The dust kicked up over the Oval Test intrigue may take a very long time to settle. If anything’s more unfortunate, it is that the flap was avoidable. The Pakistani players were well within their rights to have taken offence to umpire Darrell Hair’s decision to pull them up for ball-tampering in the 56th over of England’s second innings. Especially since Hair apparently decided to inspect and change the 18-over-old ball all of a sudden without giving any obvious reason or proof — a surprising move, given that the effects of ball-tampering usually become evident only after about 30 overs.
It’s not exactly unheard of for fielding teams to use spit and sunscreen on the ball’s seam to extract reverse swing. Players and umpires are known to take this in their stride as long as it doesn’t involve outside agents like bottle caps or nails. In fact, England is alleged to have coated the ball with sugar solution to achieve reverse swing, which helped them win the Ashes against Australia. But that said, whatever their grouse, Pakistan have only themselves to blame for throwing away the Test by not coming out to play after tea, instead of registering their legitimate protest with the match officials.
If the ICC finds Inzamam-ul-Haq guilty of bringing the game into disrepute, it could vitiate the simmering tensions in world cricket. So, even if Hair wanted to play it by the book, he should have seen the need to get the game back on track by allowing Pakistan to reconsider their protest and play on.