will_plant: (Halloween Jack)
Yesterday's debacle at the Oval, cast no-one involved in a good light.

I am glad that the England team was not directly involved. I am sure that another Shakoor Rana incident would have had an incredibly negative effect on what have been much more cordial relations between both teams and both sets of fans when compared to the test series of the 1990s.

The facts in the case are not yet clear. It is clear however that early communication and a modicum of diplomacy would have prevented the sequence of events unfolding as they did.

Umpire Hair with the support of Umpire Doctrove decided that the Pakistan team had unfairly altered the condition of the ball and applied the mandated penalty of five runs and allowed the England batsmen to choose a replacement ball. The first time this has happened in a test match since the law was introduced in 2000.

It was just prior to this point that a quiet word may have helped. A chat with Inzamam along the lines of "Get your lads to stop whatever they are doing before I have to penalize you" would have prevented anything further. As it happens communication was so poor that the commentators had to deduce what offence was being punished, by checking the Laws and finding that this penalty only applies to one specific offence - Ball tampering. The crowd fared even worse during the afternoon.

I do not know whether Pakistan have illegally altered the condition of the ball, whilst it may have been Gul's reverse swinging yorker that got Cook LBW that piqued the umpires interest, there were no readily available TV pictures that incriminated any Pakistan player along the lines of Atherton's dirt in pocket incident. The Metro newspaper today shows an inconclusive picture from the TV footage which one would need to see in motion to decide whether anything nefarious is being done to the ball rather than, say, the player picking a piece of grass off it.

By refusing to appear after tea, the Pakistan team were already on dangerous ground. The correct manner in which to deal with a protest is to refer it to the Match Referee, who has yet to hold a hearing to decide whether Pakistan are guilty, or not, of the offence for which the Umpires have already punished them.

It is the summary nature of the punishment that I believe has incensed the Pakistan team the most. However, I believe that by playing on, probably winning the match and being found not guilty of the offence by the Match Referee (as they claim they are) and therefore extracting an apology from Hair and Doctrove would have been a more sensible reaction to this incident.

By not reappearing after tea they made their disapproval known to the umpires, opposition and the audience in a manner, that whilst understandable, cannot be seen as anything other than petulant. In the context of the global game it is also a precedent that cannot be allowed, a team cannot be allowed to remove itself from the field just because it disagrees with the umpires decision.

I believe that the next point is where the Pakistan team and its advisers made a fatal miscalculation, when the Umpires appeared in their team room to find out whether they were going to come out at the new start time, they tried to question the umpire(s) on their decision.

I am unsure how they expected Darryl Hair to react but given he doesn't see the need to explain himself outside of the hours of play or official meetings/ reports/ hearings etc I would have thought that he would be unlikely to have said anything under the best conditions, let alone these. The Pakistan team clearly did not realise that this would be their one and only chance to restart the game, and the fault for that is entirely their own.

The Umpires are to be supported for applying the Laws of the game: at the second time of asking Pakistan refused to take their place on the pitch, after the regulation two minutes the game was therefore forfeited to England. Pakistan may have thought they were staging a sit-in, but by not taking the field they were actually forfeiting the match, something of which they appeared to be unaware. This meant that the sad spectacle of them finally taking the pitch without the umpires or the pair of England Batsmen was already too late.

Hair may be a martinet, and we have yet to see what the evidence of ball-tampering might be (the argument put forward by the Pakistan Chairman that the ball was merely worn because of 56 overs of use and being hit for six is somewhat suspect as there had been no boundaries with the ball for a number of overs prior to the incident and all of the sixes happened afterwards with the replacement ball), but the Pakistan team chose to act unilaterally outside of the procedures of the game (understandably given that they have effectively been branded cheats without any way of defending themselves) and therefore they must accept the consequences.

I suspect Hair will not be allowed to umpire again, he will not necessarily be replaced on the Elite Panel by a better umpire, but perhaps with one who has some diplomatic abilities and sees the need to use them.

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May 2009

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