August 31, 2006

Darrell Hair’s career may hit ‘Speed breaker’

By H Natarajan

What began as a Darrel Hair vs Pakistan controversy has turned into Pakistan vs Darrell Hair vs ICC – a controversy that has made international cricket the laughing stock of the world.

Hair’s mail to the ICC has given a dramatic and shocking twist to the imbroglio. The mail seemed more like a ransom note than a compensation plea for potential loss of earnings. It was, in effect, a suicide note - an astonishing action that seemed more self-defeating than Pakistan’s decision not to take the field in protest and suffer the first-ever forfeiture of a Test match.

The after-shocks were equally devastating. Hair defended himself with a sensational public disclosure that, in effect, suggested he was led up the garden path by the ICC. What he did not say, but clearly implied, was that the ICC was equally culpable. The popular perception, if Hair’s disclosure is true, is that ICC may have seen that as an option to quell the raging fire.

The situation has got messier by the day. ICC has denied Hair’s claims that it ever spoke financial terms with Hair. It does not require a Sherlock Holmes to tell us that either the ICC or Hair is lying. Two entities who sit on judgment of cricketers around the world are now, virtually, accusing each other of lying. Till such time as one comes clean to give the correct picture, the credibility of both parties is in tatters. It’s important that the world knows the truth.

From the time the controversy broke out, ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed has been firmly behind Hair, his fellow-Australian. And even when the matter took a turn for the worst with Hair’s indefensible letter to the ICC, Speed went out of his way to justify Hair had written under great stress.

Why did Speed not show the same understanding to Pakistan? After all, Pakistan only reacted to an accusation that most right-minded people believed was unfair. Also to be kept in mind is the fact that despite all that transpired, the Pakistan team belatedly came to its senses and was willing to play.

Speed told the world that Hair wrote that damning mail under stress, but Hair’s mails reflects a well thought-out decision and not a knee-jerk response. It’s apparent from the carefully-crafted letter that it has gone through legal scrutiny. Hair has been known to flex his muscles. The ICC can now feel that strength.

The ICC swiftly charged Inzamam-ul-Haq of ball-tampering and bringing the game to disrepute. The first of the two charges was unlikely to stand a court of law as there is no logical evidence to suggest that the Pakistan captain was culpable. The second of the two charges was a consequence of the first – the anger very much understandable, even if the protestation method was not.

Now compare ICC’s subdued reactions with regard to the series of controversial mails between Hair and the ruling body. Hair’s monetary demand left the world shocked, but ICC has not thought fit to charge him with bringing the game to disrepute. Is that not duplicity of standards?
The highly-respected Michael Holding hit the nail on the head when he said: "There is a double standard at work in cricket and this episode has only highlighted it. When England used reverse-swing to beat the Australians in the 2005 Ashes, everyone said it was great skill. When Pakistan does it, the opposite happens; no one thinks it is great skill. Everyone associates it with skullduggery. When bombs go off in Karachi and Colombo everyone wants to go home. When bombs go off in London, no one says anything. That is first-world hypocrisy and we have to live with it."

If one were to go on the streets and ask who the match referee was in the Test Pakistan forfeited, nine out of ten would draw a blank. That’s incredible considering the position of power he occupies and the influence he could have brought upon. Yet Mike Procter was almost invisible and unheard of during the Test and in the media avalanche that followed. Shouldn’t he have been seen to take control of a fast-deteriorating situation and save the Test from ending the unfortunate way it did? How is that we haven’t heard a word from the ICC about Procter’s passive role in the ill-fated Test?

In the entire mess, there was one voice which wanted the world to believe that Australia was a paragon of all cricketing virtues. “The way we're brought up in Australia, you respect the umpire's decision and get on with the game," Ricky Ponting told The Australian. "That's the way our cricket is and has evolved over the years.”

Either Ponting’s knowledge of cricket history is weak or he suffers from selective amnesia. Has he not read about Dennis Lillee and his tamasha with the aluminum bat? Is he not aware of Michael Slater’s tantrums in Mumbai? Is his memory so badly impaired that he has forgotten his nauseatingly ill-tempered conduct after he was run out by substitute Gary Pratt? Has he forgotten the 75% of his Test match fee he forfeited as a result of his behaviour?

Lou Rowan, a respected umpire who officiated in the 60s and 70s, savaged the Australian captain’s conduct early this year. "Ponting is a smart arse and a disaster as leader. The conduct of him and his players is absolutely disgraceful," Rowan told Fox Sports. "He has no control over his players. It is an insult to former players and people associated with the game."

Bob Simpson, the former Australian captain and coach, chimed in to say that Ponting’s team behaved "small children" with their “sledging, excessive appealing and showing disrespect for umpiring decisions.”

Reverting back to Hair, his two-pronged confrontation - against Pakistan and the ICC – may well bring the curtain down on his career as an international umpire. He has lost his credibility to officiate as a morally upright adjudicator of a game. It’s difficult to visualize ICC appointing him again.

Says Michael Atherton: “Speed may have couched Hair's assassination in a caring, paternal tone, arguing that the umpire sent the e-mails at a time of great mental turmoil, and that there was no malicious intent involved, but it was, ultimately, a calculating and brutal act of self-preservation from an organisation noted more for their lawyerly rigidity (think back to the Zimbabwe furore) than their humanity.”

In the immediate interests of the apex body, the ICC legal team may have advised it to make public Hair’s confidential mail. But what would be the long-term impact of such a move? Will players and officials in future ever trust the ruling body with confidential mails?

Hair’s posture of aggression against the ICC has weakened his position weak before Ranjan Madugulle. If match referee Procter has adverse remarks to make about Hair’s inflexibility and refusal to reconsider his decision to save the Test, the ICC will get added ammunition to fire Hair. And if Hair’s junior partner in the Test (Billy Doctrove) says anything to suggest that he did not quite agree with Hair’s decisions - the state of the ball and to award the Test to England - but went along with his colleague as a junior partner, then Hair’s goose is truly cooked.

With nothing to lose, Hair may take the confrontation with the ICC a step forward and claim damages for the disclosing a mail that was intended to be confidential.

Hair has put himself in line for a much, much more than $ 500,000 than he had sought from the ICC. Hair, like those in the line of fire made their millions in the Watergate Scandal, in all probability, would sell his side of what will be a very juicy story. And there will be no dearth of publishers lining up outside his house with fat cheque books.

Hair today, gone tomorrow - a wealthy man into retirement!

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