Tony Crafter © Getty Images
Tony Crafter © Getty Images

Anthony Ronald ‘Tony’ Crafter, born December 5, 1940, had stood in most Tests and ODIs for Australia when he retired. In an international umpiring career that spanned well over a decade, Crafter had witnessed some of the most famous on-field storms. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the South Australian who handled controversies better than most.

Anthony Ronald ‘Tony’ Crafter stood in 33 Tests and 84 ODIs when he retired. Indeed, he was the most ‘hatted’ — if that is a word — Australian at that time in either formats. When Crafter was around, the television umpire was still not implemented at Test cricket, and match referees have just come into play. In fact, Crafter’s last series — India’s tour of Australia in 1991-92 — was the first to have a match referee.

It was good that he did, for Crafter was not a firm believer in technology. There was a proposal for umpires carrying pocket television sets to the ground during World Cup 1987. Crafter’s response was a strict no-no: “The technology at present is not good enough to justify the umpire’s seeking assistance from a pocket TV before making decisions about which he is convinced. I would not like to use one if provided to me.” To be fair, he found support in Dickie Bird and David Shepherd.

But then, there was no escape from technology. After retirement he stood, alongside Darrell Hair, in the Bradman XI vs World XI exhibition match at SCG (when Brian Lara was dismissed by Zoe Goss). Poor Crafter, along with several batsmen, had microphones strapped to him.

The man

Born in Mount Barker, South Australia, Crafter tried a hand in cricket like most Australians of his age. He made to district level, and even to South Australia squad, but never made it to the XI.

He went to England, and was good enough to play for Leicestershire Second XI, albeit a solitary match against Derbyshire Second XI. He took 3 for 23 in the match but was never picked again. He also had a season for Stockport in Central Lancashire League. Taking the boat with him was Ian Chappell, a professional at Ramsbottom for the same season.

But that was 1963, when Crafter was a mere 22. Decades later, Crafter was managing the Australian umpires. Along with Bobby Simpson, Crafter was the only other Australian MCC invited when the 2000 code of The Laws of Cricket was formed.

He later moved to London, working for ICC (as assessor of umpires) and MCC, and moved back to Australia in 2007, freshly appointed national selector of Cricket Australia. He sold 2 Wellington Crescent, East Melbourne, and moved to Queensland with his wife Helen that year.

There is now even a Tony Crafter Award for the Best A Grade Umpire, given by South Australian Cricket Umpires & Scorers Association (SACUSA) every year.

Between all that he worked as a project officer with the South Australian Department of Recreation and Sport. He also had a coaching certificate (advanced-level), and played for Port Adelaide Club.

Crafter was also “a leading equestrian official”. Appointed Executive Director of horse trials by South Australian Department of Recreation and Sport, Crafter played a major role in organising the three-day world championship in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, at Gawler, South Australia.

The umpire

Crafter gave up playing cricket once he realised he would never make it big; it also clashed with his day job. He later told The Age (Melbourne): “I was not able to make practice and I’m a firm believer if you do something you do it to the best of your ability.”

So he took to umpiring at the insistence of a few umpiring colleagues. He ended up having an illustrious career in his white coat. Dennis Lillee, in Menace, called Crafter one of the best four Australian umpires he had seen, along with Col Egar, Peter McConnell, and Mel Johnson. Unfortunately, history of cricket remembers Crafter as the man who managed to get involved in as many controversies as any other umpire has in history.

Crafter, tall, thin Crafter, started with a Sheffield Shield outing at Adelaide Oval when South Australia hosted Queensland. His stints were generally restricted to Shield matches, though he got a few tour matches when overseas teams toured Australia. The major break, however, came in Ashes 1978-79, and as has almost always been the case, his career started with a controversial decision.

Old-ball thinking

The SCG Test is typically remembered for Graham Yallop’s outrageous 121, scored out of a team total of 198 (a mere 179 were scored when Yallop was at the crease). Despite that, England managed a 110-run lead before John Emburey and Geoff Miller skittled out the hosts for 143. The target was a mere 34 when Geoff Boycott and Mike Brearley strode out.

The match was not eventless, even till then. Debuting alongside Crafter was Donald Wesser, and neither umpire put up a great show. Boycott and Derek Randall were run out controversially; Graham Gooch was let off; and Andrew Hilditch was given out when the edge did not carry to Bob Taylor. The media criticised both umpires.

