Angus Fraser: Why evidence of the ball convicts the umpires

It is right that Pakistan's captain was found to have brought the game into disrepute, but the officials have come out no better from this sorry saga
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The Independent Online

Thankfully, justice and common sense prevailed yesterday when Inzamam-ul-Haq was cleared of ball-tampering by the International Cricket Council's chief referee, Ranjan Madugalle. Yet the Pakistan captain did not leave the Oval with his reputation totally intact, having been found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute.

For breaching the ICC's code of conduct Inzamam has been banned from playing in Pakistan's next four one-day internationals, a penalty that will cause him to miss next month's Champions Trophy in India.

It is a shame that Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove, the on-field umpires, did not show the same astuteness as Madugalle at 2.30 on Sunday 20 August when, by changing the ball being used in the fourth Test against England and awarding the hosts five penalty runs, they accused the Pakistan team of cheating. If they had, the image of cricket would not have been tarnished by this unseemly affair.

All it needed was for Hair or Doctrove to approach Inzamam and tell him that they were concerned about the state of the ball being used in the match. The pair could have warned him that if the Pakistan team were doing anything illegal they should stop it. But instead, with a big pair of Dr Marten boots on, they chose to wade in and drop their bombshell.

I was given the opportunity to examine the condition of the ball, and to assess the events leading to the umpires decision to order a change of ball and the imposition of five penalty runs - actions which left the Pakistanis labelled as cheats.

The state of the ball surprised me. It was protected in bubble wrap and treated as though it was part of a murder investigation. I have handled and studied cricket balls, in the hope that they will bring me wickets for more than 25 years, but never in my life have I been so nervous about placing my fingers on one.

After briefly looking at the ball through a plastic bag I removed it, deciding to keep my fingers on the seam, the proud area of stitching where the two halves are attached together.

My first impression was that there was not a great deal wrong with it. I expected there to be more. This was not a ball that was about to reverse swing - the phenomenon created by the type of ball-tampering the Pakistan side had been accused of - extravagantly. The seam and quarter seam were in as good a condition as you would expect from a ball that was 56 overs old. They had definitely not been tampered with.

There was a contrast between the two sides of the ball, as there always is. This is because one side has sweat and spit put on to it and is polished, while the other is left alone. The darker side is the one that has been polished and it generally looks tidier, while the other side always appears rougher.

Yet there were a couple of areas, no bigger than the size of a one penny coin, that caused me concern, and it is these that undoubtedly raised the suspicion of the umpires and caused them to act as they did. One marked area appeared to me to be more than four overs old, the period during which alleged damage was caused. It is hard to be 100 per cent sure what caused the marks but my gut feeling is that they were the product of, at worst, a stray fingernail.

Just to the left of this is another small area, about the size of a five pence coin, that is slightly scuffed up and, again, it is hard to be sure exactly what caused this. These marks were, however, less convincing than the others. To me the state of the ball was akin to doing 35 miles per hour in a 30mph limit, not 55, and I would not have been happy to have been convicted on the evidence given, especially when you consider that the allegation was made without the use of a speed gun.

Inzamam's team used three expert witnesses to defend the state of the ball, and one of them is rumoured to have picked the ball up, looked at it, tossed it back in the bag and said: "There's nowt wrong with that."

Hair remains adamant that the condition of the ball had been changed illegally. But the view of his partner, Doctrove, who is believed to have wanted to delay changing the ball until he had an idea of who was causing the infringement, was slightly at odds with this.

Doctrove reportedly undermined the admirable approach by suggesting that he was aware the ball was reverse swinging during the four overs that followed Alastair Cook's dismissal. How he could have come to such a conclusion while standing at square leg, and with Danish Kaneria bowling from his end, is beyond me. If so cricket may as well allow the square-leg umpire to adjudicate on lbw decisions.

Hair was in bullish and unrepentant mood yesterday afternoon when he faced the media. He is a strong, confident man who, in his own mind, has acted within the laws of the game. He thought the ball had been tampered with and acted accordingly. The only mistake Hair is believed to have made is that he did not inform Inzamam why he was changing the ball and awarding England five runs.

But he is very naïve if he believes he can make such allegations without there being any comeback. Calling a national team, and one of the country's iconic figures, cheats is a major thing, all the more perhaps when the country concerned is Pakistan and its religion is feeling victimised. Hair will not admit it but he made a huge mistake in forcing the issue through, and it is a decision that looks set to cost him his career.

Cricket is a great but arrogant game, in that it possesses laws. The existence of those laws suggests that what they say are absolute. But when cricket's laws are transferred into the real world their foundations may as well have been laid in sand.

With there being no definite sightings and no pictorial or video evidence, the umpires were unable to name an individual. But how can the blame be apportioned to the captain of the side when he has not been directly involved in the alleged events? It is like blaming the owner of a house for the murder of an individual found in it when the police cannot find anyone else.

Madugalle, the adjudicator, kicked the charge of ball-tampering out because he believed that there was not enough evidence on the ball, but it is hard to believe a player's career could have been threatened solely on the fact that he was captain of the side.

