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The most controversial decision in the history of cricket
Darell Hair's decision has once again proved controversial. The fourth test match between England and Pakistan was called off and the trophy was awarded to England.
"DARRELL HAIR OFFERED to resign as a member of the ICC’s Elite Umpires Panel in return for a payment of $500,000", Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, told a press conference near Lord’s on Friday 25, 2006.
 
Of all the Pakistan series that have taken place in England since the year 1980, this had been the most harmonious. No crowd trouble, no umpiring bust-ups, no ego clashes. The two teams bonded better than ever before. England’s recent tour to Pakistan was a public relations triumph, with scores of Pakistanis cheering for and encouraging the tourists in the series. So many myths were exploded in that trip. In fact people in England think that Inzamam is the best ambassador that Pakistan has. Gentle, polite - he’s quite unlike the British media’s stereotype. And yet Inzamam’s team has been accused of cheating.
 
Blame for what happened at the Oval, has been liberally flung in several directions, some of them being Darrell Hair’s eventual and Inzamam’s initial stubbornness, match referee Mike Procter’s haphazard communication skills and the PCB’s less than firm handling of the crisis. Darrell Hair did not handle the situation well. Controversy has surrounded Hair for years now, from the decisions that he took against Muttiah Muralitharan, Shoaib Akhtar and Shabir Ahmad to the run-out decision he gave against Inzamam at Faisalabad last year. One should not forget that his counter part on the other end Billy Doctrove, is notorious as well. Remember the recent India-West Indies ODI series where he went missing from the square leg position when a run out appeal was made to him.
 
It was apparent as soon as the ball was changed in the fourth test that events would escalate. But anyone who believed, that this would be the end of the crisis was extremely naive. In the third test of the series Pakistan was running away with the game when Hair ruled Kevin Pieterson not out, even though he was out. Pieterson went on to score a big hundred and changed the course of the match. Pakistan felt, rightly so, that they were done in by the umpiring decision which was below average in that test. To his credit, Inzamam kept his cool and kept his team on the field. And the fourth test match that Pakistan was destined to win ended in a farce. The Oval Test trophy was awarded to England because Pakistan refused to emerge promptly after tea. The fact that England was behind in this match made no difference. The English players know that they didn’t dominate this series 3-0. The result isn’t the most important aspect of this bizarre episode. The officials - Darrell Hair, his immediate superior Mike Procter, and their ultimate boss Malcolm Speed - seem to have based their decisions on the law. But laws do have flaws. Something went seriously wrong and we need to know what that was.
 
First, Darrell Hair did not tackle the situation well. Where most Umpires would have dealt with it calmly, Hair reached straight for the biggest weapon available to him, the five-run penalty. The ball looked normal to the television audience. Did he really need to change it? Couldn’t he have issued a warning? I believe that Hair over-reacted. His behaviour was inflammatory, and the fact that he has a history of it made it more so. Hair was too quick to whip off the bails, inflaming matters when he should have been defusing them. Pakistan is not the first team to stage a sit-in, and they won’t be the last.
 
Several components of the game were found wanting at the Oval. The elite Umpiring panel behaved amateurishly. The match referee failed in his most central duty, which is to ensure that the game goes on. This, I believe, was the darkest day in the history of cricket. Pakistan had repeatedly asked the ICC to not allow Hair to officiate the matches involving Pakistan. Given the England-Pakistan history it was childish on the part of the ICC to brush aside this plea.
 
Ironically, the Umpire’s report does not give the name of the person who tampered the ball, nor does it highlight any specific incident. When Inzamam responded by asking why the ball had been changed, Hair is reported to have said, “I am not here to answer that.” Players have been accused of ball tampering in the past, and if found guilty, have been penalised. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis and Michael Atherton make for an illustrious list. On each occasion, there has been, along with the Umpire’s word, video evidence from TV cameras to back up the allegation. As of now, Sky TV reiterates that none of their 26 cameras have picked up anything in this Test. Pakistan has also vehemently denied the charge. The very fact that the PCB was willing to protest means that they took serious offence and believe that the charge is baseless. Pakistan, even in the past, has been punished more severely for ball tampering than any other country. Others have been penalised but no nation has been hounded and vilified as Pakistan has been. It’s a sentimental issue for them, especially in England, where the sub-context of 1992 further complicates the matter.
 
Pakistan came out to play half an hour after the Umpires walked out. And it appears that for half an hour, only the Umpires knew the result of the Test match. Pakistan, England, the ICC and the spectators did not have any idea about the result. This result will go down in history as the most controversial result. So where does it take the PCB-ECB relations? ‘Past imperfect, present tense and future indefinite’ is all that one can say.
 
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