Man of Steel

This week, for the first time in 130 years of test cricket, a match has been literally given away and there can be no doubt that it is the fault of one man: and it ain’t Darrell Hair. supes10.jpg

In his latest book You must like cricket? Soumya Bhattacharya describes the impotent frustrations of the cricket fan when the rest of the world try and load our game down with there problems. As he points out throughout the book; cricket is not a metaphor for life, nor an allegory, cricket is not an alternative battleground for nations. And cricket is not, absolutely not in any way related to Muslims’ relations with ‘the West’ (where is ‘the west’ by the way Hair being from Australia?).

Hair, not for the first time has made the only call he could make in keeping with his role. And not for the first time he has been accused on all sides of being an egomaniac, of courting the spotlight, generally of loving it.

But in the end he is a cricket umpire and refuses to be anything else. It does not matter a rusty threepenny bit if, ten years ago, he (perfectly correctly) called a bowler with a notorious action for throwing, or if Pakistan were already caught cheating in December? And so what if things are a little tense with Muslim countries just now? Are the laws of the game suspended?

The facts are: both Hair and Billy Doctrove saw something, this wasn’t done on a whim. Pakistan were docked five runs, which would have affected the course of the match not a jot, and if their famous pride was so wounded at the allegation, there are ways of appealing, playing on is not an admission of guilt, it’s their job and they should conduct themsleves like professionals and get on with it.

In the end, Hair was left with no choice because of the actions of one man: Inzamam. The captain is responsible not only for the conduct of his players, but also for leading by example. His sulking schoolboy routine has indeed brought the game into disrepute. His demands, on the day and since, for an explanation from Hair show up the true root of the problem: a pervasive lack of respect for the umpire.

Inzamam himself has said that “the countries come first”. No they do not, the game comes first, and Lord-God-Almighty of the game on the day is the umpire. With charging and over appealing ever more rampant, with coaches now openly demanding the right to appeal to the video replay over the umpire’s head, people should remember what this game is meant to be about anyway. Cricketr is meant to be a sport of respect.

This winter, KP was fined for shaking his head after being given out lbw. FOR SHAKING HIS HEAD AS HE WALKED AWAY. It was a rotten decision but he didn’t complain, he didn’t appeal or swear or anything. He shook his head as he walked off so he was fined for decent. And rightly so.

In the light of that, who can really claim that Pakistans refusal to play was anything other than disreputable? It is not the umpire’s job to ask the captain sweetly to please come down after tea and he certainly owes them no explanation.

Part of the problem is the hysterical reaction to the charge of ball tampering. What makes this so much worse than any other infraction? Is it any less deliberate or effective than appealing lbw when you know it’s not out? Is it any less malicious than Afridi scuffing the pitch in Faisalabad?

When Surrey we docked eight points for ball tampering last year they were relegated. Neither Merv Kitchen nor Nigel Llong could say who had tampered with the ball, and Surrey never broke ranks, but they ruled someone had and that was an end of it. Mark Ramprakash handled the matter like a professional, apologising to the officials and opposition and getting on with things.

Pakistan’s behavior was unacceptable, Darrell Hair’s decisions not only final, but wholly justified and made in conference with Billy Doctrove. Hair is an umpire, that is all he knows or cares about and that is why all the other upires are backing him to the hilt.

International diplomacy? Racism? Religious extremism? Sorry mate, its just not cricket. 

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