2 June 2018


It’s difficult to say who started it. The controversy that dogged almost every test series between England and Pakistan for quarter of a century became, for many, the defining point of that fixture – and nobody relished it. In so many sporting head-to-heads, the grudge match adds a little interesting piquancy to the play, but what happened between these two proud protagonists was in no way enhancing, nor edifying in the least.

Colonialism: a catalyst for controversy?

The prolonged and vicious assault by the England captain Donald Carr (and his team mates) on the Pakistani umpire Idrees Baig in February 1956 may be the nastiest story ever told in cricket history. It happened after the third day of a match between the MCC and Pakistan. Leading by 36 runs after the first innings, the MCC spent a tortuous day scoring 111 from 78 overs, setting Pakistan a target of 148. At the close of the third day, they were 130 for two. That night, a group of MCC players kidnapped Idrees from his Peshawar hotel in the middle of the night, bound and gagged him and threw him into a horse’s cart, took him to a location on the other side of town where they forced him to drink alcohol before pouring buckets of water over him. His crime? Giving what the English felt were two poor lbw decisions that day. Carr afterwards said of the incident: ‘It was considered terribly funny by everyone who was there. Quite honestly, when I look back on it, I think it was about the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life.’ Idrees – a proud and rather pompous man, as nearly all umpires are – was humiliated and mortified. He put his arm in a sling for the final day of the game and threatened to sue the MCC for damages. The Pakistani press and public demonstrated against the MCC and the opprobrium only died down when grovelling apologies were offered by the President of the MCC and the British ambassador in Lahore.

If this incident didn’t establish the pattern of relations between England and Pakistan, it was at any rate indicative of the colonial condescension on one hand and the pricked public pride on the other. Henry Root’s letter to General Zia in 1979 neatly satirises the attitude of the old ruling class. ‘Most of us realise that a backward people such as your needs, and appreciates, the smack of firm government. We are not a backward people, of course, which makes our sad National Decline in recent years all the harder for patriots to stomach.’ Indeed, it must have seemed like an authentic viewpoint, since Zia responded within a week: ‘I appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing to me to convey certain very pertinent views.’

Bad calls and bottle tops

We will never know just what prompted Imran Khan to decide to cheat by cutting up one side of the ball with a metal bottle top, but it is a matter of historical record that he did so when fielding for Sussex against Hampshire at Hove in 1981. Hampshire were following on, and at 138 for three they needed 37 more runs to make the hosts bat again. They lost their last seven wickets for 58 runs to Ian Greig, Imran and Garth le Roux. It may be that the prevailing attitude was ‘everybody else is doing it’ – the Indian team were convinced that John Lever was using Vaseline to shine the ball in Chennai in 1977 – and then again it may not. The evidence suggests that Hove was the first proven instance of a bowler making the ball rougher by illegal means.

The English had been chuntering about Pakistan’s home umpires since the Idrees assault, but the trouble with moaning about the opposition’s umpires is that you make the other team’s players highly sensitive to any errors by your own officials, and Pakistan felt seriously wronged by David Constant at Leeds in 1982. The three-match series was tied going into the third test, which was itself on a knife-edge when Pakistan took a first-innings lead of just 19 runs. After they stumbled to 115 for six (only 134 ahead), Imran launched a three-hour rearguard, adding 23 in an hour with Wasim Bari, 31 in an hour with Abdul Qadir and 30 in an hour with Sikander Bakht. They were now 218 ahead, with two wickets left to fall, when Constant wrongly gave Sikander out caught at short leg. Pakistan felt this cost them the match, and they asked that Constant never be rostered to umpire in a Pakistan match again.

Ian Botham was the next to transgress, doing a passable imitation of Henry Root when he returned halfway through England’s tour to Pakistan in March 1984 and told the British press that ‘Pakistan is the sort of place you’d send your mother-in-law on holiday.’ The characterisation was complete: Imran the upstart cheat, Botham the boorish colonial, and the umpires’ fingers loaded for their respective sides.

When the Pakistan team toured England in 1987, the on-field unpleasantness finally broke cover. Carr attacked Idrees in the dead of night, Imran didn’t reveal his Hove antics for another decade and half, the Constant saga was transacted behind committee room doors and Botham made sure he was on another continent before defaming an entire country. This time, the events unfolded in front of the entire Leeds crowd. It wasn’t brief, nor was it particularly dramatic, but given what would happen over the next few years, the false claim of Saleem Yousuf to have caught Ian Botham off the bowling of Mohsin Kamal – an act of cheating so brazen that it was obvious even on the juddery, low-resolution video replays of the 1980s – was an important milepost in the journey of antipathy between these two sides. They were now unable to keep their mutual resentment hidden from public view. Oh, and the request not to engage Constant as umpire? That was ignored.

