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Not one decision was disputed

Indian umpires Piloo Reporter and V.K. Ramaswamy made history in 1986-87 when they were picked to officiate in the Test series between Pakistan and the West Indies.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2004 01:15 IST

Indian umpires Piloo Reporter and V.K. Ramaswamy made history in 1986-87 when they were picked to officiate in the Test series between Pakistan and the West Indies. Theirs was the first pair of neutral umpires to stand in a Test match since 1912. Today of course, third country umpires have become the norm. In this article, Reporter recalls his experience of touring Pakistan as an umpire.

In October 1986, I received a call from Ranbir Singh Mahendra, the Board Secretary, asking me to meet him immediately with my passport. He informed me that V.K. Ramaswamy and I had been picked to travel to Pakistan to officiate in the Test series between Pakistan and the West Indies. We were quite excited and looked forward to making the trip as our country's representatives.

Imran Khan, the captain of Pakistan and a 'cricket visionary', had been campaigning for neutral umpires in international cricket for a long time, but very few had taken him seriously. However, on the eve of the tour by the West Indies, he had prevailed upon his Board to implement the idea. We were looking at it as a one-off experience, and little did we know that a day would come when neutral umpires would become the norm!

It took us ten days to get a clearance for our visit from the External Affairs Ministry. By the time we got the green signal, the first Test had been played at Faisalabad with Pakistan winning comprehensively.

We arrived in Lahore a couple of days before the second Test. We were warmly received by PCB officials and interviewed by some journalists at the hotel. At this stage, we were a little apprehensive about how the public would take to us. On the morning of the game, Imran assured us that his team would respect our decisions.

Once the Test began, our worries about the crowd were dispelled by the vociferous 'Ladies Stand'. The ladies kept singing special songs dedicated to the Pakistani players, and I was pleasantly surprised when they concocted one for me as well! "Bombay se aaya umpire, umpire ko salaam karo!", they sang. I raised my hat to acknowledge them and they roared in response.

On the next day, Shakoor Rana, the Pakistani umpire, came to meet us. We had been told that he had criticised Imran and the PCB for inviting neutral umpires, but he turned out to be very friendly like his compatriots. Wherever we went, the hospitality was overwhelming. We received lots of gifts and it was quite embarrassing when people refused to accept money for purchases made by us.

The series though was a tense affair. The West Indies won the second Test and dominated the third, which was drawn. Partly because of the outstanding bowlers in both camps and partly because of the pitches that were on the 'slow and low' side, it was a low-scoring series. Although Abdul Qadir was unplayable most of the time, the Windies batsmen were quick to capitalise on his loose deliveries. Imran generated prodigious swing in a remarkable spell on the fourth day of the third Test at Karachi, taking two wickets off consecutive deliveries twice in the innings. Only Desmond Haynes was able to play him with confidence.

Imran was a very sound leader. He would listen to Javed Miandad and Qadir but would ultimately go by his instinct. I remember an instance when the last man Tony Gray came in to bat at Lahore. Imran posted a man at deep mid-wicket, but Qadir insisted on placing him at forward short-leg instead. Imran feared that the batsman might go for a big hit, but Qadir was sure that he would play defensively. The bowler had his way and the batsman did play defensively. At times, Imran would 'give' it to any fielder who misfielded or was not giving 100%. He encouraged his bowlers all the time and led by example.

True to his word, not one decision was questioned by the Pakistani players. We had heard about Miandad's reputation as a 'street fighter', but not once did he give us that impression. He was extremely courteous, always inquiring whether we were comfortable. The West Indians were not very far behind either, and the only annoying instance I can recall is when the late Malcolm Marshall disputed a 'no-ball' call and arrogantly demanded to see the exact spot where his foot had landed and I refused. Had it been a proper request, I would have certainly obliged.

I returned to Pakistan a year later during the World Cup, and the demeanour of the public and players was no different. If my experience is anything to go by, Sourav Ganguly's team is in for an unprecedented display of hospitality.

First Published: Mar 14, 2004 01:15 IST