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On This Day: Viv Richards’ ‘war dance’ creates an umpiring controversy with racial undertones

When an act by Viv Richards led to the umpire being 'conned', the batsman breaking his foot, police being called in to break up clashes and a race controversy breaking out in the world of sport.

Written by Dipankar Lahiri | Updated: April 12, 2020 7:02:02 pm
April 8, 1990: England’s Rob Bailey walks off after being given out, Curtly Ambrose celebrates (Wisden Cricket Monthly)

When Viv Richards danced down the track in a ‘demented and intimidating charge’ towards umpire Lloyd Barker at the Kensington Oval during the 4th Test of England’s tour of the West Indies in 1990, demanding that the umpire raise his finger, not many would have guessed what was to come – the umpire being ‘conned into a totally incorrect decision’, the batsman breaking his foot, police being called in to break up clashes in the stands and a controversy with marked racial undertones breaking out in the world of sport.

Years later, Bailey wrote about the incident in Beefy’s Cricket Tales: “He (Curtly Ambrose) sent one fizzing into the body; I managed to miss the ball, but it brushed my hip and went through to (wicket keeper) Jeff Dujon. It was the last ball of the over and the umpire, a Mr Lloyd Barker, appeared to be walking off to square-leg. Out of nowhere Viv Richards appealed like a screaming banshee and did a little dance to go with it…I cannot say and will not say that Mr Barker changed his mind on the back of that appeal, but I will say I was very surprised to see the finger go up soon after.”

Whether umpire Barker should have had more resolve to not be perturbed by Richards’ appeal – soon to be branded by the British media as a ‘war dance’ – or whether Richards should not have dashed from the slips to the umpire is a question that has been asked many times since that day, but it remains a seminal moment on how appeals are seen. Not long after, the ICC Code of Conduct adjudicated that ‘excessive or intimidating appealing’ can earn match fines or bans.

The batsman, Rob Bailey, started his long walk back with a befuddled expression as teammates huddled around Ambrose. The home crowd started singing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’. This infuriated English supporters and fighting broke out in the stands. Police were called in to break up the clashes.

Bailey’s misfortune did not end with the dismissal. He revealed years later that he had broken a finger of his foot when he kicked the walls in frustration on his return to the dressing room. Bailey never played for England again, but fittingly went on to become a First Class umpire, also standing in international matches since 2011.

Who said what

The incident not only created a flutter in the world of cricket – because of the nature of the wicket – but also in the charged racial atmosphere of the time. While parts of the British media called Richards’ act ‘cheating’, West Indies supporters bristled at the irony of the England team complaining of cheating.

Viv Richards walks out to bat (File Photo/AP)

Wisden reported: “Bailey was given out in controversial circumstances by umpire Barker after a charging finger-flapping appeal by Richards which was at best undignified and unsightly. At worst, it was calculated gamesmanship.” Wisden Cricket Monthly called the appeal “orgasmic gesticulations”.

The Times said Richards’ “yelling, finger-flicking charge up the wicket looked almost like a physical threat. Certainly it conned a totally incorrect decision from poor Lloyd Barker.” The Guardian called it a “demented and intimidating charge”.

The BBC reported: “A very good umpire cracked under pressure. It wasn’t his mistake that was so sad. It was the fact that (Barker) was pressurised into changing his original decision. If that is gamesmanship or professionalism, I am not quite sure what cheating is.”

As for umpire Barker, he said: “Viv appeals that way all the time and no one coerces me”.

Richards said: “When I do my little jig, it is ceremonial, just a celebration.” He eventually admitted that the decision had been wrong but said that “it was up to (Barker) to retain his composure and make his decision”.

With regard to the off-the-field row, he said: “There are a lot of people who are feeling pretty hurt about this, that here we are in the Caribbean and on our home soil, having these guys talk a lot of rubbish on our airwaves.”

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