Darrell Hair's claim for racial discrimination against the International Cricket Council took a surprising twist yesterday when Ray Mali, its president, told the hearing that demoting him from umpiring at Test level was only "a corrective measure". It has long been assumed that Hair would never stand again at the highest level and that his contract, which expires next March, would not be renewed.
Both Robert Griffiths, Hair's QC, and the chairman of the hearing at the Central London Employment Tribunal, gave Mali the opportunity to clarify or retract his remark, but he did not do so. "I believe Mr Hair to be one of the best umpires in international cricket but I expected more of him when he did not restart the final Test at the Oval last year," said Mali. The match was awarded to England in the wake of Pakistan being accused of ball-tampering.
Mali said he put no time frame on Hair's return, but it would seem unlikely that a majority of his fellow ICC executives would agree with him. The president, who has attended the hearing all week, seemed taken aback by Griffiths' stern cross-examination, once saying to him: "I am surprised a man of your calibre would ask that."
Michael Beloff, QC for the ICC, told the hearing that the governing body of the game had "in no sense inhibited Billy Doctrove from giving evidence". Hair's co-official at the Oval was supposed to have attended the hearing this week and the panel heard from Griffiths that he will not be attending next week. Neither will Jimmy Adams, the former West Indies captain. In the absence of any support, Griffiths, who had been in bed with flu on Thursday, was required to put in a tenacious performance.