England manager Doug Insole was a firm believer in walking. He told The Canberra Times: “As a committee member of Essex I have always told the players to walk if they are out. If you’re caught in the covers and walk, why not walk when caught in the slips cordon?” Even Insole insisted nobody walked till the umpire raised his finger.

It was a nominal target, but Yallop probably backed his spinners, Bruce Yardley and Jim Higgs, to put up a fight. Australia were, after all, trailing 1-4 in the series. So Yallop decided to start the innings with an old ball.

Now, this was strictly against the rules. Unfortunately, Crafter and Wesser were debutants, and Yallop somehow had his way. Brearley was not amused: “The advantage of an old ball was that the spinners could grip the ball from the start. There is no chance for the openers to score a few runs and get their feet moving against the new ball,” he later said.

So the fourth innings was underway. Insole rummaged through the rulebook, and by the time he found out that Crafter and Wesser had violated Law 5 (“subject to agreement to the contrary, either captain may demand a new ball at the start of the innings”) he let it be. England had, after all, reached 12 without loss. Crafter and Wesser were duly lambasted.

Handling things at Perth

One would think Crafter would have a quiet match after that, but his second Test, at WACA, was even more eventful. With Sikander Bakht hanging around for 37 minutes with Asif Iqbal, things got frustrating for Australia. Then Alan Hurst Mankaded Sikander.

Pakistan were not amused. Joe Darling and Andrew Hilditch put on 87 before Darling cover-drove Sarfraz Nawaz. Sikander threw the ball to the non-striker’s end. Hilditch picked it up, and threw it nonchalantly to Sarfraz.

But Sarfraz appealed; and Crafter had no option but to rule him out. And hell broke loose.

The Wall

It is often forgotten that Tony Crafter had prevented what could have been the most violent on-field spat in a Test © Getty Images
It is often forgotten that Tony Crafter had prevented what could have been the most violent on-field spat in a Test © Getty Images

That was not the worst Crafter had to handle. In fact, that was not even the worst Crafter had to handle in an Australia vs Pakistan Test at WACA, for he had to stand as a wall to protect Lillee, of all people.

Television cameras do not lie. Lillee clearly barged into Javed Miandad; Miandad pushed back; Lillee then kicked Miandad, which was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. Miandad charged at Lillee, brandishing his bat like a spear; and Crafter stood in front of Lillee, preventing a cracked skull or thereabouts.

He later recollected: “I just remember the players coming together and I knew I had to get them apart. I know it’s an unusual thing to happen on a cricket field, but it was almost like a reflex action.”

Lillee was fined $200 and was banned for two matches. The fine was later changed to $1,300 by ACB official Bob Merriman, who, after a discussion with the on-field umpires Johnson and Crafter, called the fine ‘not sufficient and did not conform with acceptable standards’. The matches Lillee missed were, however, minor ODIs. Miandad got away scot-free. READ: Infamous on-field spats in cricket history

The iconic photograph (often spotting a fake autograph of Don Bradman that keeps doing rounds on the internet) includes the three men, of whom Crafter is the least noticed.

 WACA, again

Once again it was Johnson and Crafter, and once again they were at WACA. Ian Botham took a swipe off Geoff Lawson, and the ball either took the inside-edge or brushed his pads on its way to Rod Marsh. There was an appeal, Crafter said no, and gave Lawson his hat back.

Then he walked to Johnson. There was a consultation. One wonders how Johnson could be counted upon, for the decision involved whether the ball had brushed the bat or the pad. Crafter then gave Botham out as the fielders had just crossed over.

If you know Botham, you have probably guessed the reaction.

The poor debutant

Once again it was Pakistan, and once again it was Sarfraz. Debutant Greg Matthews, batting at No. 8, grafted out 75, adding 205 for the eighth wicket with Yallop when Sarfraz rapped him on the pad.

Crafter gave Matthews out, and the youngster created a ruckus, indicating that the ball had hit the bat first, and rightly so, as television replays suggested. The Canberra Times wrote that Matthews “reacted vigorously, punching his bat to indicate the ball had struck there first and then speaking at the umpire as he left.”

The matter did not stop there. Australian manager Jack Edwards made Matthews write an apology to Crafter the following day for “any embarrassment it may have caused him.”

Robbing the Raja

Pakistan were playing England in a Benson & Hedges World Series match at WACA (again!) in 1986-87. Rameez Raja flicked one uppishly to Bill Athey off Mike Gatting, and was caught.

But there was a catch: Gatting had overstepped, and Crafter had stretched his hand out to signal no-ball. As Rameez, oblivious to the call, started walking away, Athey threw the ball to Jack Richards — and Crafter and Dick French ruled him out.

