Darrell Hair was withdrawn as an umpire from the Champions Trophy in India yesterday because of safety and security concerns. Officially, this was because the International Cricket Council wanted to ensure no harm would come to Hair; unofficially there must have been considerable worry about the amount of damage he might inflict on anybody questioning his right to be there.
In a tour de force press conference in which he said everything and nothing, the most controversial umpire in the world defended his part in the Great Ball-tampering Scandal. Or he almost did. For 46 riveting minutes - much longer than it takes to scuff up a cricket ball apparently - Hair hid behind the ICC Umpires' Code of Conduct, which precludes match officials answering pretty much anything except name, rank or number on the élite umpires list, or face torture from their employers.
An official with the self-assurance of Big Darrell using such a document to avoid answering questions had the ring of sincerity of high-ranking government ministers who suggest it is time to concentrate on policies not personalities. Indeed, Hair began by saying that he could be forgiven for thinking Gordon Brown and Tony Blair "do not exist today".
He ended by asking if his privacy and that of his family could be respected, at least to the extent that reporters and photographers would stop blocking the drive of his home in Lincoln, which he loved, and upsetting his neighbours, whom he also loved. He deserved that request to be acceded to.
In the 44 minutes between, he talked of how he loved cricket, his continuing desire to umpire and confirmed he had received no threats about going to India. There was nothing, or nothing substantial, about ball-tampering, his interpretation of it, or whether, if it was offered now, he would accept the $500,000 (£270,000) he demanded from the ICC to go quietly.
For much of the time a smile played round his lips as it did round Clark Gable's Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind. It was difficult to tell if this was nervousness, or as with Gable, whether he was humouring the audience.
Hair said he had thousands of calls from cricket lovers and umpires, none of which had been abusive. Presumably, this was because legions of Pakistan supporters did not have his number.
It was the performance of a man still absolutely certain of his own abilities but not much bothered about self-examination. He was, he said, prepared and actually wanted to shake the hand of Inzamam-ul-Haq, though he had not done so yesterday, and he was not about to admit that he harboured regrets about that Sunday afternoon at the Oval when he became the first umpire to signal five penalty runs for ball-tampering. (Or "cheating" as the ICC adjudication called it in the only no-nonsense phrase of the day at the ground yesterday).
"I umpire every match to the best of my ability," he said. "If it happened again I may well do the same. Sometimes I make a crook lbw decision and wish I could take it back. These things happen. If a mistake has been made that's fine, but when a mistake has been made in good faith I've got to be happy, because to do anything else means you have lost confidence in your umpiring."
So, then, did he think he was still capable of umpiring in an international match? "Goodness me," he blurted and just for a split second it seemed that he might have been wrong-footed and was riven by self-doubt. "Other people make assessments of my performance, but what do I think, yes I do." Why? "Because I'm pretty bloody good at it."
Yet Pakistan do not want him and he has never stood in a match in Sri Lanka. And a couple of hours earlier, the ICC tribunal had found that there was not enough "cogent evidence" to support a charge of ball-tampering. Indeed, in the judgement of adjudicator Ranjan Madugalle, "the marks are as consistent with the normal wear and tear of a match ball after 56 overs as they are with deliberate human intervention."
True, this is only a cricket ball being talked about here in a match at the fag end of a Test series already decided, but that seemed as damning as saying a forensic scientist had misidentified the murder weapon.
The most perverse moment arrived when Big Darrell reached a state of denial that he was a controversial umpire. There went the Press again. But hang on, this was also the man who had no-balled Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing, in a Test match (the last umpire to do so).
There you go again, said Darrell, dragging up events from 11 years ago, as though they had any relevance now. He was hurt, no mistake, and the smile left his lips just like Rhett when he got mad at Scarlet.
Madugalle delivers justice with authority
Ranjan Madugalle, the International Cricket Council chief referee who has handled the Inzamam-ul-Haq affair, has dealt with the whole thorny issue with typical efficiency and authority and - many would feel - has handed out the correct punishments.
The former Sri Lanka Test player is known for having an easy-going exterior and charming personality that mask a reputation as a disciplinarian, a combination that has seen him rise to his elevated status within the game's governing body at the relatively young age of 47.
Appointed a match referee in 1993, Madugalle was an ever-present fixture during Sri Lanka's formative years in the Test arena as a stylish right-handed batsman.Reuse content