Sunday, August 20, 2006

What...? A Forfeited Test...?

What....? We have a Forfeited Test match….?

Fortunately for cricket lovers of the world we still do not have a forfeited test match in Ashes history. For that matter forfeiting a Test match is never heard of in 129 years and 1813 test match history. That’s until today. With Pakistan forfeiting the 4th test at The Oval, a new chapter is now being written in the history of test cricket. It still puzzles me how the events were unfolded to let the Oval test take the course it has taken. Especially, as many as sixteen overs were bowled as England took their score from 230 for 3 to 298 for 4 after the triggering event.

At the end of the 56th over of England’s innings, which was Umar Gul’s 14th, England was cruising along at 230 for 3 and was getting closer to wiping out the deficit. Then the umpires Darrel Hair of Australia and Billy Doctrove of West Indies consulted each other while inspecting the ball and asked for a change of ball. Darrell Hair looked particularly very unhappy about the condition of the ball and also signaled the scorers for awarding five additional runs, which under the prevailing cricket laws means the fielding team may have tampered the ball to take advantage of the reverse swing that it would generate making it the first such occurrence of a 5 run penalty being imposed for ball-tampering. There were absolutely no signs at that time about the chaos that would unfold very soon in front of a packed and sell-out crowd at The Oval.

The game continued for further 16 overs when bad light stopped play and an early tea was taken. When play was about to start with both the umpires coming on to the field Pakistan refused to come on to the field as a protest over the ball tampering allegation and subsequent five runs penalty imposed on them. The umpires were soon joined by English batsmen Collingwood & Ian Bell but there were no signs of Pakistan team coming out. So at around 5 pm the umpires took of the bails indicating the conclusion of the test match. No announcement was made to the waiting public resulting in an utter confusion both in the stands and in commentary box. About an half an hour later Pakistani team took the field amidst the echoing boos only to know that Darrel Hair was not interested in coming back to the field and as per the Cricket Law 21.3 which says “"that, in the opinion of the umpires, a team refuses to play, the umpires shall award the match to the other side" the test match has officially ended

What baffles me most is why Pakistan waited till the break to protest. If they were upset for getting accused for ball tampering and therefore “Cheating” as put forth by their coach Bob Woolmer, they could have done it when the five penalty runs were awarded. Also puzzles me is the fact whether umpire Hair have enough evidence to bring such an anti-climactic end and controversial finish to an otherwise an evenly poised and extremely entertaining test match in which Pakistan had an upper edge.

Protesting over umpire's decision is not new to Test Cricket. In fact there were several incidents in test history in which the umpires were the targets of players’ fury and there by drawing their wrath, though most notable ones have occured during the modern times. First of such incident happened way back in 1973 test at Edgbaston between West Indies and England when Arthur Fagg refused to take the field for a while to protest against the West Indian Players reaction to one of his umpiring decisions. Clive Lloyd's West Indian team refused to take the field after the 3rd day's tea break unless umpire Fred goodall of New Zealand was replaced in the 1980 Dunedin test between New Zealand and West Indies causing a delay of 12 minutes. The organizers then managed to persuade the visitors to take the field. But situation worsened so much after that at one stage during the test West Indies wanted to abandon the whole tour. In 1987 test at Faisalabad, Shakoor Rana of Pakistan took one step further when he demanded a written apology from England Captain Mike Gatting before he came on to the field.
But none of those test matches went as far as forfeiture. The closest a test match ever gone to the point where a forfeiture looked imminent was surprisingly not initiated by an umpire’s reaction but by none other than the little master Sunil Gavaskar‘s reaction. Gavaskar after showing his anger at an lbw decision handed over to him by Rex Whitehead of Australia in 1981 Melbourne test, started his walk back to the pavilion reluctantly but heard a comment from the bowler Dennis Lillee on his way back which infuriated him so much that being the captain of the team he asked his partner Chetan Chauhan to walk off the field with him.

If Wing Commander Shahid Durani, the manager of the Indian team had not intervened the situation to stop Chauhan at the boundary gate and instructed Dilip Vengsarkar, the next batsman to get on to the field in time to resume the batting, India would not only have become the first ever team to have forfeited a test match but also may have denied Indian cricket fans an opportunity to witness one of the greatest test match victories. Australia failed to reach an extremely low target of 143 runs and were bowled out for 83. I still cannot forget Ghavri dismissing Greg Chappell first ball he faced and an injured Kapil Dev’s unbelievable spell of 5 for 28.

So The Oval Test Match between Pakistan and England which ended in Pakistan forfeiting and England getting awarded a win which came almost 25 years after another test which went almost to the same boiling point may have very well set a precedence to what we might expect going forward unless some stricter measures are taken up by ICC to combat such incidents,

As a cricket fan I really feel I am deprived of enjoying a good test match finish. I am sure the spectators at The Oval must be feeling the same in spite of getting refunded a 40% or their ticket price for today’s play and 100% for tomorrow’s play.

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