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All of Pakistan and Asia should be grateful to Inzamam

August 27, 2006

LONDON, Aug 26: The solar system may have lost a planet last week but that news was dwarfed by the self-destruction of an umpire on the ICC's ‘elite’ panel. We now know that the word elite is less a synonym for quality and more a cover for people who consider themselves untouchable and who believe their silence is worth buying. Darrell Hair's disgraceful resignation offer to ICC — you give me half a million dollars and I'll disappear to a quite life of village umpiring in Lincolnshire — has questioned the motivation behind his whole conduct during the Sunday fiasco at The Oval.

The kind interpretation of Hair's offer is that he was a man under stress, a man offering the ICC a way out of a calamitous situation. The unkind interpretation, and the one people are perfectly entitled to consider, is that Hair demanded money from the ICC in exchange for his resignation and silence.

Hair has completely crippled his case. Not just the trumped up ball-tampering charge against Pakistan which only seemed to rest on Hair's ‘honourable’ interpretation of the condition of the ball — his honour is now dust — but also Inzamam's disrepute charge which any reasonable lawyer should be able to argue was a consequence of Hair's unwillingness to communicate fairly with the Pakistan captain.

Finally, Hair has promised a whole series of libel actions to protect his reputation. Well, he may as well forget those. Any reputation he had worth protecting has gone up in the smoke of his own ego and arrogance.

A simple question in any court of law to judge Hair's character will go something like: “Could a man who demanded money from his employers in exchange for his silence be the kind of man who might adjudicate a match unfairly and with prejudice against Pakistan?”

In the current circumstances the answer would be yes.

It is also clear that Friday's revelations are the first step in ICC's attempts at damage limitation and, more significantly, their first move in distancing themselves from Hair. While the ICC certainly had a duty to disclose Hair's emails to the PCB's legal team, it is far from certain that they had a similar duty to make the emails public knowledge at this point. Such a decision can only have arisen for the reason that the ICC now considers Hair indefensible.

He might be a big man but Hair has been hung out to dry, and in the world of any corporation there is always somebody bigger than you who wants to protect their reputation, in this case Malcolm Speed and his executive team have tried to save their skins — although ultimately their knee-jerk support for Hair may come back to haunt them.

This turn of events is a godsend for Pakistan, whose strategy has become a triumph of judgement and luck. The post-tea protest against Hair was a hazardous judgement and this week's luck has seen it bear fruit. Whatever happens now — whether the ICC hearings go ahead or not — it is inconceivable that the ball-tampering charge will be upheld.

And if Inzamam is still penalised for bringing the game into disrepute it will be a price worth paying. He did what all other Pakistanis have failed to do up to now: he rid international cricket of Hair, and all of Pakistan and Asia should be thankful to him. In the battle of bloody-mindedness, Inzamam won.

My own view is that Inzamam should have protested at the time the ball was being changed and not after tea. But whatever the merits of that particular decision, Pakistan did have the right to register their dissent at Hair's victimisation.

The mark of a civilised society is that it tolerates dissent and it has become something of an irony that in the crude symbolism of this controversy it is the Pakistanis who have championed dissent, while Hair and a few Englishmen and many Australians have supported the authoritarian fascism that has become the embodiment of umpiring in cricket.

A game that is now monitored microscopically by technology, a game that now accommodates our advanced understanding of human anatomy and biomechanics, a game that now instantly touches the lives of millions, sometimes billions, around the globe, requires a modern interpretation of the role of the umpire. Paradoxically, Hair may have done the sport a favour.

And how does the PCB come out of all this? The smartest move they made was to hire a team of lawyers to defend Inzamam, a decision that triggered the disclosure of Hair's resignation offer.

They also had the guts to take on Hair and the ICC head on. But an organisation that embarks on a tour with a history of blood-curdling controversy without a media manager and a management vacuum is asking for trouble — and the PCB sure got it.

Hair could have destroyed the PCB's reputation but in the end he destroyed his own. The fine line between success and failure has never been finer. Victories for Pakistan in the world of cricket politics are few, and this is worth celebrating — doubly so since it was delivered without the assistance of the Asian bloc.