Umpiring in the 1970–71 Ashes series
The England team disputed several umpiring decisions in the 1970–71 Ashes series, Ray Illingworth, Geoffrey Boycott and John Snow in particular. After the series Boycott and Snow were called to a disciplinary hearing at Lords over their behaviour, and Illingworth and Snow never toured again. Only three umpires were used; Lou Rowan, who was most involved in the controversy, and his colleagues Tom Brooks and Max O'Connell who both debuted as Test umpires in the series. At the time, umpires had no recourse to slow motion replays and had to make decisions based on what they saw in a split second, with the benefit of the doubt always going to the batsman. As a result it was not uncommon for umpires to make mistakes, which over the course of a long series tended to cancel each other out. The best an umpire could do was to make an honest judgement based on what he saw.
Lou Rowan was a policeman and became senior umpire after the retirement of the much respected Col Egar. He was inclined to stand on his authority and retired at the end of the series. In 1972 he wrote The Umpire's Story which was highly critical of the England team, particularly of Illingworth and Snow. It even queried "was John Snow actually grabbed by a spectator who objected to Snow flattening an Australian batsman?". regardless of photographic evidence to the contrary. John Snow in his autobiography Cricket Rebel devoted a whole chapter to "Bitter Rows with Umpire Rowan" in which he wrote 'I have never come across another umpire so full of his own importance, so stubborn, lacking in humour, unreasonable and utterly unable'. E.W. Swanton was not convinced that the umpires were biased "...the old hobby horse trotted out of the alleged incompetence of Australian umpires. There were ructions ahead, of course, but my view was that Rowan, Tom Brooks and M.G. O'Connell, who shared the umpiring in the series, did a good job all through."
In the Second Test Ray Illingworth was put in to bat, but Rowan refused his request for the roller to be used on the wicket before play began. Rowan later realised his mistake and apologised in the lunch break. Even John Snow applauded when he and Tom Brooks refused to start play at Melbourne in the abandoned Third Test. Ian Johnson and the Melbourne authorities were desperate to get the game going, but the umpires refused to be pressured as the field was quite unfit for play. Snow found Max O'Connell 'a very reasonable and fair man, even if I did not agree with him' and that they could talk problems through. Brooks was the only one of the umpires who had played First Class Cricket – he had been a lively fast-medium bowler – and as a result was more able to connect with the Test players, and was more forgiving of short-pitched deliveries which he saw as a natural part of the game.
John Snow wrote that Lou Rowan was 'utterly unable to distinguish between a delivery short of a length which rise around the height of the rib cage and a genuine bouncer which goes through head high'. and believed that chest high balls were not intimidatory. However, English umpire Dickie Bird wrote "as far as I am concerned, intimidatory bowling is the fast, short pitched ball into the region of the batsman's ribcage. When such a ball is fired in it is then that I feel an umpire must be firm...and tell the bowler to cut it out...that's the killer ball, and that is when I always step in". As Snow hit tailenders Garth McKenzie and Terry Jenner on the head in the series and continually bowled short at the other Australian batsmen it was not unreasonable for the umpires to intervene. Snow thought this was partisanship as Alan Thomson was not called to book when he bowled bouncers at Snow and six in one eight-ball over against Ray Illingworth.
Snow was twice warned by Rowan for intimidatory bowling in the Second Test at Perth, but he refused to accept that rib high balls were intimidatory and continued to bowl them. As a result Snow was given an official warning, which meant that he would not be allowed to bowl if he was warned again. Illingworth told him that this was to be his last over in any case and the fast bowler sent his last ball flying over the head of Doug Walters, turned to Rowan and said "Now that's a bouncer for you". In the Seventh Test Rowan warned Snow again when he hit tailender Terry Jenner on the head with a short ball, but waited until after Jenner had been helped off and Snow was walking back to his mark instead of having a quiet word in the interim. Snow though this inflamed the crowd who had just calmed down after the incident itself. When they started throwing beer-cans and food onto the ground Illingworth took his team back to the dressing room when the umpires refused to do so, an unprecedented move in Test cricket.
There were two run out incidents. In the First Test Keith Stackpole should have been run out for 18 as Geoff Boycott threw down the wicket at the bowler's end, but the batsman was given the benefit of the doubt by Lou Rowan. The Australian papers carried photographs the next day showing that he was clearly out and labelled the decision "one of the worst in cricket history". It probably cost England victory as Stackpole made 207 – his highest Test score – and if the "extra" 189 runs are subtracted England would have won by an innings (464 to Australia's 244 & 214). Rowan's refusal to accept that his decision was wrong gave the England players grave doubts as to his ability and led them to question his judgements for the remainder of the series. Boycott was particularly upset with the decision, but in the Sixth Test he was even angrier when Umpire O'Connell gave him out. Ian Chappell had thrown down the stumps as Boycott failed to ground his bat finishing a run. He vocally disputed his dismissal and later pointedly refused to apologise for his behaviour, which lead to another press furore especially as this time when a photograph showed that he was clearly out (Boycott later apologised to Umpire O'Connell in private).
Catches and stumpings
In the Fifth Test Max O'Connell called "over" and turned to walk to square leg after Snow bowled the last ball of the first over. As a result he missed Alan Knott catching Keith Stackpole and had to give him not out. This was his first over as an umpire in Test cricket and Snow 'could quite understand his actions which illustrate the pressure umpires are also under in a Test', and they were able to joke about it afterwards. In the Seventh Test Walters had to be stumped twice by Knott off Underwood as he was given not out by Rowan the first time when for 41, but was a few balls later by Max O'Connell on 42. Later in the match Keith Stackpole was caught off a thick edge by Alan Knott off Peter Lever on 13, but was given not out by Rowan, Illingworth said the decision "was really unbelievable".
Leg before wicket
No Australian batsman was given out leg before wicket in the entire series, the clearest evidence of umpiring bias in the minds of the England players. Again Keith Stackpole benefited, in the Second Test he survived lbw appeals from Ken Shuttleworth and Peter Lever before he was out caught by Lever off Snow for 8. There was an experimental lbw law in force at the time which made it more difficult to dismiss batsmen, particularly for spin bowlers. In any case five England batsmen were given out lbw in the series.
- Snow, p. 136
- Snow, p. 97
- Snow, p. 96
- Swanton (1977), p. 147
- Freddi, p. 74
- Snow, pp. 90–91
- Snow, p. 108
- Bird, p. 91
- Snow, p. 102
- Snow, p. 100
- Snow, pp. 105–106
- Swanton (1986), p. 300"
- Snow, pp. 104–108"
- Firth, p. 510
- Snow, pp. 98–99
- p78-79, Arnold
- p158, Swanton, 1977
- Snow, pp. 101–102
- Snow, p. 105
- Snow, pp. 107–108
- Snow, p. 101
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