Imbroglio at Oval
The two major parties involved in this incident, umpire Darrel Hair and the Pakistan cricket team, are no strangers to courting controversy and this one too has major international cricketing incident written all over it. In the course of the next few days, much blame will get passed around and some sort of fallout is expected within the ICC. As things stand today, Darell Hair is being criticized in some quarters for refusing to come out the second time and let play continue in the interest of the spectators and the game. The Pakistan captain Inzaman along with the team has taken a moral ground, calling their stance a “matter of honour“.
Personally, I feel that the umpires were well within their rights to award the match to England when Pakistan did not come out to play after tea. This action is strictly within the rule-books and ICC was correct in standing by the umpires. Its no use complaining that they should have restarted the game after the Pakistanis had been convinced to continue playing. This would send a message that any team which feels wronged can hold the game hostage while their grievances are being addressed. That is plainly wrong. The Pakistan team decided to protest in a certain manner and should suffer the consequences i.e. loss of the match (which they could have won). They should also be made to bear some of the financial burdens the English cricket board will face as they refund spectators.
Having said all that, the manner in which the original ball-tampering incident was handled, I believe the Pakistan team and their supporters have every right to feel aggrieved. If you are going to bring an accusation as serious as ball-tampering, which goes beyond the laws of the game and gets into the question of morality and such, you better be ready to provide some kind of evidence. From what I gathered by reading through all the reports of the incident, Umpires Hair and Doctrove acted high-handedly and passed a seemingly arrogant judgement without any consultation at all with the fielding team captain. Would there have been any harm if they called up Inzaman and said – look here, we are suspicous about the state of the ball and we would like to change it ? Or tell the captain, who they suspect of tampering ? Perhaps the umpires are not legally bound to go through such procedures – but as Osman Samiuddin suggests, simple application of such common sense might have diffused the situation much earlier.
By all accounts, there was nothing to suggest that the ball had been tampered with other than the prodigous reverse swing obtained by Pakistani bowler Umar Gul. This reminds me of another instance five years back, when Sachin Tendulkar was accused of tampering after he got some reverse swing (although in that case, there was some, though flimsy, TV-evidence). The question that comes to mind here is – did umpires in the Ashes series last year take good looks at the ball when Simon Jones was reverse swinging it like crazy ? I don’t like subscribing to conspiracy theories – but incidents like these smack of bias for sure.
Most people supporting Hair and Doctrove contend that Hair is an experienced umpire who would know that a ball has been doctored by looking at it. I don’t buy this. Firstly, umpires make mistakes all the time. Secondly, if indeed the ball was so doctored why not show it as an evidence to the fielding captain, the coach, match referees etc ? So far it does not seem like this has been done. The Sky broadcasting team that had 26 cameras on the ground did not pick up anything either – but that really does not absolve anyone. However, a look at the ball itself should settle some doubts. Hopefully, this will get cleared up in the next few days.
I also cannot blame the Pakistan team for the kind of protest they indulged in. Simply filing a report against Hair or complaining about the incident at the end of the day would not have achieved anything of importance. If, as they claim, the team is entirely honest in this matter, then perhaps they chose the best way to highlight the supercilious attitude of the umpire(s). But, as I mention before, they should also be ready to face the consequences of the said form of protest. And do you really need the President of your country to be involved in this ? Doesn’t he have better things to do ?
Eventually, as the oft-used cliche goes, its the game and its spectators that are the losers. This incident also further highlights problems of lack of transparent officiating both on and off the field and inconsistency in aplying the laws of the game (with a seeming bias against subcontinental teams).