Pakistan newspapers turn on umpire for 'tarnishing pride'

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The Independent Online

The débâcle at the Oval was fast on its way to turning into an international incident yesterday. Pakistan's captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, may be under threat of a lengthy ban from the cricket authorities, but it seems he has a powerful ally in the country's president, Pervez Musharraf.

There were unconfirmed reports that General Musharraf had personally telephoned Inzamam yesterday to give his backing to the team's refusal to take the field, and said that the umpire Darrell Hair had insulted Pakistan.

On the streets of Islamabad, Hair's picture was being burned by schoolchildren yesterday. Protestors chanted "You are a mini-Hitler" apparently spurred on by a front-page article by the Pakistan cricket legend Imran Khan with the headline "Hair the Hitler does it again". "What we all witnessed at the Oval Sunday was nothing short of shameful," Khan wrote in The Nation newspaper. "Hair is one of those characters when he wears the white umpire's coat, he metamorphoses into a mini-Hitler."

It is hard to overstate the extent of anger in Pakistan. "I don't care about the changing of the ball and the five runs penalty, the only thing which was bothering me was are we going to be called the cheats," the former cricketer Amir Sohail wrote in The Post. "It's too much for me as a proud Pakistani and whatever was said and talked about was painful."

There was little doubt who was considered the culprit. "It is hard to believe that Pakistan would have been as mightily offended if the umpire involved had not been Hair, the Australian who has a track record of poor decisions and sparking controversy in matches involving Asian teams," Kamran Abbasi wrote in Dawn newspaper. "Despite objections, the ICC seems unable to resist provocation by ensuring that Hair follows Pakistan around the globe."

"Players from the sub-continent universally feel that he is biased against them," wrote Ramiz Raja in The Nation. "The pride of an entire people has been tarnished by his ludicrous and highly insensitive decision."