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Governer's XI 224 and 115-4 England 315

Governer's XI 224 and 115-4 England 315

11 November 2000

An on-field spat, with the explosive potential of the Mike Gatting-Shakoor Rana incident 13 years ago, was prevented from detonating yesterday by the umpire at the centre of the incident. Sticks and stones may break his bones, but umpire Sajjad Asghar has, after a remarkable change of heart, ensured that hurtful words at least will not officially sour England's tour.

At first, Asghar told reporters at the end of play that Andrew Caddick had abused "my country" after he had turned down a vociferous appeal for a caught behind against the left-hander Akhtar Sarfaraz. Half an hour later, after the match referee Farroukh Zaman had met Nasser Hussain and the umpires, Asghar said he would not be making an official complaint.

Asghar's change of mind might have been forced upon him by the match referee or it may have come after a period of cooling down. Either way, with Anglo-Pakistan relations in a delicate state following the match-fixing inquiries, it was a clear attempt to promote some d'étente cordial in what could have become an inflammatory situation, just five days before the first Test.

Asghar was standing at the Pavilion End with the score on 99 for 3, when Caddick appeared to find the outside edge of Sarfaraz's bat. Playing away from his body, the noise was audible around the ground and the players' reactions, especially Caddick's, who ran past the batsman celebrating the dismissal, suggested a regulation caught behind.

When the umpire failed to raise his finger, Caddick, initially speechless, decided to have a few words, first with Sarfaraz and, then with Asghar. With the final two balls of the over eliciting further banter from the bowler, Asghar decided to have words with Hussain. After a short conversation with the England skipper, the matter appeared to be settled until journalists spoke with the umpire at the end of play.

"He said something bad about my country," said Asghar as he left the field, at that stage not making it clear whether it was Hussain or Caddick who'd made the slight. "I don't want to report what he said, as he might have problems in other parts of the country. He can abuse me and he can abuse my decisions, but not my country. Not when he is a guest in it."

Asghar then implied that Hussain told him to "clear off" and that he would look after his players himself, a promise the England captain appeared to make good. Afterwards, England's press liaison officer, Andrew Walpole, attempted to clear up confusion with a statement that read: "At no stage was Nasser Hussain abusive or aggressive towards the umpire."

Clarification regarding Caddick's role was not forthcoming, though the match referee nipped the controversy in the bud by stating that no official complaint had been received from either umpire.

Since the MCC's recent revamp of the laws, a five-run penalty for sledging has been included to be used at the umpire's discretion. Asghar did not use it, but that might be because he initially felt the affront warranted sterner action.

England's paranoia in these parts runs deep and although Hussain and his side have been determined to stay focused on their task, bad lbw decisions, like those befalling the captain, have niggled away. Yesterday the one involving Caddick came after the home side had recovered from 13 for 3 in their second innings, following the dismissal of England for 315 before lunch.

For England, keen to win the match as quickly as possible, the batting, on a docile pitch, was particularly disappointing and the shot selection appalling. Both Graham Thorpe and Craig White fell to attempted hook shots after looking set for big scores.

Much more persuasive however, was the new-ball spell in which Caddick and Darren Gough removed the top three with controlled, rather than rampant, aggression. But once the hardness of the ball had gone, England's lack of mystery failed to make an impression until Gough ended a 102-run partnership between Sarfaraz and Naimunullah Khan just before the close.

Fast bowlers are renowned for being hotheads and Caddick, frustrated at being denied the wicket England had been striving for since their fine start, decided to use time-honoured means means to vent his anger. But if a bit of banter has long been tolerated in the game, comments that are racist in nature should not be.

So far we have only umpire Azghar's version of events, which for reasons of prudence has been kept under wraps. In the cauldron that is Pakistan, it may not be enough to prevent local passions from igniting over the next few days.