The real man of the match

Despite the centuries from Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey and Matthew Hayden, and the match changing all round contribution from Andrew Symonds, there was one individual performance over the five days of the second test in Melbourne that stood out head and shoulders above all others.

Pakistani umpire Asad Rauf, 49, was standing in just his third test match yet he looked like a veteran of 50.

Having stood in two matches involving Bangladesh, one at the Premadasa stadium in Colombo and the other against Zimbabwe in Chittagong, Rauf was hardly accustomed to crowds. Indeed, there were more security guards and attendants at the MCG than there was crowd at either of his first two games in ICC colours.

On the first day at the MCG the crowd numbered almost 72 000 and most of them cheered, booed or generally roared at the sound of every appeal.

Shaun Pollock and Andre Nel had a number of very close lbw appeals turned down at Rauf’s end but the bowlers’ disappointment was soon soothed by the evidence provided by television replays.

Rauf had five of the hardest decisions to make before lunch on the first day and ‘Hawkeye’ suggested he’d got them all right.

Rauf is living proof that, in general, the best players make the worst umpires. Or, to put it in a far less flattering light, the least successful players make the best umpires.

Having made his first-class debut for Pakistan Universities, Rauf played his next match for the illustrious Karachi Whites who, realistically, recognised him as a youth with modest abilities. Undaunted, the young man stoically forged a career playing the game for no less than 14 years moving to the National Bank of Pakistan and then Pakistan Railways as a batsman who bowled some very, very occasional off spin.

In 71 matches he scored three centuries but averaged just 28.76. He claimed three wickets at 149.33 runs each.

Yet he was undaunted and unbowed – no wonder he looked his Australian tormentors in the eye and refused to be swayed during the first four days of the biggest match of his career, playing or umpiring.

But by the fifth day the relentless histrionics of Shane Warne had finally worn him down. Having spoken to, or been spoken to, by Warne on six separate occasions during South Africa’s two innings, Warne launched his umpteenth optimistic appeal and the doubts nagged, Warne leapt and screamed, Rauf wondered…

What had all those animated conversations between the umpire and Warne been about, anyway?

“Just a difference in communication about interpretation of a few things,” Ricky Ponting said after the match. Which, of course, means bugger all – as it is supposed to.

Basically, Warne interpreted something as ‘out’ and the umpire did not.

And Warne was disgusted with the affrontery shown by the official.

After the game, match referee Chris Broad admitted that Australia had consistently “pushed the line” between what was acceptable and what was not.

“I don’t like to see any player question an umpire’s decision,” Broad said.

“And I know many umpires who would have reported several incidents that happened out there, but Steve (Bucknor) and Asad did not.”

Which is even better news for Asad because Broad will, no doubt, make sure the ICC hears about the strength of his performance in Melbourne which would have been close to perfect had it not been for that incident on the final morning…

There was Warne, leaping and screaming, the ball looping gently into Hayden’s hands at slip. Ashwell Prince, not offering a shot with bat and gloves behind his back. How did it get there? By now Rauf probably has doubts about his own shadow. How many has he got wrong? Could Warne, the intimidating showman and most successful bowler in Test cricket, be right?

The umpire put on a resolute and highly impressive display, especially his exterior demenour. But he wouldn’t have been human if there hadn’t been some fairly substantial interior wobbles. Finally, gatvol, he raised his finger. And that was the end of Ashwell Prince, caught at slip off the shoulder. Not the shoulder of his bat, note, but his shoulder.

Warne can’t be blamed. At times he is larger than life itself, so why not appeal for everything – even when the ball pitches 10 centimetres outside leg stump? But the Australians should remember who has cried foul longest and hardest about intimidation and excessive appealing during series in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka with spinners bowling at both ends.

In fact, if the faces of the players and the logos on their clothes could be erased, I wonder whether Australians would be able to tell the four teams apart.

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