A boneheaded umpire and an impetious touring team

It might have been funny except that the game suffered, writes PETER ROEBUCK

Cricket has been reduced to a state of high farce by a boneheaded umpire and an impetuous touring team. A crowd watched bewildered as umpires and batsmen came and went, solemnly taking their positions, dutifully loosening their muscles, four men left alone, abandoned, unable to fulfil their roles. Next spectators watched amazed as the fielding side suddenly hoved into view, moving down the steps and onto the grass as if nothing untoward had occurred. They, too, were alone.

No one seemed able to get the wretches on the field at the same time. Meanwhile officials with grave faces debated the issues. And all over the condition of a measly hunk of leather.

Except that the game suffered and its supporters were betrayed, it might have been funny. Certainly the script belonged in the theatres not far away, at the Palladium or some other abode of raucous comedy.

But the game did suffer, paying spectators were let down, a television audience was ignored, a match was abandoned and the world was left a poorer place. To hell with all that, it seemed, to hell with tact, discussion, diplomacy, warnings, hearings, evidence, humility, to hell with everything and everyone except themselves, the proud players and the belligerent umpire. To hell with the game. To hell with humour.

Headstrong umpire

Both Darrell Hair and Inzamam-ul-Haq should be removed from their posts. Actually Hair should have been sacked years ago because he is an erratic and headstrong umpire whose time has passed. His conduct at the Oval was merely the latest episode in a notably contentious career.

Once again he chose the path of confrontation, throwing his weight around, asserting his authority without much thought about the consequences. Certainly he did not hesitate to accuse a touring team of cheating. He is not so much a bull in a china shop as a dinosaur in a delicatessen.

Supposing the ball had been damaged. Where was the compelling evidence that the visitors were responsible? Already it had on several occasions been belted over the boundary and onto the concrete perimeter. And there is plenty of concrete at The Oval. None of the 28 cameras and umpteen photographers following every blink of the contest had noticed anything untoward. His suspicions aroused, Hair could have asked the third and fourth umpires to keep an eye on the fieldsmen.

Not that the Pakistanis had much time to dig into the offending object because the umpires had inspected it 16 minutes before the change was made, when Alastair Cook was beaten by a ball that did reverse swing but not drastically. The Australian batsmen faced much more dramatic and consistent reverse swing in the last Ashes series. And no-one said the Poms were cheating. Did they?

Hair could have taken a less forthright course. He could have spoken to the visiting captain, pointing out that the ball had become ragged and asking him to ensure that his players were not the guilty parties. An admired headmaster once said that his greatest asset was squeaky shoes. Hair could have changed the ball simply because it was out of shape, without accusing anyone of anything.

Letter of law

He could have tried to find some evidence to support his suspicions. Not a bit of it. Instead, he applied the letter of the law, thereby risking the ruination of a fine match. Just what the world needs right now. Another abrasive Australian.

Nor can Inzamam escape censure. He was responsible for the conduct of his side. It is written in the laws of the game. Captains must rise above the heat of the moment, must take into account the crowd, the match and the requirements of hospitality and sportsmanship. The show must go on. Pakistan had every right to take offence, had every right to make a protest.

Various avenues presented themselves, formal and informal. Without appearing intemperate, they could have reinforced their complaints about an umpire they regard as rude and hostile. Statements could have been made. It was not a question of biting tongues. Pakistan were not powerless, not some downtrodden former colony but a sovereign nation with a seat at the table. The last Chairman of the ICC came from amongst their number.

No matter how much he had been wounded, Inzaman should not have kept his men sulking in the dressing-rooms. About the only saving grace as far as this usually lugubrious captain is concerned, is that his team was winning. A considerable sacrifice was made in the name of honour. But it was not his choice to make. No matter that he is a proud, god-fearing and amiable man, he had the obligation, shared by every captain of every cricket team, to protect the well-being of the game. Indeed it is his highest responsibility. He failed to carry out that task and must pay for it.

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