A testing time at the Oval

It was an embarrassing day for cricket at London’s Oval cricket ground on Sunday as umpires awarded England victory in the fourth and final Test against Pakistan after a series of controversial decisions by the two officials.

Stumped: A Pakistani player looks over an empty Oval
Stumped: A Pakistani player looks over an empty Oval

With the match poised to head into an exciting fifth day, umpires Darrell Hair from Australia and Billy Doctrove from the West Indies accused Pakistan of tampering with the ball – one of the gravest accusations you can make in the normally gentlemanly world of cricket.

The two, however, had no proof that the ball had been purposely altered. 

Nonetheless, the charge stood, the umpires changed the ball and awarded England five runs during the second session of day 4.

Play then continued until the tea interval, after which Pakistan refused to return to the field.

The result, after a fair degree of head-scratching, saw umpire Hair removing the bails and awarding victory to England – the first time in Test history that a win has been awarded by the match officials.

Laying down the law

Laying down the law

And so began one of the most controversial moments in recent cricketing history – a controversy that has now seen the intervention of Pakistan’s president, stepping in to back his team’s innocence.

“The team feel the whole incident could have been better handled from the word go,” said Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach and former England test player.

“Everyone regrets what happened but we can’t bring it back and we had to take a stand.”


Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan captain, denied any wrongdoing and, with national pride on the line, stood by his decision to stage the protest after tea.

“The pride of the nation has been hurt, we have been unfairly labeled as cheats,” he told Pakistan television.

“It’s not a question of myself and my team, it’s a question of my country. So we decided to protest and no player was ready to play.”


Law 42, 3(d): “In the event of a fielder changing the condition of the ball unfairly, the umpires shall change the ball, award 5 penalty runs to the batting side, and inform the captain of the fielding side that the reason for the action was the unfair interference with the ball.”

It is not clear whether either umpire witnessed any Pakistani fielder changing the condition of the ball, and in this case with no evidence such a scathing accusation should not have been made.

Moreover, TV coverage from the Oval used more than 20 different cameras – none of which picked up any hint of ball tampering by the Pakistanis.


Law 21, 3a (ii): “A match shall be lost by a side which in the opinion of the umpires refuses to play”.

Under the hallowed Laws of Cricket, law 21, 3a (ii) allows the umpires to decide the outcome of a match given the above circumstances.

But nonetheless the captains, umpires, team managers, and the match referee should have come together to discuss the issue before the rash decision of removing the bails and calling a forfeit was made by Hair and Doctrove.


Darrell Hair removes the bails and ignites a controversy

Darrell Hair removes the bails
and ignites a controversy

Certainly 53-year-old Hair is no stranger to cricketing controversy.

In 1995 he famously called Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for an illegal bowling action seven times in three overs against Australia during the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The long-standing official of 76 Tests is seen by many as a stubborn and uncompromising umpire with former Pakistan captain Imran Khan likening him, somewhat harshly, to an infamous dictator.

“Hair is one of those characters when he wears the white umpire’s coat, he metamorphoses into a mini Hitler,” Khan wrote in his column on Monday in Pakistan newspaper the Daily Nation.

Another former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja also accused Hair of over reacting.


The row has caused outrage in Pakistani media

The row has caused outrage in
Pakistani media

“His arbitrary and insensitive judgement at the Oval sparked an absolutely needless controversy,” said Rameez.

Other luminaries of the cricketing world have been quick to add their take on the fiasco.

Former England Test great Geoffrey Boycott pointed the finger at the International Cricket Council (ICC), suggesting the matter should have been dealt with better.

“They (the ICC), needed to make a statement specifying exactly why the ball was changed, what they had seen, who was involved and how often. Otherwise the whole Pakistan team stands accused of cheating,” Boycott said.

No mention was made of Doctrove, a former FIFA referee who once officiated in World Cup qualifiers before turning to cricket umpiring.


Instead it seems the consensus is that Hair was the main instigator when it came to declaring the match a forfeit – a position that appears to have made him an instant persona non grata in the eyes of the Pakistani team.

In the aftermath of the forfeited Test, Shaharyar Khan, Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), said the national team would refuse to play any matches under Hair’s control.

“We are going to make it clear to the International Cricket Council that we are not going to play under the supervision of Hair in any future matches,” Khan told Reuters.

Ultimately, whether it is one man’s vendetta against certain teams, or an assertion of authority at its worst, the outcome shows that sensible dialogue between all affected parties needs to be mediated by officials before such landmark judgments are made.

In this case a simple lack of basic communication has caused an avoidable row that will go down in cricketing history for all the wrong reasons.

Source : Al Jazeera

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