“He’s lucky I didn’t beat him”, recalled Pakistan umpire Shakoor Rana after an ugly row with England skipper Mike Gatting after the second Test between Pakistan and England in Faisalabad in December 1987, which threatened the diplomatic ties betweenthe two countries.
Umpire-player altercations are rare on the cricket field, but nothing comes close to the spat between Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana, which had the British Ambassador rushing in to diffuse the situation.
Rana was no stranger to controversy, with rumours of his bias towards his home team Pakistan spreading far. In 1978, 17 years after cricketing ties between India and Pakistan resumed, Rana was in the news after warning Mohinder Amarnath for running on the danger area of the wicket. Sunil Gavaskar, India’s vice-captain during the series, did not take well to the umpire’s behaviour, and accused him of double standards as a similar warning had not been issued to Pakistan’s Sarfaraz Nawaz.
In 1984, in a clash between Pakistan and New Zealand, New Zealand skipper Jeremy Coney threatened to boycott the game after Rana ruled Javed Miandad not out incontroversial circumstances. Such was his reputation that Ravi Shastri, recalling his first tour to the country once said, “Imran and Sarfraz would make the ball swing, and then there were those two umpires, Khizer Hayat and Shakoor Rana.”
Gatting was already miffed with Rana for wearing a Pakistan sweater while officiating the first Test of the series, which also saw a number of questionable decisions by the umpires. Despite the touring team’s protests, Rana stayed on as the umpire for the second Test.
The visitors had made 292 in the first innings of the second Test and the hosts had been reduced to 77-5. Towards the end of day two, controversy erupted. Gatting got David Capel in to stop the quick single before Eddie Hemmings got ready to bowl the fourth ball of his over. However, as the ball was delivered, Rana, from square-leg shouted “stop” and proceeded to call it a dead ball.
The umpire accused Gatting of cheating, stating, “You’re waving your hand. That’s cheating.” The charge was that Gatting was attempting to change the field as the bowler was running in, which would be against the laws of the game. Gatting responded that he was instead asking the fielder to stop and not move, and thus the accusations against him were untrue. Pakistan batter Salim Malik defended Gatting, but Rana would have none of it.
An intense altercation followed, replete with expletives, with Rana refusing to continue proceedings unless Gatting apologized. The England player refused, saying that Rana, who was the square-leg umpire, should never have been involved in the game in the first place. With both parties adamant in their stance, the next day’s play was called off.
The incident threatened to affect the political ties between Pakistan and England, which saw the British Ambassador Sir Nicholas Barrington rush in to diffuse the situation. Gatting was forced to submit an apology and was threatened that his captaincy role would be taken away. Reportedly, Barrington told his colleagues, “This serious row has been brewing for some time … It could well lead to cancellation of the rest of England’s tour. Needless to say, such a move would create a great deal of ill-will in Pakistan towards Britain, and could have damaging financial and legal consequences.
“This reflects badly on them (the England team), and by association, on us. However poor the umpiring decisions are, and however aggressively competitive their Pakistan opponents are, they should just grin and bear it.”
Gatting had to eventually apologize, and the match was allowed to resume. The game ended in a draw. Though the Pakistan Cricket Board wanted to persist with Rana for the third Test as well, he was eventually replaced.
Every player of the England team was later paid £1000 as a ‘bonus’ by the Test and County Cricket Board, with Gatting saying, “I never ever got to the bottom of why the MCC offered each player £1000 to stay back in Pakistan. They wanted us to stay there and the whole team wanted to come home. I think there was a big trade deal being finalized between Pakistan and England and they didn’t want to break off diplomatic relations.”
Rana, on the other hand, said, “In Pakistan, many men have been killed for the sort of insults he threw at me. He’s lucky I didn’t beat him and even luckier no spectator came onto the field to assault him. I have now established that the umpire is the superpower in the game. I did it for umpires everywhere.”