Cricket: Bad feeling threatens good intentions

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The Independent Online
PAKISTAN require one more win from their two remaining county games to claim a pounds 50,000 cheque from their Tetley Bitter sponsors, and now we know why they have pursued this bonus with such fervour. They need the money to pay their Test match fines.

So much for all the declarations of peace and harmony after Old Trafford. Compelling drama though the Headingley Test provided, the final-day denouement took place in such an atmosphere that you could have microwaved your Sunday lunch out on the field.

Rashid Latif, the 12th man (or possibly, given that Pakistan had three substitutes in play, the 13th or 14th man) was fined around pounds 120 for dissent, and although, for reasons best known to himself, the International Cricket Council match referee refrained from mentioning Moin Khan in his post-match statement, the Pakistan wicketkeeper was admonished for 'frenzied appealing'.

Javed Miandad, the captain, was 'congratulated' by the referee, Clyde Walcott, which is a curious honour to bestow upon someone who has presided over three hours of malodorous behaviour, but was presumably in recognition of Javed's restraint at not personally joining in. At Old Trafford, where he did, he felt the full force of the ICC's fury by being 'firmly encouraged to ensure that his players maintain the spirit of the game'.

It is sad, in a series that has been riveting for many more acceptable reasons, that Pakistan should be nursing so many grievances over the umpiring - especially as it was a highly dubious lbw against Ian Salisbury at Lord's which altered the course of a game won (by Pakistan) by such a narrow margin.

Representatives from the two countries' respective cricket boards are thought to be arranging a clear-the-air meeting before the final Test, in which case they will need to be issued with asbestos suits. It is well-intentioned enough, but as long as Pakistan continue to employ their demand for neutral umpires as an excuse for loutish behaviour, it is guaranteed to be a waste of time.

On Sunday night the Pakistan team manager, Intikhab Alam, claimed that with neutral umpires, all would be sweetness and light. What Intikhab omits to mention is that neutral officials also stood in the World Cup, during which two players were fined for dissent, Moin Khan and Aamir Sohail.

Acquiring a siege mentality abroad is by no means unique to Pakistan, and English cricketers flying to Karachi are as suspicious that they are about to be cheated as Pakistan cricketers are when they come to London. Many Pakistanis seem to believe they are dealing with a nation of arrogant racists who still believe that two-thirds of the globe is coloured red.

Lest anyone be in any doubt about this, try digesting one or two of the following extracts from a preposterous leading article in the Pakistan Observer, a low-circulation Sunday newspaper, after the Old Trafford Test.

Headlined 'Aqib vs Palmer', it accuses Roy Palmer of 'descending to the depths of depravity' and variously describes him as a 'mad man', someone 'not fully in command of his senses', a 'nervous wreck', a 'depraved bully', and a 'screaming coward'.

Aqib, according to the writer, had been picked on as 'a lad who had only a little exposure to the arrogance and racism in international cricket' and the newspaper's one regret was that Aqib did not actually hit the umpire.

There is no simple solution to improving this mistrust, but if nothing changes by the time Pakistan are due here again, the Test and County Cricket Board should say: 'OK. If you want neutral umpires, you pay for them. If not, don't bother coming.' Meanwhile, we head for The Oval with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.