Not often do the umpires get highlighted in the news for the good reasons, but whenever there’s’ an error coming from them, social media is ready to erupt on them these days. Being an official in any sport is a thankless job, where it takes years to earn a decent reputation and perhaps just a moment to destroy everything. Those who love the game of cricket by heart know how important a role umpires play in this intense game. One wrong decision and the on-field officials can become villains for life, for a certain set of supporters. It is not often that a cricket match is remembered more for a decision taken by the umpire rather than the performances of the players on the field. Bombay has witnessed at least three such test matches, where the umpire is remembered even today. Here are they:
1. In 1948-49, the West Indies was the first team to tour independent India. The first three tests ended in draws, but West Indies won the fourth at Madras by an innings. The last Test was played at the Brabourne Stadium in Feb 1949. India needed to win this test to draw the series. They were set a target of 361 to win. On the final morning, Rusi Modi and Vijay Hazare batted out of their skins. Modi fell for 86 and Hazare was 6th out at 285. At that point, India needed 76 runs. However, a lion-hearted Dattu Phadkar batted with the tail as India inched towards the target. West Indies resorted to blatant time wasting tactics. In those days, there was no restriction on the use of bouncers per over, and no minimum number of overs to be bowled in a day. Towards the end, India needed 6 runs off 7 balls. At that point umpire Bapu Joshi came into play. He was possibly carried away by the excitement of the moment. He miscounted the number of balls, and called “over”. And, to make things worse, he removed the bails to call it stumps, although there were still almost 2 minutes left! India were left stranded at 355/8 and were denied what would have been their first ever test win. They had to wait for another 3 years to achieve this – they beat England in Feb 1952 at Madras. Incredibly, India had to wait another 22 years before winning a test against the West Indies – this was in Mar 1971 at Port of Spain in Trinidad!
2. In 1969-70, Bill Lawry’s Australian team visited India. In the second innings of the first test at Bombay, Venkataraghvan was given out caught behind by umpire Shambhu Pan when he had clearly missed the ball. The crowd turned volatile, setting fire and throwing missiles at the Australian fielders. They threw a bottle at John Gleeson, and a chair at Lawry, who added fuel to the fire later in the match when he threw his baggy geen cap on the ground after the umpires had called for what he thought was an early lunch break. However, Australia won the test. They won the series 3-1. This was the last test series victory for the Australians on Indian soil till Gilchrist’s men emulated the feat in 2004.
3. The third instance of a memorable umpiring incident in a Bombay test took place in Feb 1980, during the Jubilee test. This match was organized to celebrate the golden jubilee of the formation of Board of Control for Cricket in India. India scored 242 in their first innings, and had England on the ropes at 58/5. Ian Botham and Bob Taylor were at the crease. During their 6th wicket partnership, umpire Hanumantha Rao gave Taylor out caught behind. The Wankhede Stadium roared. India had not scored too many runs, but had fought magnificently. England were struggling at 85 for 6. However, Indian captain Gundappa Viswanath, who was fielding in the slips, felt that the batsman had not touched the ball. He recalled Bob Taylor after withdrawing the appeal. As a bemused crowd looked on, he persuaded the umpire to change his decision. The game turned on its head after that. Botham took matters into his own hands and hit the Indian bowlers to every corner of the ground. He scored 114 off 144 balls, and took 13 wickets in the match. England demolished India by 10 wickets.
These then are the stories of the three memorable umpiring decisions in tests played in Bombay. Of course, the Indian captain played a great role in the third one. Of the three tests, the first was drawn and India lost the other two.
By Paramdeep Rathee