David Hopps

Hair's actions may lead to further lessening of the umpire's authority

London: Darrell Hair's ruling that Pakistan had become the first side to forfeit a Test in the game's history will lead to demands that the power to make such a ruling in international cricket should be removed from the umpires and given to the match referee.

Sri Lanka became the first country to say openly what some others are now privately conceding, that Test cricket is now too big, and too financially important, to leave such a momentous decision in the hands of an umpire whose emotions are likely to be running dangerously high.

Discussions about whether the regulations for international cricket should be changed are certain to commence as soon as the code-of-conduct hearing against the Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, scheduled for the end of the month, has been heard.

Turning a deaf ear

Hair, determined that his authority must be upheld, refused to yield to late-night appeals at The Oval from the ICC's chief executive, Malcolm Speed, to reverse his decision to award the fourth Test to England.

Although Hair was in an isolated position, with both teams and the match referee Mike Procter willing to resume the game the following morning, his authority was respected. That authority may well be shortlived.

Ironically, Hair's insistence on his own right to rule which has been widely depicted not as courageous but unnecessarily officious and insensitive may now lead to a further lessening of the umpire's authority, which is already under challenge from new technology.

Jayantha Dharmadasa, the chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket, said: "I think the ICC should discuss whether some decisions, such as ruling that a match had been forfeited, would be better left to match referees than umpires. This should be settled quickly for the good of the game. There will be no split between Asia and the other Test countries on this. I am confident that a settlement will be reached."

Final responsibility

One senior English figure rated the prospect of umpires losing the power to enforce a forfeit as only `40-60' but they may find that the tide quickly runs in favour of the match referees, especially as there would be no need for a change in the laws, merely a change in the regulations for international cricket stating that, when in situ, a match referee should assume final responsibility.

Pakistan, for one, is likely to give serious consideration to the notion that the match referee should be given widened powers. It will be argued that, although umpires should police the game, the match referees are more practised in the art of compromise. And these days the business argument holds sway.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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