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Disaster was waiting to happen

Pakistan are the biggest losers - they were insulted first and lost a Test match under dubious circumstances later, writes Imran Khan.

india Updated: Aug 22, 2006 02:11 IST
Imran Khan

A fundamentalistumpire, an indecisive captain and a handful of scurrying officials have contributed to an absolutely bizarre situation at the Oval.

The result, Pakistan lose a Test that they could have won, and 20,000 spectators are done out of an exciting final day. This might be the first forfeit in Test cricket, and it's not a result anyone will be happy with.

As it stands, Pakistan are the biggest losers - they were insulted first and lost a Test match under dubious circumstances later. The villain of the piece is quite clearly Darrell Hair, and this is not the first time that this fundamentalist umpire has taken centrestage.

I fail to understand his need to stamp his authority on every game he adjudicates. The umpire has two roles on a cricket field - one is to ensure that he takes good and correct decisions and the other is to ensure that the game is conducted with minimum controversy and acrimony.

When the umpire himself is the source of controversy, you certainly have a problem. Hair will do well to take a leaf out of Dicky Bird's book. True, he was not always consistent in his decision-making, especially towards the end of his career.

However, he was a conciliatory and amiable figure who conducted the game firmly but with good sense. Hair, on the other hand, would like to think he is abiding by the law. However, an individual who abides by the law only in letter and not in spirit is a fundamentalist, and there is no place for such officials in the game.

Inzamam too played his cards all wrong, and there was some indecisiveness in his moves. I would certainly have come out after tea if I were captain. I can understand that he was hurt and insulted, but he still should have had the presence of mind to protest as soon as Hair decided on a ball change and penalty.

After all, he was deprived of a swinging ball, penalised in terms of runs and above all, accused of cheating. He should have immediately stopped playing and demanded an explanation from Hair.

The latter would not have been able to conclusively prove ball tampering when the ball was 50-plus overs old, on the fourth day, under pretty dry conditions.

He should have called the manager out on to the field and registered his protest, and then continued with the game. After the Test was over, the board could have expressed their displeasure in the strongest terms to the ICC.

There was a Test match to be won, and Pakistan's decision to not come out to play was quite literally self-defeating. The problem quite obviously was that the PCB officials rather than the team management was calling the shots at tea.

It did not help that there were too many officials scurrying around, and it was a situation of one cook too many in that dressing room. I was not too convinced by Shahryar Khan's statement later in the evening where he stated that they were merely establishing their sense of hurt and protest.

There was a chance that the game could have continued today, but that would have required some mature decision-making from the umpire. Rather unsurprisingly, Hair proved to be stubborn, and his arrogance got the better of the situation.

What next? Pakistan must be hurt that the ball-tampering allegation has reared its head once again. We had heard it termed as cheating when the two Ws, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, were at the peak of their careers. More recently it was termed as a finely honed art when it helped England regain the Ashes.

Yesterday, Pakistan were accused of cheating when the evidence was not enough. The PCB should ask the ICC to commission an inquiry into the whole episode, and should also seriously consider suing Hair for defamation.

As far as the one-dayers are concerned, Pakistan should certainly play because their quarrel is with a neutral umpire and not the English board. That said, some action must be taken against Hair. His conduct always smacks of arrogance, and his tendency to douse fire with gasoline makes him harmful to the game.

An umpire is the custodian of the game, but when he only guards the game's rules and not its spirit, cricket is the greatest sufferer.

(This is an exclusive column for HT by the former Pak skipper)