All the same, the ICC were right to find Inzamam guilty of bringing the game into disrepute for refusing to take the field when the umpires asked, action that caused the Test to be forfeited to England. Inzamam has accepted that he and his team were wrong to protest, even though, in their eyes, there was an injustice.

Despite the perceived unfairness, Pakistan should have taken the field after a break for bad light and tea. If teams and players were to demonstrate in such a way on every occasion a decision went against them there would be anarchy within the game. Even so the events of the past five weeks are bound to make umpires apprehensive about confronting major issues.

In the final analysis, however, it was the umpires who played the major role in a Test match reaching an unnecessarily premature conclusion. After making their feelings known, Pakistan were prepared to return to the field and play, but by then the umpires had deemed the match to be over. The four umpires at the ground, despite the efforts of Mike Procter, the match referee, and Malcolm Speed, the chief executive of the ICC, apparently refused to go back on their earlier decision.

Here again cricket lost track of what the sport is all about. The only reason cricket exists is so that it can provide entertainment to people, and more than 20,000 ticket holding fans along with millions watching on television and listening on radio were deprived of this because of the intransigence of the match officials. And it is for these reasons that Inzamam received the minimum punishment.

Cricket will survive this setback and rules, or rather, laws, will be changed, but with this sorry saga it has lost a little bit more of its romance and it is the worse for it.

Fraser's notepad: Ball-by-ball examination of the key overs during the controversial fourth Test

Angus Fraser viewed on video the overs preceding the decision by the umpire Darrell Hair to change the ball after spotting signs of alleged foul play by Pakistan. The ball was changed and England were awarded five penalty runs. Here are Fraser's ball-by-ball observations of the relevant overs on the fourth day of the controversial fourth and final Test between England and Pakistan at the Oval on 20 August.

OVER 52

Ball 5: Umar Gul to Alastair Cook Full inswinger - via reverse swing - that hit Cook on the boot. Rightly given out lbw. Ball reverse-swinging - so what? The pitch is dry, hard and abrasive and the ball is 51 overs old. Umpires look at ball, as they are duty bound to do after a wicket, and find no signs of tampering.

Ball 6: Gul to Paul Collingwood

Full ball, swung into batsman slightly - via reverse swing - who kept it out comfortably.

OVER 53

Ball 1: Danish Kaneria, bowling over the wicket, to Kevin Pietersen. Full ball that pitched in footholes caused by bowlers bowling from other end. Pietersen kept it out. Spin bowlers aim for footholes to get greater spin and inconsistent bounce. Pitching the ball in the footholes tends to scuff the ball up more than when it lands on the untouched part of the pitch.

Ball 2: Same as previous ball.

Ball 3: Same as previous ball.

Ball 4: Same as previous ball.

Ball 5: Same as previous ball.

Ball 6: Kaneria bowls straighter ball which is crashed through the covers by Pietersen for four.

OVER 54

Ball 1: Gul to Collingwood. Gul runs in to bowl covering the ball with his hands to prevent batsmen from seeing which way it may swing. Fast bowlers often do this when they are attempting to reverse-swing the ball. Short of a length ball, no swing.

Ball 2: Short of a length ball - no swing. Good ball.

Ball 3: Short of a length ball, moved slightly away from Collingwood. Good ball.

Ball 4: Short of a length ball, moved away slightly. But again nothing untoward happening.

Ball 5: Bouncer. Banged in short. Bouncers can scuff the ball up more than normal deliveries. Once again no swing movement.

Ball 6: Attempted yorker that ended up being a full toss. Ball swung in to Collingwood a little, who dug it out and collected three runs through midwicket. By hitting the ball straight into a rough area of the pitch Collingwood could have scuffed it up a little more than usual.

OVER 55

Ball 1: Kaneria, bowling over the wicket, to Collingwood. Full ball that pitched on edge of footholes.

Ball 2: Same as previous delivery.

Ball 3: Beautiful delivery. Puff of dust when ball hit pitch - could scuff ball up a little more than normal.

Ball 4: Full ball that pitched on edge of footholes.

Ball 5: Full ball that pitched close to edge of footholes.

Ball 6: Full ball that turned on untouched part of pitch. Kept out - just.

OVER 56

Ball 1: Gul to Pietersen.

Short ball pulled to to fine leg for two runs. No sign of swing.

Ball 2: Short of length ball pulled hard in to pitch. Two quick, hard contacts with pitch can scuff ball up more than usual.

Ball 3: Short of length ball - no swing - deflected for single.

Ball 4: Gul to Collingwood. Short of length ball pushed through the covers for two runs. No swing.

Ball 5: Short of length ball, comfortably pushed back down pitch by Collingwood. No swing.

Ball 6: Attempted yorker. Dug out by Collingwood. Little bit of inswing. Again, two quick contacts with the pitch could scuff the ball up a little more than usual.

Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove then meet to discuss the condition of the ball.

Reading these assessments it may appear that a lot is going on, but it is typical of what happens during a four-over spell in a Test match.

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