The Worst Crisis Since Bodyline

Two perspectives on the story:

Cricinfo – Pakistan forfeit Test amid farcical scenes
The Australian – Ball Tamper Crisis More Than It Seems

The farcical scenes at The Oval last week were unlike anything I’ve seen before. Cricket tragic that I am, I was up at 2.30 am Aus time and saw it happen live. I still can’t believe it; I mean, Imran Khan’s labelled Darrell Hair a mini-Hitler, and others are calling it the biggest crisis since bodyline 60 years ago. But surely all of this could have been avoided, if only the umpires had used common sense.

For anyone who’s not knowledgeable about cricket, what happened is that, during the match, umpires Hair and Doctrove charged Pakistan with ball-tampering. The ball is the most important piece of equipment in cricket and tampering with it (damaging it, changing its condition) is paramount to cheating. The umpires seemed to have noticed damage to the ball which they concluded wasn’t natural, and showed it to Pakistani captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, basically charging Pakistan with ball-tampering. After tea (a break in the game), the Pakistan team – led by Inzamam – staged a protest, refusing to return to the field. The umpires then called the game off because Pakistan wouldn’t play, awarding the match to England. Pakistan then emerged a short time later, wanting to continue the game – but the umpires refused to take further part in the match! So the match remained forfeit – the first in history -, and Inzamam has been charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

Look, my take is that I don’t mind the protest. I think Inzamam was completely in his rights, and what he’s been charged with is ridiculous; the umpires had accused his team of cheating without genuinely catching anyone in the act, without any true evidence – inflicting a deep stain on Pakistan’s honour. Yes, the scenes were farcical, but if someone accused you of cheating, I doubt you’d take it lightly either. My problem is with the umpires. Technically they’ve done nothing wrong; what they did was within the rules of cricket. But there were better ways to do it. Usually umpires never interrupt the game, the way they did here; they charge players with dissent, for instance, at the end of a day’s play. They could easily have done the same thing here, defusing the situation.

The reason they didn’t, I think, is political. It’s no secret the Indian and Pakistan cricket boards are two of the biggest money-earners in the game, and there’s a perception the International Cricket Council (ICC) overlooks discretions involving India and Pakistan because they don’t want to jeopardise this. There have also been instances of ball-tampering involving Pakistani players in the past, so there’s something of a stigma surrounding Pakistan now, largely undeserved; most teams have had instances of ball-tampering at some stage, but rarely get pointed to the way Pakistan is. Hair then, the senior umpire at the centre of all this, could have intended to highlight both of these issues by calling them out publicly on the field. Hair is, after all, the umpire who famously no-balled Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing in 95/96, a decision which ended up changing the laws of cricket. The issue of ball-tampering has been simmering for years now, much like throwing had, so it’s possible Hair wanted to bring attention to that, as he did 10 years ago. To be fair to Hair, though, I’m sure his major concern was if something untoward were occurring on the field, which he obviously believed was.

Still, if nothing else this seems to have highlighted the fact that the ICC is useless. Many serious issues have been facing the ICC for years now – ball-tampering, slow over rates, the lbw law, player payments, too much cricket played worldwide -, but what has the ICC actually done recently? Only one thing – they’ve tinkered with the rules of One Day cricket, which didn’t need doing, changes which were scrapped just months after they started! The ICC is just a political body now, powerless and weak – this controversy proves it.

I still can’t believe it’s come to this, though. It’s a sad time for cricket; to me it was how the umpires handled the situation that brought the game into disrepute, and that Inzamam has been charged is a joke. Overall, though, it’s cricket fans who lose here. There were 20,000 people at the Oval the day the match was called off, and another 12,000 tickets had been sold for the next day’s play as well; that the match ended in a situation where those fans were denied seeing any further cricket is a disgrace. And it’s a pity, because it looked like being a good game in the end too – Pakistan might well have won.

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