England and Pakistan will not be playing for anything tangible this summer, like the Ashes, but given that their cricketing history has occasionally teetered on the edge of what a divorce court would call an irretrievable breakdown, how about setting fire to an umpire’s coat and placing the charred remains inside a very small urn? You’ve got to admit, the Shakoor Rana Trophy has a nice ring to it.
The catalogue of acrimony and controversy stretches all the way back to Ted Dexter’s 1961-62 tour to Pakistan, when someone in the England team threw a bucket of water over an umpire. Since when, of course, the amount of water required to extinguish the various conflagrations would have required the services of considerably more than a single bucket.
England’s 1932-33 tour to Australia is widely regarded as the most controversial tour in cricket history, but compared to the Test series in Pakistan in 1987 Bodyline almost qualifies as a love story. It had already been a long winter, what with the sub-continent’s first World Cup followed by three one-day internationals in Pakistan and, just before the three-match Test series, the Guardian’s cricket correspondent Mike Selvey announced that it was “downhill all the way from now on”.
I was later able to remind him of this prescient (though for the wrong reasons) statement while reading him the Shakoor Rana quotes through the door of his hotel bathroom in Faisalabad, at a decibel level sufficient to make myself heard above the groaning and gurgling noises coming from within. The first Test in Lahore had been controversial enough, and Chris Broad, now an ICC match referee, must often contemplate how much he’d have fined himself for declining to leave the crease after being given out had such a system been in operation then.
Fisalabad, as Mike Gatting deliberately misspelt it in his written apology to Shakoor (on a piece of paper that looked as though it had been chewed by a local dog) was an incident waiting to happen after the previous summer’s five-Test series in England, which ended with Pakistan’s eccentric team manager Haseeb Ahsan describing umpire David Constant (no neutrals in those days) as “a disgraceful person”.
‘Connie’, whose history with Pakistan had its origins in a catch he awarded to Gatting in 1982, declined to comment on the observation, but I for one was privy to the fact that the feeling was probably mutual. Walking through The Oval car park on the final morning of that series, ‘Connie’, while rummaging around in the boot of his car for something or other, spotted me walking past, smiled, and started humming: “They’re going home today, ee-ay-adio, they’re going home today”.
That series almost led to a punch-up at Headingley, when the Pakistani wicketkeeper Salim Yousuf, made an outrageous claim for a catch off Ian Botham which bounced about two feet short of landing in his gloves. His Beefyness felt obliged to inform the fraudulent stumper that not only did one-handed off the bounce only apply to the school playground, but that he’d be happy to explain the rules to him after dark, round the back of the pavilion. Or possibly right then and there had the umpire, Ken Palmer, not stepped in.
Then we had the England-Pakistan 1992 summer of discontent, which flared up when another umpiring Palmer, Roy, warned Aqib Javed for intimidatory bowling after he’d run through the crease to bounce Devon Malcolm at Old Trafford. The over ended with Palmer throwing Aqib’s jersey back to him, and the visiting captain Javed Miandad, citing “discourtesy”, having to be physically restrained by his own players.
Later that summer, Javed and Botham had an altercation on the field at The Oval after Javed had been given out, which resulted in the then TC CB media relations manager coming into the press box to tell us precisely what Botham had said. Subtlety not being one of Beefy’s stong suits, it was something along the lines of “you’ve been given out, you little pillock, now f*** off back to the pavilion”.
In those days, the TCCB had a strict set of rules when it came to the job definition of a media relations manager, which was basically to have no relations with the media at all if you could possibly avoid it. Ergo, tell the press precisely nothing. This one, though, had concluded (not unreasonably you might think) that the job of a media relations manager might conceivably involve the conveying of information, and it cost him his job. As indeed it had the previous incumbent.
It was difficult, in those days, not to regard the TCCB, on occasions, as a puffed up body of conceited old buffers whose desire for total secrecy would have shamed a Masonic lodge (remember them trying to hush up the Gatting captaincy veto in 1989?) and presumably an occasional uncomplimentary remark in the Independent had caught their attention judging by one of the interview questions for the next media relations manager. “You won’t believe this,” he told me after his appointment. “But one of the questions was: ‘how would you deal with the Martin Johnson problem?’” Ye gods. It sounded more like an application form for joining the East German Stasi.
The TCCB’s code of omerta then hit new heights when the Pakistanis were fingered for ball tampering in a one-day game at Lord’s, which led to the usual accusations of racism, and the TCCB being so terrified of legal ramifications that the ball in question was never seen again. Not even on Ebay. Rumours have it that it found its way into the possession of the third umpire, Don Oslear, and ended up among his other trophies on a mantelpiece in a bungalow in Cleethorpes.
The ball tampering issue, which led to High Court writs involving, among others, Botham and Imran Khan, raised its head again at The Oval in 2006, in what became known as the Darrell Hair affair. When Pakistan declined to leave their dressing room at tea on the fourth day, you somehow had the suspicion that it was something more than their portly captain Inzamam-ul-Haq refusing to return until he’d polished off all the buttered scones, and so it proved.
I don’t know what happened to that ball either, but I don’t think it was ever offered up to public scrutiny as evidence. Maybe that one’s in Cleethorpes as well. If another one disappears under mysterious circumstances this summer, you won’t be able to rule out the possibility that Shahid Afridi has eaten it, on account of the fact that the Pakistan captain (at least on the evidence of the ban he picked up in Australia earlier this year) is occasionally inclined to mistake a cricket ball for a Cox’s orange pippin.
And so, here we go again. There may well be someone out there who thinks that the law of averages will kick in, and that this time the series will be a total love-in, with not the faintest whiff of controversy. If so, and they’re reading this, give my regards to the nurse, good luck with the treatment, and I hope they let you out before the season’s over.