From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.32 :: Aug. 12, 2010

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CRICKET / SRI LANKAN TOUR DIARY

Heroic Harper

Daryl Harper's dream is to umpire in 100 Tests. “There is one more year left for me in the panel and I should be around 94 Tests by then. My favourite umpire David Shepherd officiated in 94 Tests and I cannot really complain. If I get another year, I could complete 100. Even if that does not happen, I would not mind,” he says. By S. Dinakar.

Umpire Daryl Harper has endured several tough times on the field. However, he remembers the first Test at Galle for a particularly painful moment. The aggressive Tillekaratne Dilshan essays a pull and Harper is struck a mighty blow on his chest. Yet, he continues with his duties.

“I am an Aussie, I will not leave the field easily,” he says.

But then the bruise on his chest reminds Harper of the ferocity of the stroke. He feels the area and says, “I generally move out of the way. But there was this hoarding with a maroon background facing me and I lost sight of the ball.”

At the Sinhalese Sports Club ground in Colombo, Harper has had to cope with extreme heat and humidity. “When the job you do is also your passion, you do not feel anything. You just enjoy the game,” he says.

Harper recalls V. V. S. Laxman telling him that the three toughest jobs in cricket were fast bowling, wicket-keeping and umpiring.

“It (umpiring) is a demanding job. People remember you only for your mistakes. But it has given me everything. I never thought I would visit so many countries, see so many people and watch so many great cricketers from close quarters,” he says.

According to Harper, Sachin Tendulkar, soon after his 48th Test hundred at the SSC, told him, “You are my lucky umpire.”

Harper adds, “I must have umpired in close to 10 Tests where Tendulkar scored centuries. What a great batsman.”

Interestingly, Harper was one of the standing umpires in the Chennai Test of the 2008-09 season where Tendulkar came up with an unbeaten match-winning century on a crumbling fifth-day pitch against England at Chepauk.

“An astonishing innings; I can still remember the joy, the euphoria and the sheer effort Tendulkar put in,” says the experienced umpire.

He also cherishes the first Test at Galle here where spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan reached the incredible 800-wicket mark in Tests. “I must have umpired when he took at least 125 of those wickets. I will give you the specifics soon. I am working on it,” says Harper.

The seasoned umpire with an unmistakable sense of humour is writing a book, ‘Harper's Bizarre'. “It will have everything about my umpiring career, the good and the bad moments, criticisms that have not always been fair and a few happy occasions,” says Harper.

Harper has had a rough ride as third umpire in matches involving England in the West Indies and South Africa. He is planning to take legal action against some of the articles written about him during that period. “Sadly, some of the writers did not check facts and were way off the mark from reality when they wrote some things about me. I am meeting my lawyer in Sydney soon,” he says.

Coming back to his book, Harper says, “It will have chapters like ‘My best and my worst Tests' and ‘My shortest Test and my toughest Test'.” He adds, “Actually my toughest Test was when I was summoned after the one-day series between India and England — I was already back in Australia — for the short two-Test series between the same countries in 2008. I think the first Test in Chennai, after all the travelling at such a short notice, was hard. But again, Tendulkar made it memorable.”

Harper believes that umpiring in the sub-continent is the ultimate test. “I had done a fair deal of umpiring when I arrived in Galle for my first Test in the sub-continent. Then, I saw the ball turning and jumping, fielders around the bat, shouts for bat-pad decisions and all the noise. Murali was bowling. I asked myself, ‘What the hell is this?' It takes some time to get adjusted to the conditions here,” he says.

Harper is of the view that technology has already impacted umpiring. “Previously, we would only give the batsman out if we believe the ball was hitting the off or middle stump. Even if the ball was going to hit the leg-stump, we would give the benefit of doubt to the batsman. Now, even if one half of the ball is hitting leg-stump, we give the batsman out.”

The Australian's dream is to umpire in 100 Tests. “There is one more year left for me in the panel and I should be around 94 Tests by then. My favourite umpire David Shepherd officiated in 94 Tests and I cannot really complain. If I get another year, I could complete 100. Even if that does not happen, I would not mind.”

Harper loves sunshine and laughter. He will get by.

Meanwhile, the second Test produces a mountain of runs. Buried down, somewhere way below are the bowlers. Cricket can do without these meaningless run feasts.



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