Sidebottom sets dignified example after Rauf blunder

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The Independent Online

Anyone gathering evidence to support the contention that cricket remains a noble sport should have witnessed two men here yesterday. As Sri Lanka's players were walking from the field in triumph after winning the first Test, the England team emerged to shake hands.

At the very end of the line, Ryan Sidebottom of England reached the estimable Pakistani umpire, Asad Rauf. The nerves tingled. Rauf leaned forward, touched Sidebottom gently on the elbow and whispered in his ear. It was not exactly a sweet nothing, but it was close to it.

Sidebottom nodded appreciatively, squeezed the umpire's hand and then turned and joined his mates. There was nothing more to it but the gesture said much about cricket and cricketers and the people who stand in adjudication on them. Despite all, the old game still observes some of the old proprieties.

Rauf was apologising for the decision he had made only 20 minutes earlier to give Sidebottom out and end England's last faint but realistic aspiration of saving the match, and perhaps with it the series. Sidebottom, facing Muttiah Muralitharan, had probably misinterpreted the great man's intentions but the ball took his inside edge on its way to his back pad.

The deviation was great enough to have had the buzzers exploding on Just a Minute. The ball moved perhaps six inches. Rauf should have spotted it, or maybe he thought Murali can make the ball move two different ways after pitching. Whatever, Sidebottom was on his way and if the man who had defied Pakistan for 99 minutes in the first innings did not exactly sprint to the dressing room, he none the less went. When Rauf apologised, Sidebottom was immediately gracious.

Sidebottom's departure left at the crease Matthew Hoggard, a bowler with a bad back, and Monty Panesar, which in batting terms amounts to the same thing. The end soon came. What a Test match it had been: records for Murali and Kumar Sangakkara, the 100th match for Chaminda Vaas, the 110th and last for the legendary Sanath Jayasuriya, who has retired.

Rauf had played a key part in the proceedings. He had been called on to answer a succession of appeals, usually for leg before, sometimes for close catches. Usually, both he and his colleague Aleem Dar got it right. They were exemplary, and are two of the best four or four five umpires in the world.

It was unfortunate that Rauf erred when he did, but it was a reminder that long days in the field affect umpires as well as players. It was also pertinent to think that two of the game's top officials are from Pakistan. Not so long ago Pakistani umpires were considered to be poor if they were not cheats and sometimes both, judgements that were not invariably imbued with racism.

England will find it extremely difficult to come back from here and will need a repeat of their heroics six years ago when they won 2-1 after losing the first match. The roof has not quite caved in, as it did much less figuratively, on the England supporters under the old makeshift stands yesterday morning.

The strong breeze removed several pieces of corrugated iron sheeting. Five people were reported to be slightly injured, with one needing hospital treatment.

The tourists left for the four (perhaps five) hour coach journey to Colombo straight after the match. Hoggard, who will almost certainly miss the second Test starting on Sunday probably had to lie in the luggage rack to ease his back.