‘And so to the public slanging match’

‘When neutral umpires were employed in the world cup, Pakistan didn’t fare quite well as everyone expected them to. I’ll leave that to your own interpretation.’ Botham was certainly giving the Pakistanis both barrels ahead of the disastrous tour of March 1988. He was joined by Tom Graveney and Phil Edmonds in criticising the umpires in a television report which neatly summarised the animosity between the teams. Haroon Jadhakhan, the editor of the Muslim Chronicle, said that relations were ‘suffering from a colonial hangover.’ The English, he said, ‘still believe in this master-slave relationship, they still believe they can be patronising, condescending to people abroad, not only in Pakistan but also the West Indies and Africa. We are the masters, you are the servants. We taught you the game, therefore we are going to dictate how you should play, how you shouldn’t play.’

It was surely the worst tour ever staged in terms of acrimony and behaviour. The umpires, either incompetent or corrupt, were completely incapable of making decisions that were fair. Chris Broad was given out and refused to leave the crease. Shakeel Khan came to the fore initially, but his haste to raise the finger paled into insignificance after his colleague Shakoor Rana stopped play to accuse Mike Gatting of cheating, because the England captain was making a fielding change that Shakoor felt the batsman ought to be allowed to see. The furious on-field argument which followed remains the worst televised breach of discipline on a cricket field. ‘He just abused me, you see. I can’t tell you what did he say – the words, I mean – but he used the filthy language, bad language, abusing me like anything’ protested Shakoor. The news report, with the plummy tones of Christopher Martin-Jenkins asserting that Gatting ‘must have had good reason to get as angry as he did’ did nothing to dispel the Pakistanis’ feeling that the English adopted a supercilious position in this, as with all matters.

Lord’s, Lamb and libel

Before 1992, it could reasonably be said that the teams were equally to blame for the discord that rankled between them. In the 1992 series, however, various Pakistan players took their first steps into a world of their own: a world in which they could do as they pleased regardless of the laws of the game and – ultimately – the laws of the land.

The season began with some memorable cricket – Pakistan’s win at Lord’s was one of the most exciting finishes ever seen at headquarters – but the mood rapidly declined. Javed Miandad and Aqib Javed got into a fury about what they saw as inconsistent and high-handed umpiring by Roy Palmer, with Javed eventually exploding with rage when Palmer – as the Pakistan captain saw it – handed Aqib his sweater in the wrong way.

During the fourth one-day international at Lord’s, England were set 205 to win and were 140 for five when the umpires decided to change the match ball. The match referee, Deryck Murray, agreed. The Test and County Cricket Board – the predecessor of the ECB – decided not to make the reason public. The off-field umpire, Don Oslear, submitted his match report and in due course was telephoned by Colin Cowdrey, the chairman of the ICC, who told him that under the terms of his contract he must remain silent about what had happened.

When the Pakistan team told the press that the ball had simply ‘gone out of shape’, Allan Lamb, who played for the same Northamptonshire team as Pakistani swing bowler Sarfraz Nawaz (the pioneer of reverse swing) decided that he could hold his tongue no longer. He wrote an article for the Daily Mirror entitled ‘How Pakistan cheat at cricket.’ In it, he wrote that the Pakistan team had been tampering with the ball, and that Sarfraz had shown him how it was done – as long ago as 1981.

Sarfraz sued Lamb. Oslear appeared as a witness and said that the ball had been changed because it had been tampered with. Sarfraz said this had nothing to do with him. After four days of testimony, Sarfraz dropped his case when Lamb agreed to state that his Pakistani team-mate had ‘played within the laws of cricket and did not cheat.’ Sarfraz later said: ‘I had nothing to do with the 1992 series. Whatever I have done in my life, playing for Northamptonshire and around the world, and inventing reverse swing, was within the law.’ He added: ‘I taught Imran Khan how to bowl reverse swing and everyone agreed Imran never cheated in his life.’

A year after the court case, Imran admitted to ball tampering at Hove in 1981, the same year that Lamb claimed Sarfraz had shown him how to do it. Imran’s justification was that everyone tampered with the ball, even Ian Botham. Botham was furious and called Imran a cheat. Imran upped the ante: he told India Today that Botham and Lamb were racist, uneducated and lacking in class and upbringing. It also transpired that the TCCB had fined Lamb for accusing the Pakistan team of ball tampering in 1992 whilst simultaneously refusing to release to the court a substantial quantity of video showing the Pakistan team doing exactly that. It also got rid of Oslear, who never umpired a professional match again. Martin Johnson, in the Independent, wrote: ‘As far as Pakistan are concerned, cricket in England is run by arrogant racists. As far as England are concerned, Pakistan cheat. Today, the two countries are as far apart as ever.’

Part 2 of this article may be found here.

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