Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Now that the dust has settled after what happened at The Oval two weeks ago - and it's probably especially thick on Malcolm Speed's desk in Dubai - it's time to consider what went on.

The focus of the 'debate' (if the rather sickly blend of unvarnished hindsight, exaggeration and self-righteousness which has dominated the media can be dignified with that title) has been the actions on the day and subsequent conduct of Darrell Hair. While, as I stated in the brief post which I produced on the fateful evening, I can see that there was fault on both sides, I think that the incessant concentration on Hair's actions and assumed motivations has been unbalanced and unfair and has contrived to move the debate away from a proper assessment of the deeds of the Pakistan team and those of Hair's fellow umpire on the day, the Dominican Billy Doctrove.

Indeed, such has been the clamour to condemn Hair that most people who have made comments about the controversy (and that, my friends, is a lot of people) seem to have forgotten or deliberately ignored the fact that there were two umpires on the field on the day and the decision to replace the ball and award five penalty runs to England was taken jointly. True, Hair was the senior partner, and all visible evidence suggested that he took the initiative in the decision by first examining the ball, then discussing its condition with Doctrove, then beckoning Trevor Jesty onto the field with the replacement balls and finally signalling the penalty runs. But is it reasonable to assume that Doctrove, although an inexperienced umpire at Test level, would not have had the courage to debate the point with Hair if he did not agree that the condition of the ball was suspicious? Perhaps so, but the fact is that the decision was, at least in terms of protocol, a joint one, and while Hair has been cast into the wilderness, Doctrove was happily umpiring at Lord's yesterday (if he did look a bit cold at times).

Of course, it's also true to say that Hair, having begun to dig a small hole for himself (initially sharing the spade with Doctrove), has gone on to dig himself deeper and deeper into it, to the point where his head is surely about to disappear for good. His e-mailed offer to resign from the ICC's elite panel of umpires in return for a very substantial sum of money was crass, ill-timed and presumptuous, and has done more to seal his fate than any of his other actions in the saga. While it is likely that Hair would have continued to umpire at international level for some time and the sum concerned - we must assume - was roughly equivalent to what he would have earned over that period, how can he say that he would not have suffered a catastrophic loss of form or some other misfortune and been replaced in advance of his time anyway? If he was going to resign (and, since he clearly believed that he was in the right in changing the ball and then abandoning the match, why would he have done so?) he should simply have indicated as much and waited for his employers to suggest a suitable compensation figure.

With all this said, I think that it's a pity that Hair will be lost to international cricket, as, technically, he has always been a very good umpire (not perfect, but nobody, not even the blessed Simon Taufel, is). His main faults lie in a certain inflexibility of temperament and the fact that he has the courage to take unpopular decisions which he believes to be right, no matter what the potential consequences. Given his previous problems with Asian sides, including Pakistan, it was inevitable that trouble would follow the Oval decision, but too much of the comment which has followed has placed Hair a little too firmly in the wrong and failed to consider the fact that the actions of the Pakistan team were very far from being above reproach.

While the whole affair might have been avoided if Hair (or, even better, Doctrove) had spoken to Inzamam before replacing the ball and awarding the penalty runs, the actions of the Pakistan side in refusing to play when instructed to do so were a clear example of the type of weakness of temperament and spirit which has always prevented them, with one or two exceptions, from fulfilling their potential on the field. God knows, they were on top in the game at the time and could have salvaged a consolation victory from a series in which they had performed very poorly. That they chose to remain in their dressing room when surely they could have taken possession of even more of the moral high ground with a victory, was always guaranteed to cloud the waters of the debate in the eyes of those people (myself included) who tend towards the view that the decisions of officials in any sport are best regarded as being right even when they're transparently wrong.

Of course, the real problem lies in the framing of Law 42 (3) (d) (iii), which empowers the umpires to award five penalty runs against the fielding side in a case of adjudged ball tampering, without the fielding side having any opportunity to present a case for the defence. There can be little doubt that at The Oval the sense of injustice felt by the Pakistan side was compounded by the fact that when Hair and Doctrove took their decision they were not just being accused of ball tampering. In the eyes of the umpires, they were already guilty.

In among all the guff written by people who clearly didn't know better, two articles stood out. One by Martin Samuel in The Times, which, broadly speaking, put the case for the umpire's decision being final, and one by The Observer's veteran columnist Jon Henderson, who attempted, by reference to the Greig-Kallicharran incident in Port-of-Spain in 1974, to reassure younger readers (and that's most of us) that the Test world wasn't about to stop turning.

Not that I ever thought it would.

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