Monday, August 21, 2006

Past Imperfect, Present Tense.

As I was flipping through the channel on late Sunday night (the 20th Aug 2006), I caught a set of surprised TV commentators who were talking about history about to be made.. I got a call from a colleague asking me if I was watching the idiot-box – I sure was, with morbid fascination of what was about to unfold at the Brits Oval ground in England. It was the 4th test between Pakistan and EnglandPakistan having gained a huge first innings lead, were in driver seat, with the last of English recognized batting pair at the wicket. One more wicket they’d have breached and England were still 30-odd runs in deficit. Tea was taken and Pakistan refused to take the field after the tea-time.

The trigger being, earlier the umpires – there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was Darrel Hair, who was driving the agenda – had called for a ball replacement; the fielding captain, Inzi was given no explanation as to why the ball was being changed; after the change Hair awarded five penalty runs to the batting side – which clearly implied that he was docking Pakistanis for ball tampering. I caught another TV snippet yesterday that had Hair following the bowler walk-back to the top of his run very intently – he obviously was very convinced that the Pakistanis were tampering with the ball. The problem however is this – in the age of legal challenges and the need for substantive proof rather than circumstantial evidence, the 26 cameras on field had not caught a single Pakistani fielder or bowler scratching the ball; the fact that the ball was 55 overs old and it had some natural wear and tear and the fact that it has been hit onto the stands by hard hitting Pietersen could have resulted in the scruffing that Hair was indicating to the other umpire Billy Doctrove (an inept umpire if I may add).

Pakistanis felt naturally aggrieved and wanted to stage a protest. After a confusing period of events that gets stated in a different chronological order depending on whose side one is on, the umpires had called of the match and awarded the test match to England, since according to them, Pakistan had forfeited the match as they failed to turn up after tea. This was the first forfeiture in the history of cricket.

After all the froth and fury on either side, let us take a look at the past record of both parties. Hair’s run-in with the teams from the sub-continent and his apparent policing of sub-continent teams more sternly; and that of Pakistan’s record in the ball-tampering saga (event details, thanks to Cricinfo).

First, Mr. Hair:

Australia v Sri Lanka, December 1995: Hair called Muttiah Muralitharan for an illegal action seven times during the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne. Murali was brought on from the other end but was not called by Steve Dunne. At the tea interval on the second day, Hair told the Sri Lankans that he was prepared to call Murali from the striker's end [which implies that Hair had already made up his mind that Murali throws]

November 1998: In his autobiography, Decision Maker, Hair noted that Murali's action was 'diabolical' .

New Zealand v Pakistan, January 2004: Hair and fellow umpire Billy Bowden reported Shabbir Ahmed, the Pakistan fast bowler, for a suspect bowling action.

England v Pakistan, August 2006: The match in discussion.

Now to the Pakistan team:

The English tour of 1991 (?) – When Wasim, Waqar and Aquib Javed were suspected of ball tampering, because they could get the ball to reverse swing prodigiously throughout the tour. Pakistani’s had attributed to the heavy overcast weather through the tour and to their ability.

Waqar Younis Pakistan v South Africa, Singer Cup, 2000: Received a one ODI ban and was fined 50% of his match fee. Azhar Mahmood was fined 30% of his match fee for "abetting'' Waqar in the same match. Moin Khan, the Pakistan captain, was also severely reprimanded.

Six Pakistan players fined for ball tampering Ramadan Cup, 2002: Naved Latif, Qaiser Abbas, Yasir Arafat, Sajid Shah, Zahid Saeed and Rao Iftikhar Anjum were found guilty of ball tampering during the Ramadan Cup domestic one-day cricket tournament in Pakistan.

Shoaib Akhtar New Zealand v Pakistan, Dambulla, 2003: Fined 75% of his match fee and banned for two one-day internationals for ball-tampering after television footage showed him scratching the surface of the ball during Pakistan's 22-run victory, over New Zealand, in the Bank Alfalah Cup.

Another theory is that the umpires started to watch closely after Alistair Cook was out LBW to Umar Gul after a reverse-swinging yorker got him plumb in from of the stumps. Strangely, when Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff, used reverse swing so well in the 2005 Ashes series to defeat the all conquering Australians, there was no talk about ball tampering.

On the other hand, Pakistanis had not pulled out matches when both Waqar and Shoaib were fined; which does imply there is some substance to why they feel aggrieved this time.

To me this looks like a case of judging by past events. Cricketing-wise, I’ve seen Hair make some perfect decisions including on LBWs. I believe he is one of the competent umpires on decision making. I also believe that Pakistan cricket is getting its act together under Inzi and Woolmer and are converting their talent into results. This is the case of prejudices and biases on both sides that has clouded either of their judgments; and hence perhaps pushed truth to the background. It was a good fodder to all the TV channel, newspapers and people like me, who watched this with ghoulish interest as cricket degenerated. Sad, since test matches were again getting interesting moving away from the boring 5 day draws in the 80s and early 90s.

The next few days would be interesting – ICC would make its usual inane statements that have no relation to the reality of where the actual sponsors are. The boards will get arrayed on either side – one group with ICC and the other with PCB – hectic parleys would go on behind doors (perhaps such skill can actually be put to use to bring about World peace, I’d think); Both sides will talk at each other without trying to understand the cultural undertones of certain behaviours. We will all be left to wonder if the international cricket is headed towards Splitsville. As is wont these days, anything cricket is just not cricket; it has become anything but the actual game.


The Soliloquist said...

Really nice post and a fitting conclusion...
Sad that scandal hasnt spared even sport.... The spirit of the sport becoming the sacrifial goat..

MNS said...

Possibly Pakistan was made to pay for its past sins even though they might be innocent at presnt. Usually this poetic justice hasppens in the case of almost all sinners.

EnGeetham aka "My Song!" said...

4sol: The fun has already started to unfold; after lot of f&f, it will just be one big compromise.

4Dad: your line was predictable :)