Thursday, February 22, 2018

Colossus of an umpire dies

AT five feet, four inches, no taller than a jockey, even shorter in a characteristic crouching stance behind the stumps like a rider in the home stretch, Douglas Sang Hue was dwarfed by the towering fast bowlers of his time who pounded past him in their delivery stride.

As an umpire who presided over them, firmly but unfussily, Sang Hue was a Colossus. There was no match referee, no DRS or no 15 degrees flex to be considered in his time; umpires alone were in charge of the game. 

A Jamaican of the minority Chinese populace, he was a moderate club cricketer who so quickly established a reputation as an umpire that he was appointed for his debut Test, the fifth on India’s tour of 1962, without previously officiating in a first-class match. In all, his record was 31 Tests between then and 1981.   

He was at his peak in the 1970s; he officiated in all five Tests, a first for a West Indian, in Australia’s series in the Caribbean in 1973, a sequence repeated when England came the following year. Australia’s captain Ian Chappell, never one to offer praise lightly, rated him as the best in the world. 

On Chappell’s recommendation, he was the only non-Australian on the umpiring panel during the two seasons of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC) between 1977 and 1979. In 1977, he stood in six county championship matches in England. 

To Andy Roberts, who first encountered Sang Hue at the start of his international career, Sang Hue “always had the confidence and respect of the players”. What struck him was that he would give a decision “as soon as it happened”, unlike the slow-death finger of Steve Bucknor, another highly-rated Jamaican of a later era.

Incongruously, controversy was often Sang Hue’s unwarranted companion. 

In England’s Test at Sabina Park in 1968, he gave Basil Butcher caught left-handed down the leg-side by England’s wicket-keeper Jim Parks off Basil D’Oliveira’s medium-pace. 

Before David Holford, the new batsman, had marked his guard, bottles were already being tossed onto the ground from the packed spectators’ area on the eastern section. The problem was that Parks’ glove, not the ball, had brushed the turf. In informal street cricket in Jamaica that counted as not out; any doubt and the issue was settled by the catcher having to show the back of his hand.

To the chants of “We want Butcher”, “Sang Hue no more” and others directed at Sang Hue’s race, the shower of bottles halted play for half-hour or so. On-field pleas by the captains, Garry Sobers and Colin Cowdrey, made no impression; it only subsided when the popular government opposition leader, Norman Manley, appealed for calm.

Minutes later, the intimidating arrival of the riot squad, in their gas-masks with guns at the ready, sparked a further flare-up from the crowd. The squad’s response was a volley of teargas; as the strong breeze blew from east to west, it wafted away from its intended target towards the Kingston Cricket Club pavilion on the opposite side.

Eventually, the police withdrew, a semblance of order was restored and play resumed after a break of an hour and a half, Sang Hue back in his familiar position. 

With West Indies, following on, still 29 behind with five second innings wickets remaining on a treacherous pitch covered with a mosaic of cracks, England pressed for the lost time to be tacked on. They got their way; an unscheduled sixth day was added to accommodate 75 minutes. 

England failed to factor in the unbeaten presence of Sobers who, time and again, had proved he was capable of all things. Out first ball in the first innings (given by Sang Hue undeniably lbw to John Snow), he compiled 113 and was still batting when he declared late on the fifth day with West Indies 158 to the good. By close, England were four down for 19; on the 75 minutes appendage the next morning, they managed to scramble a draw at 68 for eight.

On England’s next tour of the Caribbean four years later, another palpably correct decision by Sang Hue led to an unparalleled issue in the first Test at the Queen’s Park.

As Bernard Julien blocked Derek Underwood’s last ball of the second day, England’s crafty all-rounder Tony Greig, stationed at silly point, swiveled and threw the stumps down at the non-striker’s end. 

A startled Alvin Kallicharran, weary after a brilliant 142, was already on his way back to the pavilion as Greig pinged his target. Sang Hue raised his left index finger and, as if to say he had no option under the law, spread his arms to the bewildered Kallicharran.

“In the interest of cricket as a whole and the future of this tour in particular”, England’s manager and captain Mike Denness asked for the appeal to be withdrawn. It took three hours before an official statement confirmed that, even though it was “not strictly within the laws of cricket”, Sang Hue and his fellow umpire Ralph Gosein agreed to allow Kallicharran’s resinstatement “bearing in mind the particular circumstances”.

In 1978, Australia captain Bob Simpson was not amused after Sang Hue no-balled his off-spinner Bruce Yardley for throwing in the match against Jamaica. Simpson objected to his appointment to the Test at Sabina three days later; the authorities acceded.

Did Sang Hue make mistakes? Of course, he did – but not many.

One of the Channel Nine TV’s innovations for World Series Cricket was the stationing of an interviewer, David Grant, on the boundary’s edge to hear from a batsman about his dismissal as he left the ground. 

It went well for a while – “the ball moved late”, “I think I played a poor shot”, “it’s not such a good pitch”, that type of thing – until Roy Fredericks was given out caught behind off Greg Chappell in the Adelaide SuperTest. 

“What happened there,” Grant asked as the left-handed opener. “Ask flipping Sang Hue,” was the terse answer – or words to that effect. 

In his autobiography, Pakistan’s Imran Khan wrote that Fredericks was run out on 99 but given not out in the 1977 Test in Port of Spain. “The umpire, Douglas Sang Hue, later told Mushtaq (Mohammed) our captain, that he had to live there,” he reported.

It somehow doesn’t ring true. He, after all, lived his whole life in Jamaica where he was seldom the crowd’s favourite. It was where he died last Friday, aged 82, after ailing for some time.