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Hairy saga ends as Inzi cleared of ball-tampering

September 29, 2006

LONDON, Sept 28: Inzamam-ul-Haq and Pakistan achieved the best result they could have expected at The Oval hearing when the Pakistan captain was cleared of ball-tampering but found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute. As a measure of the level of dissatisfaction of Ranjan Madugalle, the case adjudicator, Inzamam was given the minimum ban of four One-day Internationals.

Madagulle concluded: “I find Mr Ul-Haq guilty in that on two occasions he led a protest against the umpires by failing to come on to the field of play at the relevant time.”

According to natural justice and logic, you might argue that Inzamam should also have been cleared of the disrepute charge since his reaction was provoked by an erroneous conviction for ball-tampering, but the necessity for the ICC to save face was never going to allow Inzamam to go unpunished.

(Inzamam-ul-Haq was cleared of of ball-tampering, but found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute over his side’s refusal to play on the fourth day during last month’s fourth Test against England. After a two-day disciplinary hearing here at The Oval, the venue for the match, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced that Inzamam would be banned for four One-day Internationals. The ICC also decided that the controversial umpire, Darrell Hair, would not officiate at the ICC Champions Trophy in India next month.)

He has 24 hours to appeal the disrepute judgement and punishment, although the tone of the PCB chairman was of such satisfaction with the verdict that an appeal appears highly unlikely. It might also be best to draw a line under this incident at this precise moment.

Inzamam, who can see the end of his career approaching, was delighted with the ball-tampering verdict and level-headed about his penalty. Missing the Champions Trophy in India is a small price to pay for salvaging the honour of his team and, as most Pakistanis will see it, of his country.

Inzamam told Dawn: “I am happy with the verdict and I am thankful to Allah. The most important result is that we been proved innocent of ball-tampering, and that is important because it means we protected the honour of Pakistan cricket and of Pakistan. “We did not take the field at The Oval to protest our innocence and I expected to be punished for that. A four-match ban is something I didn’t want but I am willing to accept it in exchange for our honour. The question the ICC must ask now is what was the root cause of all this controversy.”

It bears repeating that whatever the appropriateness of Pakistan’s protest, Inzamam and the Pakistan Cricket Board have successfully refuted the ball-tampering charge and exposed Darrell Hair’s incompetence and belligerence to boot. Whatever linguistic summersaults Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, attempts next, in the battle of honour at the Oval 2006, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Pakistan won and Darrel Hair and the ICC took one hell of a beating.

Hair’s career is increasingly disappearing down the abyss, particularly now that the ICC has stood him down from the Champions Trophy for reasons of his “personal safety” in India. His performance at the post-hearing press conference left journalists aghast at his arrogance and hubris. He did, however, reluctantly admit that he might have made a mistaken judgment at The Oval, but was adamant that he remained confident in his own decision making ability and his competence to umpire at the elite level.

It can only be a matter of time, however, before the ICC has to put an end to everyone’s misery by dropping Hair from its international panel. An outcome made more likely by Pakistan’s pursuit of Hair, a pursuit that demands that Hair no longer stands in Pakistan matches and that Hair be investigated for bringing the game into disrepute for his conduct at The Oval.

Critics will argue that Pakistan needlessly forfeited a Test that they were well set to win and that the response of the team and the PCB was somewhat shambolic. But in the grand scale of crimes and misdemeanours those acts are minor compared with the message that is being sent out that Pakistan will not tolerate being victimised and discriminated against in international cricket. Imran Khan may not approve of the means but he must surely approve of the symbolism, an echo of his time in charge of Pakistan .

Shahrayar Khan, who represented the Pakistan camp at the press conference that followed the hearing, was visibly delighted that the “stain of cheating” had been removed from Pakistan cricket. Clearly, this was the more important verdict for Pakistan who fully expected to be penalised in some way for their post-Tea protest.

The crux of the ball-tampering case rested on the failure of the match officials to convince Madugalle that the condition of the ball was anything but normal wear and tear for the age of the ball. The Sri Lanka referee stated that a higher level of evidence was required to substantiate a charge that not only pricked the honour of a team but also that of a whole country.

In the end, Inzamam apologised and expressed regret for the failure of his team to resume the match at The Oval, a ploy that will have pleased his lawyers and helped reduce the extent of his penalty.

This is not, however, the end of the legal wrangling as the next spat will be around who bears the financial costs for the abandonment of play. The PCB may end up, at the very least, having to share the burden with the England and Wales Cricket Board.The penalty for Inzamam and any financial loss to the PCB will be viewed as prices worth paying for probably the most dramatic victory in cricket politics in Pakistan’s history. Every drama may have a silver opportunity but this time it’s a golden one for Younis Khan and his aspirations to eventually succeed Inzamam as captain.

But, lest we forget, even in his moment of punishment, the triumph belongs to Inzamam whose place in Pakistani legend — and very close to the top of the Hall of Fame — is forever assured. What’s more, he remains Pakistan’s premier batsman, a man full of runs, a man full of moral righteousness — if he needed any filling in that department — and a man determined to end his career with a World Cup victory.

Who would have thought that the innocent, baby-faced young man who strode out at Auckland to rescue Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup campaign would one day find himself at the centre of the greatest controversy in the history of cricket? Who could have imagined that the boy from Multan would emerge victorious?