. A concerned West Indian side started wasting time as defeat became a distinct possibility.

However, with time enough for two overs, Prior Jones ran in with India needing 11. With a square cut boundary, Phadkar took 5 off the first three balls and Ghulam negotiated the next two without getting a run. One was a wayward bouncer anyway. 6 runs were needed from 7 balls. As Jones walked back to bowl the last ball of the over, with enough time for another to follow, an excited umpire Bapu Joshi called over and then took off the bails to signal the end of the match.

He had not only miscounted the balls, but he had also misread the time.

India had to wait three more years for their first ever victory in Test cricket.

1955-56:  Idris Begh Pakistan

Not one isolated incident on the field, but many questionable decisions. And then there was the hilarious off-the-field faux pas when he had walked into Pakistan captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar’s room asking about instructions for the following day’s play, oblivious of the fact that Lala Amarnath, the manager of the Indian side, was also in the room.

When Pakistan played a ‘Test’ at Peshawar against Donald Carr’s MCC side in 1955-56, the umpiring was so atrocious that the visiting players reached the end of their tether. During a party after the third day’s play, Baig was supposedly ‘abducted’ by the MCC players. The team forcibly took 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.

By the next day, an international situation was brewing. Telegrams were dispatched to Lord’s and extra troops called into Peshawar to check public reaction. Baig turned up to face the press with his arm in a sling – a supposed result of being roughed up by the Englishmen. It was only due to some high profile diplomatic interference that the tour continued.

1976-77: MV Nagendra India vs England Bangalore

England were already 3-0 up in the series as the teams faced off in Bangalore. Replying to India’s 253, Dennis Amiss and Mike Brearley had walked out to begin the innings for the visitors. With the score on 13 without loss, a ball from Bhagawat Chandrasekhar found the edge of Brearley’s bat and went to Gundappa Viswanath in the slip. Only, every pair of eyes in the ground, whether in the playing area or in the stands, saw clearly that the ball had bounced.

Umpire MV Nagendra, however, raised his finger. And a shocked Brearley made his way to the pavilion.

The climax was yet to come. During the lunch break, umpire Nagendra made his way towards Brearley who was quietly restoring his tissues. “Mr Brearley,” he said. “I am very sorry. I knew it was not out, but I felt my finger going up and I just couldn’t stop it.”

This remains one of the most incredible explanations of a decision.

1988: Tariq Ata and Saleem Badar Asia Cup Final

Sri Lanka were struggling in the final against a strong Indian line up, with a young Aravinda de Silva and Athula Samarasekara trying to put together a partnership. The fighting stand came to an end with the two batsmen caught in the middle of the pitch and the throw coming in at the keeper’s end. As Chandrakant Pandit whipped off the bails, the batsmen were uncertain about who it was who had to make his way back to the pavilion. Interestingly, so were the umpires Tariq Ata and Saleem Badar. Ultimately, it was left to the Indian captain Dilip Vengsarkar and ace-allrounder Kapil Dev to point out that De Silva was the man who needed to go. It did not matter in the end, though, with India winning with 47 balls to spare.

1990: West Indies vs England Bridgetown

Poor Rob Bailey. A decent batsman, he had the misfortune of playing all his four Tests against a rampaging West Indies. And when Viv Richards and his men took on the visitors in Barbados, their pride was at stake. The great side was down by a Test and it was the fourth match of the series.

West Indies led by 88 in the first innings and set a target of 356. And soon Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop, Malcolm Marshall and Ezra Moseley were at them.

Bailey, who had scored 17 in the first innings before being castled by Bishop, had scored 6 when a delivery from Ambrose flicked his pads on the way to the keeper Jeff Dujon. An appeal was made, and umpire Lloyd Barker responded in the negative and started handing Ambrose back his cap since the over had ended. But, with captain Viv Richards charging in from slips like a man possessed, he was seen to turn confused and then raise his finger.

Wisden Cricket Monthly referred to the appeals of the West Indian skipper as “orgasmic gesticulations”. Mike Selvey in the Guardian wrote: “demented and intimidating charge.” Simon Barnes, in The Times, observed that the “yelling, finger-flicking charge up the wicket looked almost like a physical threat. Certainly, it conned a totally incorrect decision from poor Lloyd Barker.”

In all the commotion that followed, the West Indian crowd started singing London Bridge is Falling Down, which infuriated the English supporters, and fighting broke out in the stands … serious enough for the police to be called in. Obviously, charges of racism were made in all quarters.

Cristopher Martin-Jenkis, on the radio, summed the decision up as : “A very good umpire cracked under pressure … It wasn’t his mistake that was so sad, it was the fact that [he] was pressurised into changing his original decision. If that is gamesmanship or professionalism, I am not quite sure what cheating is.” It led to a legal case between Barker and Martin-Jenkins.

1997-98 India vs Sri Lanka, Margao

In this One Day International, Ajay Jadeja edged one from Chaminda Vaas outside the off-stump. Romesh Kaluwitharana pouched it and celebrated. Umpire Raman Sharma, who had already miscounted balls and made Sanjeewa de Silva bowl a seven-ball over, raised his finger, and then, at the last minute, changed it from a signal of dismissal to an adjustment of his hat. Jadeja, on the verge of walking back, remained on the ground.

Luckily, this rather ridiculous change of mind, resulted only in side-splitting laughter across the cricketing fraternity.

2006 England v Pakistan, The Oval

The fateful fourth Test at The Oval. The first time a Test match was forfeited because of the high handedness of one overbearing official whose ego was too large to fit into the historic cricket ground.

Darrell Hair, after several attempts at doing so, managed to become the man empowered by almost divine right to turn a cricket match into a complete farce, all due to some personal whims.

When the Pakistan side did not take the field, protesting against umpire Hair’s decision to dock them five runs for tampering with the condition of the ball, Hair reached the pinnacle of his controversy-ridden career by uprooting the stumps. It signalled the first forfeiture of a Test match in the history of the game.

Imran Khan did not mince words when he wrote, “Hair is one of those characters when he wears the white umpire’s coat, he metamorphoses into a mini Hitler.”

And it was not only the Pakistanis who were disgusted. Britain’s The Sun reported: “An 18-stone Aussie called Darrell Hair trampled his feet all over the name of cricket with an astonishing display of pig-headedness.”

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