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Hair-raising row turns Oval Test on its head

August 21, 2006

LONDON, Aug 20: Pakistan made cricket history by not emerging after the tea interval at The Oval on Sunday. The team and the management were incensed by the decision of the umpires, led by Darrel Hair, to penalise Pakistan for ball tampering in the middle of the afternoon session of the fourth and final Test.

A day of fascinating cricket, with England fighting back thanks to some aggressive batting and two dropped catches from Pakistan, transformed into a day of intense drama, unprecedented controversy and high farce, which ended with the remarkable situation of first the Pakistan team and then the umpires refusing to continue the match.

The ball was changed at the end of the 56th over under Law 42.3 which states: “the event of any fielder changing the condition of the ball unfairly ... the umpires shall award five penalty runs to the batting side.”

The controversy turned into a full-blown diplomatic incident with shuttle negotiations between dressing rooms, cricket boards and respective board chairmen. Shaharyar M. Khan, the PCB Chairman, was ideally placed to play a major part in the dramatic proceedings which brought back memories of the Shakoor Rana and Mike Gatting incident in Faisalabad in 1987.

No announcement was made to a full-house of over 20,000 spectators who waited almost two hours before they were told that play had been abandoned for the day. Whether or not play would resume on Monday was to be decided at a meeting between team officials and the match referee.

It is hard to believe that Pakistan would have been as mightily offended if the umpire involved had not been Hair, the Australian who has a track record of poor decisions and sparking controversy in matches involving Asian teams. Despite objections, the ICC seems unable to resist provocation by ensuring that Hair follows Pakistan around the globe. Last winter, he was involved in more controversy during England’s tour of Pakistan.

Hair’s poor decision-making was also a contributory factor in Pakistan’s defeat in the pivotal Test at Headingley last week. The PCB was already in the process of preparing a further complaint against Hair’s umpiring in this series. “The boys were extremely upset at the slur of ball tampering,” said Shaharyar Khan, “and wanted to register a protest at the unilateral decision of the umpires by not coming out immediately after tea.

“The boys then got themselves ready to come out but Mr Hair and Mr Doctrove came to our balcony and warned them to come out immediately and to tell them if they didn’t come out immediately they would forfeit the match. The players went into the dressing room to discuss what to do and decided to play but when they came out of the dressing room the umpires had left the ground.

“The whole team was aggrieved and Inzamam felt most aggrieved by the ball tampering penalty.

“Inzamam didn’t come off the pitch immediately after the incident occurred because the report of the umpires had not been given to the referee. Once he’d seen the report he felt a grave accusation had been made against the team and the country.

“The umpires concluded that the ball was deliberately scuffed. We are 100 per cent sure that was not the case.

“We are resentful that the captain was not informed properly. The umpires were within their rights but there was no consultation with the captain and there seems to have been no evidence given. The captain and the boys feel gravely insulted.

“One or two of the management staff have looked at the ball and they are convinced that this is the kind of ball you would expect after 56 overs.

“There is no evidence whatsoever of deliberate scuffing and I hope the ball will be shown so that people can make up their own minds.

“We were ready to play but I think Mr Hair and Mr Doctrove were not ready to come out. We are ready to play with any umpire and we want to get on with the game.

“I feel very, very saddened that it should have come to this. The whole idea is to persuade the umpires to go out again.

“I think once you accuse a team of deliberately tampering it is a major issue and it should have been handled with due sensitivity and due consultation. Inzamam was not allowed to see the ball until he demanded he was allowed to see the ball.”  

There was no play after tea and the delay was punctuated by two appearances from the umpires.

The first was immediately after tea when nobody came out to join them, not even the England batsmen. The umpires walked off.   Five minutes later the umpires returned followed by England’s batsmen, who loitered at the stumps for two minutes and then went off again. Hair and Billy Doctrove concluded that according to the letter of the laws of cricket Pakistan had conceded the match.

At 25 minutes past five, the covers began to be removed, Inzamam led Pakistan out to a combination of boos and cheers, the team warmed up on the outfield and then wandered back up to the dressing room bemused since neither the umpires nor the batsmen reappeared.

Hair’s decision was prompted by a complaint from Kevin Pietersen, according to the Pakistan management. It is hard to understand how you could confirm tampering of a ball that was over 56 old and had been belted to the boundary and beyond on plentiful occasions.

Ironically, the ball that Pietersen chose as a replacement contributed to his dismissal as it kept low and took the under-edge of his bat forcing Kamran Akmal to take a fine low catch. The replacement ball, however, offered little assistance to Pakistan’s bowlers and helped England regain parity in the match.

Match referee Mike Procter said: “Following issues raised by the onfield umpires, which need to be resolved, meetings will be held between the match referee and both teams after play to determine whether any further play will be scheduled in this match.”