A GAME Pakistan said they were playing for pride was lost on Sunday, because it became, for them, a matter of honour.
And now, one man's insensitive arrogance (Darrell Hair), another's lack of practical sense (Inzamam-ul-Haq) and a history of acrimony between the two could well lead cricket into its worst crisis in modern times. A crisis that has because of Hair's explosive history with players from the subcontinent — a history of intolerance and, some say, even bigotry — shades of racism written over it and more.
In an interview to Cricinfo, Inzamam made no bones about where he stood in the matter. "This game is about more than winning and losing," he said. "It's about respect and countries come first. If someone says to me 'you're a cheat and Pakistan is doing wrong things', my first priority is to my country."
His country, led by his president Pervez Musharraf, is backing him, as is most of the cricketing world, cutting across borders. Not because anyone condones Inzamam's decision to keep his men off the field but because most cricket-watchers believe Hair's past makes his present imperfect.
Cricket fans may recall how he ticked off an incensed Indian team for "cheating" during a tour game against New South Wales in 1999. And later reported them for dissent.
If Inzamam — charged with ball tampering and bringing the game into disrepute — is banned, as he could well be on Friday, then the repercussions could split the already fragile world of cricket along the lines of Black vs White.
In fact, in the heightened atmosphere of Islamophobia in the West, especially in the UK, the issue could, unless handled carefully, explode into something the likes of which cricket has not seen before.