In sad news for the Australian cricket community, former Test umpire Rex Whitehead has passed away aged 65.
Whitehead recently suffered a massive stroke and did not recover.
One of just 90 Australians to officiate in a Test, the Victorian also stood in 14 One Day Internationals and 15 first-class matches between 1979 and 1983, and umpired a women’s Test between Australia and New Zealand in 1979.
Despite standing in just the four Tests, including the entire 1981 Australia-India series, Whitehead had one of the more eventful careers in the history of the game and was the catalyst for one of cricket’s most ugly spats.
With the third Test at the MCG hanging in the balance, Whitehead gave India captain Sunil Gavaskar out lbw off a Dennis Lillee delivery jagging back in towards middle stump.
Clearly unimpressed with the decision, Gavaskar ordered non-striker Chetan Chauhan to follow him off the field and the match threatened to be lost to a forfeit.
“Gavaskar reckoned he’d hit it, but I was at square-leg and knew that he hadn’t,” Whitehead’s good friend, and umpiring partner on that day, Mel Johnson told cricket.com.au.
“But Gavaskar hadn’t scored a run in the series thus far so he took them off the field.
“I remember Greg Chappell asked us, ‘What happens now?’ and I said, ‘Well, there’s a set of laws that we’ve got to follow and if he doesn’t want to play by them then the match is forfeited.’
“But Rex said, ‘I’m not standing out here in a Test match to see the game forfeited. Let’s get them back out on the field one way or another’.
“Fortunately, the manager (Shahid Durrani) pushed Chauhan back out and Dilip Vengsarkar (India’s number three) came with him.”
That decision proved to be a good one for India, with Kapil Dev running through the Australia batsmen in the last innings to secure a 59-run victory.
“It was all down to his determination to not let the game end in a forfeit,” Johnson said.
“Rex was going to do everything possible to make sure that it didn’t end that way.”
The Victorian’s last Test was the incredible 1982 Boxing Day encounter between England and Australia at the MCG.
The home side was in dire straits at 9-218, and needed a further 74 runs to win, when Jeff Thompson joined Allan Border in the middle of the MCG.
The pair went on to tally 70 runs for the last wicket, a juggling catch in the slips ending the last-ditch charge three runs short of the England target.
“You can always say they were good after they’ve died,” said Johnson.
“But he (Whitehead) really was a class umpire that took it very very seriously.
“He hated making mistakes, as we all do, but he was just a beaut to work with.”
And what of the man outside of cricket?
“He was great,” said Johnson. “Loved a beer.
“Never wanted any of that half-strength stuff though – that was Rex’s attitude on most things.”