Cricket: Dissent driving umpires out of the game: Martin Johnson, Cricket Correspondent, reports how a deterioration in player attitudes has led to the current crisis in Test cricket

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The Independent Online
WHEN Lancashire and Gloucestershire, several years ahead of Kerry Packer, invented pyjama cricket in their 1971 Gillette Cup tie at Old Trafford, David Hughes suggested to the umpire that it might be too dark to carry on playing. Arthur Jepson replied: 'You can see the moon. How far do you want to see?'

It was a piece of dialogue from a different era. Nowadays, particularly in a Test match, dear old Arthur might have been confronted by something akin to a New Zealand rugby haka, and the team manager would doubtless have issued a statement accusing him of being rude and disrespectful.

Two years after that Old Trafford game, the English umpire, Arthur Fagg, declined to resume in a Test match at Edgbaston after the West Indian captain, Rohan Kanhai, had graphically demonstrated dissent at one of Fagg's decisions.

In 1987, the Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana also went on strike after the finger-wagging eruption with Mike Gatting in Faisalabad, and during the last Test match at Old Trafford, Javed Miandad's claim that he is really a rather gentle and misunderstood soul was undermined by a display of juvenile posturing.

The atmosphere in modern Test matches is often so nasty that one or two long-serving umpires (such as David Constant of England and Tom Brooks of Australia) gave it up rather than take any more hassle. Several more have threatened to, among them Australia's Tony Crafter.

Jack Birkenshaw, the former England off-spinner and Test umpire, can scarcely believe how the game has changed since his debut for Yorkshire in 1958. 'Before my first game, Ronnie Burnet, the captain, told me that if I ever tried to 'do' the umpire, I would never play for Yorkshire again.

'Nowadays players question everything the umpire does. There is no respect at all in Test cricket, and it has become a case of how much a player can get away with. At Old Trafford it was quite a lot, and I'm afraid it might happen again.

'I remember a match at Leicester, when Ray Illingworth had Arthur Milton (of Gloucestershire) caught off bat and pad just before lunch. Arthur, who was a big walker, never budged, and his partner said to him over lunch: 'Bloody hell, Arthur, you hit that one.'

'First ball of the afternoon, from Illy again, Arthur ran down the pitch, deliberately missed the ball, and shouted 'Sorry, lads' as he kept on running to the pavilion. That would never happen today.'

Barry Dudleston, who umpired in the second Test at Lord's, says: 'It is now accepted that players will try to con you. The object of the exercise is to try to put doubt in the umpire's mind, and there are times when you begin to wonder whether you are going blind. It even happens in second-team games.

'The system also leaves us vulnerable to the whims of captains, who are the people who mark us at the end of the game. Javed would have marked Palmer at Old Trafford. Can you imagine McEnroe marking the umpire at Wimbledon?'

The International Cricket Council's reaction to the growing problem of player histrionics was to agree to a 'neutral' panel of umpires, and the appointment of match referees, empowered to impose fines and suspensions. The former has yet to be implemented because the ICC says it needs a sponsor to fund it, while the latter has turned out to be the equivalent of a teacher at St Trinian's putting in a polite request for order while ducking a fusillade of ink-pellets.

Why is it that cricket is heading towards the sort of anarchy that prevails on a football pitch when a referee awards a penalty? Why is it that a system of home country umpires (unthinkable in most professional team sports) that had worked with minimal problems over an entire century of Test cricket is now on borrowed time? Why is it that the dictionary definition of 'not cricket' (infringing the codes of fair play between honourable opponents. . .') now induces a faintly hysterical laugh?

Simple. It is entirely down to the attitude of the players. If an umpire's index finger was once regarded as the unchallengeable digit of authority, it is now all too often regarded by the combatants as a basis for raising two fingers of their own.

There might be some justification for the contempt that several England players have for Pakistan's idea of etiquette this summer (a mood, incidentally, that was there before Old Trafford) but you only have to go back to the 1987 tours to Pakistan and New Zealand (when England more than fitted the Australian definition of whingeing Poms) to realise that when it comes to occupying the high moral ground, England are in precious little danger of contracting vertigo.

