Nirupama Subramanian

Strong reaction from the Pakistani press

ISLAMABAD: No other name has tested so many headline writers to come up with a new witticism every day of one whole week than Darrell Hair.

Since the start of the controversy over his ball-tampering allegations against the Pakistani team playing in England, newspapers have made readers sit up and take notice with a dazzling array of headlines that would have Hair, what else... cut up.

From Sri Lanka to Pakistan, there is perhaps no other personality in the world of cricket who provokes such strong reactions from teams and fans as Hair. And the Pakistani press let him know.

From `Bad Hair Day' to `Hairy Incident,' English language-newspapers in Pakistan have said it all about the umpire whose conduct at the Oval last week raised issues of racism and Islamophobia in cricket.

Punning on it

Everyone knows that in the sub-continent, cricket is not just another game but a vehicle of national pride and flag-waving patriotism. If the Pakistani people vented their anger at Hair with street protests, the country's newspapers expressed it with an unending string of punning headlines. "Hair comes Trouble", said The News one day, and came back with "Pakistan Demand Hair Cut" the next morning. And when the controversial umpire told off a reporter from the British press, it was "Darell lets Hair down on what ails him media." Splitting Hairs is what it called a divide over support to the umpire.

Dawn too chips in

Even the sedate Dawn, whose headlines never deliberately aim to catch the eye, could not resist a "Hair-Raising day at the Oval." The Nation, which had "Pakistan in the cross-Hair" one day, asked in a leader headlined "Bad Hair Day" if the ICC should leave the game in the hands of a "mini-Hitler", and castigated the Pakistan Cricket Board for agreeing to the one-day series. Cricket Doomed by a Hairy Incident, wrote the Daily Times.

But clever headlines aside, the controversy inspired at least one commentary by a columnist who usually writes about the other Pakistan staple "strategic affairs", that is war, peace and diplomacy showing how much the lines are blurred between the game of cricket and perceived national interest.

Shireen Mazari, director of the Institute of Strategic Affairs under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made a "call the boys back" demand in her usual strident style, and broiled the Pakistan Cricket Board for its colonial hangover.

"Pakistan has clearly been sending out wrong signals post-9/11 which has allowed all and sundry to attack and vilify" the country, she wrote. "Colonialism is dead let us rid ourselves of its vestiges and apologists."

Government backs team

The issue also had echoes in the National Assembly, where the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of religious parties, raised the issue. Federal Sports Minister Mian Shamim Haider responded to the calling attention notice by reiterating the Government's support for the team.