Darrell Hair’s career as a leading international umpire is clearly in the balance after Pakistani cricket captain Inzamam-ul-Haq was found not guilty of ball-tampering yesterday at an ICC disciplinary hearing.
And although he was inevitably found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute by refusing to take the field after tea on the fourth day of the Oval test match against England, the fact that the minimum penalty possible was handed down (a suspension for four one-day internationals) does seem to imply a certain sympathy for the Pakistani captain and a swipe in the direction of Mr Hair.
Indeed, the full text of adjudicator Ranjan Madugalle’s verdict seems to confirm the implicit criticism of the umpire when it suggests that, were such a situation to recur, “the umpires and other officials should do everything possible to ensure the resumption of play. And they should not return to the field of play and then declare the match to be forfeited unless and until they are absolutely sure that the team is refusing to play the rest of the match. All other options should first be exhausted, involving discussions with the team captains and management.”
Former Middlesex and Durham seam bowler Simon Hughes, one of the expert witnesses at the ICC hearing, has written in the Daily Telegraph: “The problem was Hair was guessing, using the flimsiest evidence. The marks on the ball were not blatant enough for the drastic measures Hair took”.
He added: “There were a number of small abrasions on the rough side, fairly typical of normal wear and tear on a deteriorating Test pitch. The only thing that looked slightly suspicious was a number of slightly curved striations concentrated on one area. I concluded that those could have been man-made scratches but there was no way I could be sure. There was no hard evidence of ball-tampering.”
Darrell Hair has now been forced to withdraw from the upcoming ICC Champion’s Trophy due to “security concerns”, and the Pakistani Cricket Board has insisted that Hair be barred from standing in all their matches.
Hair responded by saying, “Of course I wish to keep on being an umpire. If other people consider I am still good enough to umpire I will continue… I umpire matches in good faith and take the decisions I feel necessary on the field.”
Time will tell if Hair ever stands as an international umpire again, but one thing is for sure: it will take an exceptionally brave umpire to call a team for ball-tampering ever again. The real authority of umpires in the middle will be diminished, and the cheats will believe they can subtly manipulate the ball with impunity.