After the 1987 Test in Lahore, during which Chris Broad got away with nothing more than a reprimand for one of the worst instances of dissent ever witnessed, Micky Stewart publicly complained about Pakistan's players 'putting unfair pressure on the umpires'. What Stewart chose not to say was that this had been true of county cricket for some time, and his comments then were no less one-eyed than Intikhab Alam's in the immediate fall-out of Manchester.

What an umpire has to put up with nowadays boggles the mind. Barry Richards's observation about Australians - 'The only time you see one walk is if his car has run out of petrol' - now applies to everyone, and yet, having withdrawn their assistance from the decision-making process, players appear to think that it is perfectly in order to become rebellious when the verdict goes against them.

Batsmen who thin-edge a catch are prone to start rubbing a part of their anatomy that was nowhere near the ball's flight path, and the one time they are guaranteed to point animatedly at the edge of the bat is when they are the subject of an lbw appeal.

Bowlers and fielders are more choreographed than a male voice choir when it comes to appealing for catches, and instead of a simple 'Owzat?' they will often embark upon an orgy of hugging and self-congratulation - as if the edge was so self-evident that a formal appeal is an insult to the umpire's intelligence.

If the verdict is 'out', spectators usually have time to nip off for a pie and a pint before the batsman has vacated the crease, while 'not out' produces a collective body language from the fielding side intended to convey to the crowd that the umpire is in urgent need of a white stick and a guide dog.

In a newspaper article penned in the aftermath of Old Trafford, Imran Khan, the former Pakistan captain, came out with so much claptrap that no one can be in any doubt as to what an umpire has to put up with in terms of modern player thinking.

The Roy Palmer business, according to Imran, blew up 'because an umpire who was not sure of himself tried to stamp his authority by demanding, rather than commanding, respect. Maybe someone should have a word with umpire Palmer and ask him why a normally disciplined cricketer like Aqib (Javed) lost his cool with him,' he wrote.

'The reason (it) blew up was because Aqib was warned for intimidatory bowling. Surely by definition, since a fast bowler can only bowl one bouncer per over, it should no longer be possible for a bowler to be intimidatory. Aqib was warned for a ball that was short of a length and (Devon) Malcolm ducked into it. It was clearly not the bowler's fault. . .yet ridiculously the bowler was penalised for it.'

The fact of the matter is that Palmer (who was only cleared of the fatuous allegation that he threw Aqib's sweater when BBC technicians were up half the night scouring the reels from their various cameras, and found the evidence on the one at deep square leg) behaved impeccably in the face of behaviour not normally associated with anyone not wearing a nappy.

As for the impossibility of intimidation, what Imran either forgets or ignores, is that Aqib was not warned for bowling more than one bouncer in the over, but under Law 42 (Unfair Play), which empowers an umpire to feel someone's collar after only one ball.

Never mind the fact that for three consecutive balls, Aqib's idea of the bull's-eye was Malcolm's helmet rather than the stumps, the delivery that produced the official warning was for the unforgiveable crime of running through the crease and bowling from appreciably closer than the laws allow.

The one bouncer per batsman per over regulation is a fatuous red herring, which takes no precedence over Law 42, and as such, should be consigned to the wastepaper basket. As for Aqib being a disciplined bowler, so he should have been. He should have been suspended, along with his captain, for the rest of the series.

Imran's remarks are not a million miles away from the school of logic practised by Pakistan's 1987 tour manager, Hasib Ahsan. During one of the county matches, Hasib was summoned to the umpires' room after the pace bowler Mohsin Kamal had been warned under Law 42 for bowling four consecutive bouncers. 'You are quite wrong,' Hasib said. 'Two of those balls could not possibly have been intimidation - they were two feet over the batsman's head.'

The lobby for the introduction of referring certain decisions to a third umpire, monitoring a television replay screen, grows stronger each year, and the ICC is considering experimenting with them during South Africa's series with India in November.

One day, perhaps, bats will be wired up to detect edges in the same way as fencers' foils at the Olympics, which brings to mind a competitor by the name of Boris Onischenko, who was thrown out of a Games for devising a way of making his blade light up at will.

Sadly, modern-day cricket is sufficiently well populated by adherents of the Boris philosophy of fair play to place Sir Richard Hadlee's wicket-taking record in less danger of falling to a wizard of pace and swing, than to a graduate from an MI5 electronic bugging course.

(Photograph omitted)