Ball-tampering affair: Sordid triumph of self-interest

Hair and Inzy erode the spirit through obsession with small picture

The Champions Trophy, which begins next Saturday, is dedicated to the Spirit of Cricket. Neither Inzamam-ul-Haq nor Darrell Hair has been invited to take part.

The two matters may not be directly related (though they may be), but given recent events it is probably as well that the pair will not be at the tournament in India as, respectively, captain of Pakistan and elite umpire. It is at least arguable that because of their actions each has inflicted terrible if not terminal damage on the spirit of a game both profess to love.

Inzamam will be absent because he has been banned for four one-day matches after being found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute when he and his team twice failed to resume play after tea on the fourth day of the Fourth Test against England at The Oval, and were thus sensationally deemed to have forfeited the game. He was cleared of the charge which led to those refusals, that of ball tampering, an offence which has now become as taboo as throwing.

Hair, the umpire who played the lead role in insisting that the condition of the ball had been altered, will not be in India because of what the International Cricket Council called "safety and security concerns". These were not detailed, and Hair said he had received no threat or indication of threat.

So it is possible to assume that the ICC, rather than saying that Hair has been withdrawn because he got it wrong and in doing so embarrassed the entire game, alighted on safety and security as, so to speak, a safe and secure option. Inzamam will resume his career shortly. Hair may or may not resume his, depending on whether cricket countries let him. There lies the rub.

Although both main protagonists in this pathetic affair have reaffirmed where pride leads, they have shown that the body to which they putatively answer is in a less satisfactory state. The ICC are a governing body, but only when their members can be bothered to let them be so.

There have been three significant recent examples of righteous mutiny. Some of India's players became involved in a spat with the match referee in a Test match against South Africa. The ICC took a firm hand by ensuring that the next match in the series was denied official status, but the sides went and played in any case.

Not long after, England refused to play a World Cup match in Zimbabwe, forfeiting it and their future in the tournament, and defying all ICC implorations. Sure, there were moral considerations, but everyone else in the ICC family went and they were never England's official reason. The governing body were defied again.

And then came The Oval. Pakistan refused to resume because of an umpiring decision with which they disagreed. It took more than a month for a hearing to take place and Pakistan are now refusing to play again in a match with Hair officiating.

In all those cases the ICC procedures and rules were undermined by individual members because they happened to disagree with the way they affected them in a particular instance. It does not help that cricket is played by so few nations that the actions of one can have a devastating effect. It does not help that each of those nations appear to think, when it suits, that their interests are greater than those of the game.

Collective responsibility is fine, so long as it is others that observe it. India last week decided they would refuse to sign the members' participating agreement covering ICC events until 2015, and are on another collision course with the ruling body - their ruling body.

The ICC look as toothless today as they can have ever done. That will remain so until their members allow them actually to govern.

Umpires may never be able to govern again. Their sacrosanct status has often looked at odds with the way the game has evolved, and demanded a delicate, humble touch to sustain.

The Spirit of Cricket, much vaunted since it was launched by the late Lord Cowdrey seven years ago, contains much romanticised tosh about the responsibility of the players. The Champions Trophy can assume an importance its designers never imagined it would take. The players must take control and seize the day.

It can be done, hope still prevails. At The Oval on Thursday observers left feeling shabby, whatever their view of the justice meted out. Yet barely a year before, the same place had been the scene of a joyous outpouring, the final act in a summer's play that had offered conclusive proof of what sport can do for the soul.

If the ICC (and their members) mean it, the Champions Trophy can help to recapture that. Whatever else was forfeited at The Oval in August, it was then that Inzamam and Hair forfeited their right to be at an event dedicated to the spirit of cricket.

Dramatis personae: What happens now to the leading men?

Darrell Hair

Hair knows the Laws, prides himself on applying them, understands that dwelling on inevitable mistakes is folly. But the letter of the Law in isolation is useless. Cricket needs robust umpires but they need humil-ity. In being determined to show his strength, he has weakened all umpires, and it is difficult (not impossible) envisaging him standing again.

Inzamam-Ul-Haq

Much guff has been talked this past month about the Pakistan captain's exalted status among his players. Maybe so, but delightful batsman though he is, he has often been petulant, exhibiting dissent to make his point. Refusing to play is the biggest deal of all and the Pakistan Cricket Board, rather than deifying him, would be wiser telling him to watch it.

Mike Procter

As a result of the referee's performance, specifications on roles may have to change. Knowing that umpires are in ultimate charge put him in an unwelcome position, but lack of a firm hand was dismaying. Failure to recognise potential consequences has done him lasting damage. Referees might also consider divulging when coaches and managers are harassing them.

Malcolm Speed

Under his chief executiveship the ICC look like a governing body even if they cannot always behave like one. May be missed when he is gone, which could be two years. Tries to play by the book, chooses words carefully, but it spoke volumes about the ICC's lack of clout (and Speed and Hair) that he failed to persuade Hair to change his mind.

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