August 22, 2006

It simply is not cricket

Cricket used to be a gentlemen's game. There was a time when batsmen would give away their wicket if he was convinced that he had nicked a ball, which went to the keeper's hand, before the umpire had their say. The umpires used to pat a player's shoulder telling that if he would go out of line next time he would be punished. Gone are the days.

Now cricket has been more intensive and insensitive. Players and umpires like to stick to their egos. Lots of professionalisms are in stake now. The sponsors, the TV coverage, the politicians, the prides of the nation.

The recent test match of the Pakistan vs. England ended prematurely in controversy as the Pakistan team refused the take the field and the match was awarded to England. But the crisis started as the match umpire Darrell Hair accused Pakistan team of tampering the ball (to get reverse swing of a pitched ball unplayable by a batsman) and curtailed Pakistans 5 runs as a penalty. Cricinfo has details.

In latest developments the ICC, the cricketing governing body has charged Pakistan's captain Inzamam-ul-Haq with ball tampering and bringing the game into disrepute. Pakistan cricket board is backing Inzamam saying if he is punished, Pakistan will go home without playing the one-day series. The Pakistan president has declared his solidarity with the Pakistan team. This can only go worse.

I was watching the 'hard talk' program in BBC where former Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal, Indian journalist Mihir Bose and former umpire Dickie Bird were interviewed on this issue. The one thing came out from the discussion that the umpire did not have 100% evidence to charge the whole Pakistan team. Mr. Hair could have brought the charges and penalty later after the end of the play because the ball was already changed. And Pakistan's refusal to come out the pitch in protest in the first instance was a stupid decision. They could have continued with the play and deal with this later. However the point should not be ignored that when Pakistan did come to the field later, the umpires refused to carry on with the play saying that they have already decided that the match was given away by Pakistan. If they were gentlemen enough they could have told Pakistan in the first case, look you have five minutes to come to the pitch, otherwise the match will be forfeited. Most of the umpire's decisions were done on assumptions adding to the controversy. Imran Khan, Pakistan's cricket legend said the Darell Hair accusations are very serious and Pakistan should sue Hair to produce evidence that they have cheated.

To add to the bizarreness of the events, Pakistan's coach Bob Woolmar backed his players for their decision after this:
He asked the players to swear by their Koran and say that they hadn't tampered with the ball. They did. And he was ok with their protest of walking out on the test.
Desicritics adds with sarcasm that the Koran after all finally decided the fate of the match.

Update: The ICC had postponed the Inzamam hearing so that the tour can carry on smoothly. But today's developments have made the situation more complicated. ICC chief executive Malcom Speed revealed that umpire Darrell Hair offered to resign from the International Cricket Council’s elite umpiring panel within 31st of August, if he was paid $500,000. Andrew Miller of Cricinfo comments:
Though his critics in Asia have long been claiming otherwise, the one thing Hair had left was his integrity. Now, for one reason or another, he has let his motives be questioned. He can certainly never umpire at the highest level again, and his name is all set to be dragged through the mud.
Shocking for cricket, indeed.


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