Besides Steve Bucknor, if there was an umpire the Indian cricket team is not a fan of is Daryl Harper of Australia. The former ICC umpire was the one who gave Sachin Tendulkar out ‘Shoulder Before Wicket’ during India’s 1999 tour of Australia and made some dubious calls when it came to Indian cricketers on more than a few occasions.
In 2011, officiating in his final series, Harper made a decision that didn’t go too well with former captain MS Dhoni. During India’s tour of West Indies, in the first Test of the series held in Kingston, Jamaica, Harper banned Praveen Kumar – making his Test debut – from bowling in the remainder of the innings after the India seamer was running down to the middle of the pitch into the protected area.
“Maybe he was letting off steam and hadn’t appreciated me removing Test debutant Praveen Kumar from the attack for repeatedly running down the middle of the pitch into the protected area,” Harper told Asianet Newsable. “I recall MS suggesting I should have been more lenient to the newcomer, but Praveen had already played in 52 ODIs before his first Test so he knew the Laws. I have a very good memory and recall MS responding to me when I informed him that the bowler was banned for the rest of the innings.”
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Turns out, Kumar wasn’t the first India seamer who was stopped from bowling midway through the innings. During India’s tour of Zimbabwe in 2000, Harper had handed out the same sanction to former India left-arm quick Ashish Nehra for the same offence. Dhoni may have not been part of the Indian team back then, but he was aware of Harper’s being strict when it came to bowlers running down the wicket.
“’We’ve had trouble with you before, Harper,’ were Dhoni’s exact words. I laughed aloud heartily as I wandered away to square-leg which probably wasn’t a respectful response on my behalf,” Harper added.
“Maybe MS knew that Praveen Kumar was only the second Indian bowler to be banned in a Test match for repeatedly running into the protected area. Maybe MS knew that the first Indian bowler to be banned had been Ashish Nehra in a Test in Bulawayo in 2000. Maybe MS knew the name of the umpire who had taken that rare action.”
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Even though India went on to win the Kingston Test by 63 runs, Harper made a few dubious decisions, and Dhoni made sure he wouldn’t miss to mention it. “If the correct decisions were made the game would have finished much earlier and I would have been in the hotel by now,” Dhoni had said at the post-match press conference, and Harper felt the captain should have been punished for criticizing the decisions. Harper even went on to say that Dhoni tried to intimidate him, although nothing concrete ever originated from his claims.
“After the Test was won by India, MS was reported to have said to the media assembled that the players would have been back in their hotel rooms earlier if the umpires had made the correct decisions,” Harper said. “It’s true… but they would have been back earlier if the Indian fieldsmen had taken their catches as well. Sometimes I wished I could have attended those post-match press conferences on a regular basis in order to set the record straight.”
Harper was supposed to officiate in the remaining two matches, but the controversy led him to quit prematurely, ending his career on 96 Tests. He was upset at the ICC not taking any action against Dhoni and also because of the errors he had committed through the Test.
“It did turn out to be my final Test, but my contract was due to expire two weeks later after the third Test in Dominica so the end was close, regardless of any comments by MS Dhoni or anyone else,” Harper added.
“I accepted that I had made two incorrect decisions during the match and some other moments could not be determined with the available technology. I didn’t have a clean sheet and that always disappointed me when it happened, but my decision-making statistics in Tests with India were second to none at the time.”