ICC risk fragile alliance with their stance over Hair

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Darrell Hair's future as an inter-national umpire is threatening to have wider repercussions for the game than the ball-tampering row which he started. Sympathy for Hair has grown in the past week, and the International Cricket Council seem intent on prolonging his presence on their élite list of officials.

The fallout from their stance would be explosive. Pakistan have already made a formal approach for him to be relieved of his duties and several other countries, especially Sri Lanka, are unhappy with Hair's officious, if strictly correct, methods.

But as the dust began to settle on the initial incident that led to the unprecedented forfeiture of the Fourth Test at The Oval, it was clear that the ICC were in no mood to be dictated to by indi-vidual members. The attitude of Malcolm Speed, the chief executive, is that the organisation must be allowed to implement agreed policy.

When Speed initially voiced support for Hair after the startling revelation that the umpire had offered to resign in exchange for a one-off payment from the ICC of $500,000 (£265,000) it was generally felt that his words were hollow. But that perception has altered.

The first test of the ICC's resolve will come when the umpires for the Champions' Trophy are announced in a fortnight. The feeling is growing that Hair's name could be among them. If not for the Trophy, then sometime early next year, with a few low-key matches until his contract expires in March 2008. The ICC feel that if he could resurrect his career after having called Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing in 1995 he can surmount the latest controversy. But this view might well be optimistic.

Allowing Hair to continue will be fraught with logistical difficulty. As an Australian, he is already barred from standing in Australia Tests. It would be absurd to invite him to stand in a game involving Pakistan, and he has been conspicuously and permanently absent from all matches in Sri Lanka. The élite list would be brought into disrepute.

His continued presence on the list would also stretch further the fragile alliance that exists in the ICC. The brutal truth is that many of the Asian countries feel that Hair has it in for them.

No firm date has yet been set for the hearing into two charges laid against Pakistan's captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, but it is expected to be in London in the last week of this month. Inzamam is accused of ball-tampering, since he was in charge while the offence was allegedly committed, and bringing the game into disrepute, because Pakistan refused to resume after tea on the fourth day and were deemed to have forfeited the match.

Pakistan are understood to have requested the presence of 19 witnesses, slightly fewer than originally anticipated. Although the affair has subsided slightly, the ICC are aware that there is still potential for it to be reignited if Inzamam is found guilty. It is another reason for trying to delay any decision on Hair for as long as possible.

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