James Lawton: Hair's 30 pieces of silver small change next to £10m for putting truth on hold

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Given inflation rates over the last 2,000 or so years, some will say that Darrell Hair asking for $500,000 worth of walkaway money equates roughly to 30 pieces of silver, and presumably, no one at the International Cricket Council will complain - least of all the chief executive, Malcolm Speed, who stopped short only at producing the water and the towels yesterday when he announced the contents of the letter in which the Australian umpire made his request.

Forgive the hint of cynicism, but if Hair's reputation is to be slaughtered publicly because he made what the charitably inclined might just say was an opening gambit in negotiations for a conveniently timed retirement deal, it seems only fair to say that in these days of cricket's crisis after the collapse of the Oval Test he has hardly been the only one with money on his mind.

Indeed, we can be sure celebrations within the ICC, the England and Wales Cricket Board and its Pakistan counterparts at the rescuing of the one-day series starting next week have rather more to do with the resulting income of £10m than some magical restoration of sporting values - and relations - out on the old green square.

The complaint against the obdurate Hair, certainly in this quarter, has thus far been the relatively minor one that at the very least he was insensitive to the pride of the Pakistanis when he so brusquely, in effect, accused them of being a bunch of cheats. Rightly or wrongly, Hair believed that Inzamam-ul-Haq's team had been tampering with the ball, and if there is another valid criticism of the official it is that he could have been more susceptible to compromise when the seething tourists prolonged their protest after the tea interval. However, laws unquestionably are laws, and the greatest cause for indignation now must be that the show will continue next week without any of the questions provoked by the scandal of the Oval being officially investigated. Not, that is, until the games, surely utterly meaningless in any spirit they might generate after the betrayal of the public witnessed in Kennington, are played and the money is gathered in.

Speed quoted three lawyers in his decision to go public with Hair's letter, which the author revoked two days after writing it "under great stress". But then legalities were much to the fore when England's cricketers were almost browbeaten into making an appearance in a World Cup game in Harare at a time when the policies of the Zimbabwe government were causing waves of revulsion around the civilised world.

Why has the official inquiry into the dire Oval episode, and the charge against Inzamam that he brought the game into disrepute when he forfeited a Test match - the first time that happened in cricket history - been postponed? It is, we are told, because the one ICC official who could apparently be trusted by all parties was beset by a family crisis. Are we supposed to take this absurd proposition seriously, accept that the game which used to be known as one of manners, which generates millions of pounds of revenue across the world in a quite relentless manner, which burns out its star performers on a routine basis, has just one figure of sufficient, undisputed honour to get to the heart of this matter and reach his conclusions without the taint of bias?

If it isn't an absurdity, it is a shocking statement on the quality of the men who administer a game that in recent years has lapsed into one moral crisis after another.

The World Cup affair was the worst, but then how resolutely did cricket tackle the consequences of the betting scandal that brought down the South African captain Hansie Cronje and asked questions about the honesty of cricketers in every corner of the world? How has it dealt with the game's degeneration into wholesale cheating, including spurious appeals and a blank, uncomprehending stare at the possibility that a batsman might walk when he knows himself to be out?

We know the answers to all of those questions and now we have to stomach the conveniences of fate which have cleared the way for the cash bonanza which comes in the wake of a Test match, still by far the most superior form of the game, that died because not enough of those involved accepted their responsibilities to the game that has nourished them and the public who so faithfully fund it and then hope for the best.

Darrell Hair has the reputation of a curmudgeon and in parts of Asia they say worse of him than that.

But no one has impugned his honesty thus far, only the wisdom of having him stand in the company of the Pakistanis. Now there may be fresh accusations, at the very least of opportunism. How convenient it is for the game which has just saved itself £10m while putting the truth on hold.

Strong-arm tactic paves way for overdue reform of self-serving rules

Keith Hackett, the referees' overlord and, generally, their protector, is apparently at a loss to know why some of his top men are displaying not so much feet of clay as brains composed of tomato purée. He shouldn't be. It is what happens when you put some exceedingly fallible middle-aged mortals up on a pedestal close to God.

As it happens, Hackett positions himself right next to the Big Man when he announces a series of demotions for those of his "élite" officials who, in his opinion, have made grievous errors of judgement.

Certain for the chop, we gather, is Dermot Gallagher, who so fatuously awarded Manchester City's Ben Thatcher merely a yellow card for nothing less than recklessly endangering the life of fellow professional Pedro Mendes.

No one can say Gallagher does not deserve punitive action but the worry is the way it will be administered. It is coming from the closed world of the refereeing fraternity, the little self-regarding club whose members mostly can do no wrong and who, when they occasionally slip into a lapse, and the world lurches on its axis, can only be judged by their peers.

In an age of advantaged technology this is total nonsense and if there was any point of light in the shocking Thatcher incident it was only that one of football's most bizarre pieces of legislation will now surely be swept away.

It is the law that says that retrospective action can only be taken if the match official has not seen, or not reacted, to a passage of play which has caused some controversy or complaint from one of those involved.

According to the letter of this putrid, referee-protecting statute, Thatcher is in the clear. Now, of course, the outrage generated by the Welshman's calculated, vicious foul on the Portsmouth player will not be contained by such mumbo-jumbo officialese.

Revoking of the rule must now be accompanied by a resolve to administer proper levels of justice - stern enough to make an ultimate nonsense of the ever-increasing police profile in football affairs.

That the local law are investigating the Thatcher business, in a city where a large slice of the community live in constant terror of random, murderous gang violence, is nothing less than a scandal of misapplied time and public funds. The police say they are obliged to investigate promptly any complaint made by members of the public - which is surely something of a revelation to thousands of victims of burglary and general harassment.

The police should tell the public that they have more pressing matters, and invite the football authorities to get on with their own business with something that smacks of genuine authority.

Some are saying, quite legitimately, that while horror over the assault by Thatcher is understandable, they fear the official response is likely to be all the harder because of his relative obscurity.

The key piece of evidence in this argument came five years ago when Roy Keane exacted revenge on Alf-Inge Haaland so cruelly, so arrogantly, and then wrote about it with the smug air of a sated gunfighter, his punishment of five matches - and fine of £150,000, or less than two weeks' wages - was almost a licence for wholesale football assassination.

Ben Thatcher probably didn't see himself as an agent of football reform when he tore across the City of Manchester Stadium intent on delivering his forearm smash. But then, as we always say, it is a strange old game. Now, in the most appalling circumstances, it might just become a somewhat more decent one.