This did not comply with Law 38 (2) at that time: “If a no-ball has been called, the striker shall not be given run out unless he attempts to run.” It was a decision so shocking that even Wisden broke its restraint: “Rarely as such an eventuality arises, two Test umpires should have known the Law.”

Surpassing diplomatic immunity

Crafter stood in five matches in World Cup 1987, and did a competent job, given his lack of experience in the conditions. Unfortunately, on October 13, 1987, he did the unthinkable at Rawalpindi: he gave Miandad out LBW on Pakistan soil. In fact, Crafter became the first non-Pakistani umpire to give Miandad LBW on Pakistan soil.

The video quality of the match is not sufficient to inform us on whether the decision was correct. But Crafter was scared. Bird later wrote in his autobiography: “Miandad had enjoyed something like diplomatic immunity in such matters, at least not if you were a Pakistani umpire.” A surprised Miandad stood ground for a while before leaving.

But if we believe Bird, the story did not end there: “Crafter wondered whether he was going to be lynched by the crowd. ‘I could feel them watching me,’ he told me, ‘and it went so deathly quiet.’”

But then, this was Bird, which means a somewhat large fistful of salt is often necessary as far as anecdotes are concerned.

Dyer straits

Greg Dyer was Australia’s World Cup-winning gloveman. Mike Gatting’s reverse-sweep was as much Dyer’s as it was Allan Border’s. And yet, as Border took Australia from strength to strength, Dyer languished in wilderness. In fact, he played for Australia Masters when Border was still playing domestic cricket.

What happened at MCG was like this: Craig McDermott bowled down leg; Dyer dived, and in a blatant demonstration of cheating, picked up the ball from the ground and semi-appealed; poor Crafter consulted with French (again?) at square-leg — for use of television cameras to take decisions was a thing of the future — and gave Andrew Jones out.

Dyer’s career ended soon afterwards. It was, after all, one of those rare occasions when Bill Lawry and Tony Greig agreed on air.

The same season Crafter managed to end up in the wrong side of Lillee. He lodged a formal complaint against the giant for using abusive language in a Shield match at Adelaide Oval. Lillee was fined $300 by South Australian Commissioner Justice John Gun.

Lillee later wrote in Menace: “I was reported by umpire Tony Crafter after a caught behind when the player hung around. I told him to buzz off — or something similar. The umpire said nothing to me on the field or after the game … My disbelief was shared not only by my team but by South Australia as well.”

The controversies continued. Crafter warned Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose at Adelaide Oval, 1988-89, for bowling too many bouncers. Clive Lloyd, in his manager’s report to ACB, wrote: “I thought he must be ill… he’s supposed to be the senior umpire.” Crafter responded with “it’s been bloody unpleasant out there.”

And he continued…

Crafter retired after Sheffield Shield 1991-92. He was later appointed Australian umpiring manager, as mentioned above. One of his most controversial decisions was to reduce the Australian international umpires’ panel from 13 members to 6, retaining Hair, Peter Parker, Terry Prue, and Steve Randell for Tests and ODIs, and Daryl Harper and Tony McQuillan for only ODIs. He also appointed Steve Davis and Ross Emerson as reserves.

Even after retirement Crafter kept his philosophy on umpires and their craft simple: “They are out there with a set of laws to uphold and that’s what they do. Thick-skinned, I guess, is one way of describing it.”

However, though the move to cut down the panel was not universally appreciated, Crafter found recognition in acquiring help from referees of hockey, baseball, and AFL — faster-paced sports, in other words. He also developed a comprehensive programme for umpires (including physical trainers, dieticians, media instructors, and psychologists), making three fitness tests per season compulsory.

By this time Crafter’s attitude towards technology had changed. He later told The Canberra Times: “We’ve got to do everything we can to get the right decisions, and one of those things is the third umpire… The TV does put additional pressure on, but it’s something an umpire can’t afford to worry about. If he does start concerning himself about what the TV’s showing, he starts worrying about what he’s doing, and that’s the sort of thing that leads to mistakes. TV has done a lot of good for the game of cricket, and the latest developments, such as ball cam, have created more interest in the game. As an umpire, you just accept it as part and parcel of your job.”

There was, however, one last thing to be handled — the handling of Hair after the Muttiah Muralitharan incident. But it did not matter to Crafter, for “that is what umpires are trained for: even for demands for apologies and threats of legal action, which have found their way into the modern game.”

So much for buckling under pressure!

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)