Man In Middle Of A Storm: So just how good an umpire is Darrell Hair?

The week that shook the game to its very core
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The Independent Online

Shortly after lunch on a late June day at Lord's in 1998 the England batsman Mark Ramprakash was given out caught behind off a debatable inside edge. As he trudged off he passed the umpire who had raised the deadly finger and said to him: "That's my career you're messing with, Darrell."

It was a minor incident for which Ramprakash was duly censured, but it demonstrated that Darrell Hair was never far from controversy. He has not always courted it but his stature and his style put him perpetually close to its edge. Now he has messed with his own career. The consequences will probably terminate it.

Yesterday he still nominally held both the posts that give him a huge public profile in the game. He is one of the 10 umpires on the International Cricket Council's élite panel and he is also consultant on the laws to MCC, who still write them. The latter position was downgraded last year, partly because MCC did not wish to be so closely associated with such a controversial figure. After the events of the past week might Hair might now be considered an embarrassment.

Since he was first invited to stand in a Test match (Australia v India at Adelaide in 1992) his reputation has been of a tough umpire who was a stickler for the laws and not afraid to apply them. He was almost certainly wrong when he sent Ramprakash on his way eight years ago but he would not have let the decision or the statement haunt him.

Hair has not got much wrong and he knows it. The International Cricket Council's latest figures show that in Test matches their umpires got 94.8 per cent of decisions right. They were not about to reveal Hair's precise percentages last week, but they are above that figure.

What might have done for Hair - if he is indeed done for - is that he gave the impression that he was never wrong. If it was not arrogance, it was definitely superiority.

That was evident not only in his fateful decision to penalise Pakistan five penalty runs for ball tampering but also in his offer to resign as long as the ICC paid $500,000 into his bank account by 31 August. The tone of the email implies that he simply could not see that he was doing anything amiss. It was his certainty in both cases that got the better of him.

It is the lot of any umpire who has been around as long as Hair that he should put some noses out of joint. He became infamous for calling the Sri Lankan, Muttiah Muralitharan, for throwing in 1995. He no-balled him seven times and in his autobiography called his action "diabolical". It is an open secret that Hair still thought Muralitharan to be a chucker, though he was not so fearless that he ever no-balled him again.

Perhaps it was the style of the man rather than the substance. The Pakistan team have been uncomfortable with him for long enough. The chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Shaharyar Khan, put it bluntly: "He has a dagger in our backs all the time."

There is no real hard evidence to show that he had it in for them, though he and the ICC will find it hard to make the ball tampering charges stick, if they ever come before a tribunal. But Pakistan have been working themselves into a fearful lather ever since they blamed Hair for Inzamam-ul-Haq's run-out dismissal in Faisalabad last year when he seemed to take evasive action after Stephen Harmison threw the ball at his stumps. It was a frightful piece of umpiring which might have observed the letter, but did nothing for the spirit of the laws.

A few years ago, he produced a technique manual in his role as development officer for the New South Wales umpires' association. In this he wrote: "One of the best things an umpire can do to avoid conflict situations is to let the players play the game.

"Umpires shouldn't be looking for minor technical violations or any other circumstances just to show people they know the law. Such situations may involve penalty runs. Successful man-management skills that have averted conflict situations need to be continued with minor adjustments.

"Use common sense when applying the laws. One of the worst tags an umpire can get is that of being a 'law book' umpire. Unfortunately it's reputation that will stay with you a long time."

Hair might have been the architect of his downfall. But in the case of Pakistan it might simply have been a case of familiarity that bred contempt and something that the ICC may well examine.

Since taking his place on the élite panel in 2004, Hair has umpired 32 Tests, 10 involving Pakistan, which is almost a third of the number they have played. Same old face, same old routine begins to apply and look where it has got them.

HOW IT UNFOLDED

Monday 21 August: Pakistan's captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, is charged with ball-tampering and bringing the game into disrepute by the International Cricket Council. The case is to be heard on Friday 25 August.

Wednesday 23 August: ICC postpone Inzamam's hearing because senior match referee Ranjan Madugalle (below), who was due to chair it, is unavailable for personal reasons.

Thursday 24 August: The England and Wales Cricket Board make contingency plans for the Twenty20 match against Pakistan on Monday in the event that the tourists cannot fulfil the fixture, aiming to field a World XI.

Friday 25 August: ICC reveal that Hair offered to resign in exchange for $500,000 (£265,000). The offer was later withdrawn but ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed feels compelled to make the email public. ICC confirm Pakistan will play all their one-day games.

WHAT THEY SAID

This is a huge victory, and it makes a strong case for us to be cleared on ball-tampering.

ZAHEER ABBAS

Pakistan manager

He does what he thinks is right regardless of the consequences. My immediate reaction was, "Typical Darrell".

DAVE RICHARDSON

ICC cricket general manager

It is looking like the charges are going to be dropped. The public had paid a lot of money to watch a cricket match and they did not get it, so they might think twice about going back to cricket.

DICKIE BIRD

Former umpire

It appears Darrell Hair is the bad guy, whereas unresolved issues were hanging over Inzy, and Inzy was part of the bad guy.

MICHAEL ATHERTON

Former England captain

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