November 10, 2006

United Colour of International Cricket

By H Natarajan

Darrell Hair may have found instant and unexpected martyrdom by the decision of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in giving him the sack. It’s not so much the sacking itself as the manner in which the entire episode has panned out.

It would be fair to say that Hair will go down as one of the most unwanted umpires in the history of international cricket. It was he who triggered the Oval fiasco. And it was his stubbornness and lack of diplomacy in handling a sensitive issue that led to an unprecedented end to a Test. What mattered to Hair was the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the game. He was not concerned about the unpleasant ramifications his decision would have. Yet, ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed stood by Hair against an overwhelming opinion that perceived Hair as the architect of the Oval anarchy.

Nearly three months after the incident, the ICC now comes up with a coup de grace statement that it has “lost confidence in Mr Hair” in justifying the sack. It has not done much good for the ICC, whose position as the apex body for the game has come under severe attack in recent times – specifically from India.

Inderjit Singh Bindra, India representative on the ICC executive and a former president of the BCCI, lashed out at the ruling body by saying that the ruling body "may have made itself impotent and irrelevant" while Lalit Modi, the fearless vice-president of the BCCI, called the ICC “East India Company” and asking Speed to “go and fly a kite”.

It’s not India alone that has expressed strong reservations against the ICC. It’s not Bindra and Modi alone who have made vitriolic statements. Michael Holding, a respected cricketing personality in cricket, was equally brutal about the way things are in world cricket today. The Jamaican legend had said when the Ovalgate controversy erupted: "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."
The Asian power bloc led by financial powerhouse India has clearly engineered the sacking of the abrasive Hair. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh along with the West Indies, South Africa and Zimbabwe voted Hair out. Member countries favouring Hair were Australia, England and New Zealand.

It does not require a Sherlock Holmes to comprehend the racial divide – even if people bend backwards to deny it. And that does no good to the stature of international and national bodies as entities which not only must be fair but must be seen to be fair. That is clearly not the case here as the “for” and “against” seem clearly divided on the basis of skin pigmentation. Outside the ICC, but within the cricketing fraternity, too, a vast majority of the opinion is very much divided almost identical to that within the ICC.

Where does the ICC decision to Hair leave the $ 1.3 million (£800,000) compensation demand by the Engand & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)? The ECB feels they have been hit hard by Pakistani team’s action. The Pakistanis vehemently denied accusations of tampering with the ball. Their contention was vindicated when the ICC investigation under Ranjan Madugulle deemed that there was no evidence to indict the Pakistanis. Pakistan’s stand was vindicated by that judgment.

Clearly, the Pakistanis were provoked. There is no easy resolution to the impasse. The ECB will contend that the Pakistanis still should have continued with the Test. The PCB will aver that they were horribly wronged in the first place, something which the ICC themselves investigated and concluded, and as employers of the umpires, it’s the ICC that should pay the compensation, if any.

Another thing that was quite perplexing was to hear the ICC say was that the executive board did not discuss Billy Doctrove, the other umpire who officiated alongside Hair in the Oval Test. Is this to say that Doctrove was not in agreement to all the contentious decisions made by Hair? That makes it all the more painfully evident that it’s more about Hair vs the Asian Bloc. It was not just about the Oval Test but the litany of complaints that the Asian teams had against Hair.

Hair had gone on record to say before the Champions Trophy that he would be officiating in India. But subsequently he found his name knocked off the elite panel. Why? The ICC wanted the world to believe that the BCCI wrote to the ICC that it did not want Hair for the Champions Trophy for security reasons. Which was laughable. If high-risk political heavyweights like George Bush, Tony Blair, Pervez Musharraf, Ariel Sharon and Yassar Arafat could be protected, where was a problem in giving cover for Hair? Of course, the BCCI promptly denied that they ever wrote ICC any such thing. Whoever was telling the truth, one of them was certainly not telling the true story – if not downright lying.

If we haven’t heard the last of the Oval Test fracas, then we can be equally sure that the Hair controversy is far from over. It should not come as a surprise if he drags the ICC to court for terminating his contract 17 months ahead of its tenure. His sensational offer to quit in exchange for $50,0000 at the height of the controversy should indicate that reimbursement for loss of earnings and even compensation for trauma arising out of the incident will be uppermost on his mind. Hair’s lawyers may well seek dwell in the fact that Hair was impeccable in procedural fairness. That’s where the ICC could find itself in a spot.

One of the biggest likely fall-out from the censure against Hair could be umpires in future may not be comfortable taking tough action against teams from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The happenings since the Oval episode, especially the rumblings in the recent weeks, all point to a state of anxiety in world cricket.

As I end my piece, my thoughts go back in time when used to admire a famous line of a paint company’s advertisement. The punch line read: “When you think of color, think of us.”

Years later, those lines can be used for international cricket to convey a different message – a sad message.


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