Thursday, August 24, 2006
Hair, Hair Go Away, Poor Asians want to play!!!
It’s just not cricket. Haven’t we heard this sentiment just too frequently? Every time there’s a new issue in the game, we hear this and realms of print go into expressing a sense of despair at the downward slide of the self-proclaimed gentleman’s game. How long can a game dealing in billions of dollars hold back itself and stick to maintaining this facade of holiness? This time it’s taken a bone headed Aussie’s (who else but an Aussie) hard nosed stance to question the game’s best traditions, once again precipitating cries of doomsday across the rather small world of cricket.
World cricket’s most (in) famous umpire Darrell Hair has always been in the midst of controversies right from when he made his debut in 1992 in Adelaide, in a game marred by controversial LBW decisions. In 1995, he no-balled Muralitharan seven times in three overs for “throwing” which resulted in the Lankan skipper Ranatunga staging a walk-off leading to arguably the most hot blooded series seen in recent times. In 1998, Hair’s autobiography Decision maker: An Umpire’s Story (Don't ask me who read it) was published in which he called Murali’s action diabolical and said that if he had a choice he would call have called Murali many more times for throwing. This embarrassed the ICC and he was dropped from the ICC’s panel of umpires briefly only to be recalled later. There have been a few more instances of Darrellgate but probably nothing weirder than what was witnessed last week in Lords when Hair declared that Pakistan had forfeited the match because of their apparent “refusal” to take to the field on the 4th day post-tea session– the first time ever that a team had forfeited a match in this manner in 129 years of cricket.
It all started after about 55 overs into the English innings on the 4th day of the test match when Hair felt that the ball had been tampered with. He then proceeded to award the English team 5 runs and replace the ball as per Law 42.3. No reason was given to Inzamam as to why this was done. The Pakis continued to play but in the post-tea session, they refused to come on to the field as a symbolic protest, as claimed by them. Later on after about 40 minutes they relented but this time, the two umpires were not willing to play ball. Citing Law 21.3 which deals with match forfeiture, Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove, declared that Pakistan had forfeited the match and England was the winner. Technically, the umpires were right but then aren’t the rules meant to be played not only in the letter but also the spirit? If the umpires had agreed to continue, this mess could have been averted and the ball tampering issue could have been decided outside the field by the referee. Somewhere, they did not realize that the game has a commitment towards its legions of public across the world. In the midst of the entire din, match referee Mike Procter’s role was forgotten. He went silent throughout the entire debate making me wonder if the job is a mere rubber stamp.
The Pakistan team could have easily emerged unscathed had they not have botched up the situation by not taking the field. The Pakistani captain Inzamam owes moral responsibility for his team’s actions and the trigger happy (atleast Asians think so) ICC would only be too willing to oblige by punishing him under charges of bringing disrepute to the game. 26 cameras in the field did not see anything but our old friend Hair felt that there was something wrong with the ball. Hair seems to have gone by the Pakistani reputation when he decided against them. There has always been an element of mystery associated with reverse swing and the Pakistanis have not always helped their cause in their bowling with the likes of Waqar and Shoaib Akhtar being caught on camera for trying to tamper with the ball. But in this case, they have received extensive support from the playing fraternity and the public except for the Aussie media. The Aussie media and stalwarts like Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor have backed Hair (The Daily Telegraph called him the bravest person in cricket). But then, no one is surprised- Aussies have never made any pretensions of trying to be morally or politically correct.
There have been a few points raised regarding the role of ICC in the entire fiasco. Unlike FIFA, ICC has really no great powers. There are no proper laws created to handle such a situation. It has also been pointed out that Hair and ICC could run into trouble if Pakistan were to take the matter to the court of law. The failure of ICC is also in dealing with such umpires who have been repeatedly seen to needle the cricketers from the sub-continent.
There are quite a few issues which the ICC has to take care after this.
On what basis can the umpire decide that the ball has been tampered?
Is camera/video evidence necessary for this?
Shouldn’t umpires try to explore all possibilities to ensure that the game continues no play is possible and only then abandon the game?
Should the umpires or the Match Referee take decisions on matters like abandoning the match, which are outside the field of play?
Just when the Dean Jones controversy was dying down, another Aussie has brought to focus the other side of the game .There have been accusations of racism against Darrell Hair citing some of his other controversial decisions but personally, I am inclined to give him a slight benefit of doubt. It sometimes becomes an easy stick to beat the Western world with when we raise the bogey of racism. I would like to put his behaviour down to his overzealous, autocratic and dogmatic nature with a scant regard for cultural differences but he has been consistently erratic in this behaviour right throughout his career. He’s rubbed many people the wrong way throughout his career and got away with it but this time I think he’s chanced his luck a bit too far.
In the current situation when the Muslim world’s relations with the West is at an all time low , a crisis such as this could easily escalate into a polarized political situation. The fact that one man’s stubbornness and dogmatism could potentially have such repercussions is unfortunate but then history has always been dictated by the whims and fancies of individuals. Darrell Hair is among the most experienced umpires in world cricket now but he lacks the wisdom and maturity to handle such a situation.
Cricket carries the unfortunate burden of bearing the responsibility of being a "nice game" and every such incident is a reminder to us to stop romanticizing the sport and face the reality that George Orwell had once said about modern sport being–“ …war minus the shooting”.