The one-day series between England and Pakistan appeared to be under threat once again last night, after another remarkable series of events in the wake of the ball-tampering row that has rocked cricket. It ended with Pakistan apparently making every effort to ensure the Code of Conduct hearing, involving their captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and the match umpire Darrell Hair, goes ahead as quickly as possible.
The hearing was due to take place tomorrow in London, but at the start of yesterday was postponed indefinitely. The key figure in the postponement is Ranjan Madugalle, the former Sri Lankan Test player and highly respected match referee. He was appointed by the ICC to chair the contentious hearing, which could ultimately result in Inzamam receiving a fine and a 10-match ban for ball tampering and bringing the game into disrepute.
But it emerged yesterday that Madugalle would be unable to attend the hearing because his sister has just had a cancer-related operation and the outlook is said to be serious.
However, reports last night from Karachi suggested that Pakistan were determined that the hearing be held before next Monday, when Pakistan are due to play England again in a Twenty20 game. A Pakistan Cricket Board official told Reuters that they were willing to accept the former West Indian captain Clive Lloyd as a replacement adjudicator, to speed up the process.
"We are talking to the ICC about having the hearing before the first match [on Monday]. There's no problem appointing Clive Lloyd - he is in Manchester," the official was quoted as saying. An already complicated situation was made even more complex when an ICC official responded to that statement by saying that there had been no official communication from the Pakistan board about appointing Lloyd.
The ICC also wants the issue resolved as quickly as possible, but it does not want the process rushed at the expense of a satisfactory conclusion. Concerns have been expressed over all seven of the ICC's match referees who could stand in for Madugalle. Some are said to be inexperienced, others arguably compromised in other ways. Lloyd, for instance, is West Indian, the same nationality as Billy Doctrove, the other umpire at the Oval Test, and he lives in England.
Inzamam and the Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer have suggested that the tourists could refuse to play the one-day series if he were banned. The row centres on a decision by the umpires to award a five-run penalty against Pakistan for ball-tampering on Sunday. Inzamam's team refused to emerge for the final session's play and the match was eventually forfeited by Pakistan. The Pakistan players vehemently deny any wrongdoing.
At first glance it would appear that yesterday's decision to postpone the hearing was a rather convenient one. With Inzamam's legal team pushing for the ICC, the game's governing body, to delay the hearing, and the England and Wales Cricket Board desperate for the one-day series to go ahead - the cancellation of the six matches could cost the ECB as much as £15m - a postponement would seem to be the most conciliatory action.
But no behind-the-scenes arrangement has been made and the reason for the ICC's decision is absolutely genuine. Two young children are involved and, despite the emotive nature of the issues raised over the past three days, the ICC's understandable view is that there are more important issues than a spat over the condition of a cricket ball.
Meanwhile, mystery still surrounds Duncan Fletcher's alleged visit to the match referee's room on Sunday morning. It has been inferred in some newspapers that Fletcher, the England coach, went to see Mike Procter, the match referee, with the topic of ball tampering on his mind.
The allegation has been strongly denied by the ECB, which admitted Fletcher went to see Procter, but at the time he was out of his room. The ECB also stated that, had Fletcher met Procter, the conversation would have been about bad light.
If the denials are taken at face value, Fletcher and the ECB have nothing to worry about. But the lack of trust comes from the fact that the ECB has not always been as informative and helpful as it could. An example of this came during the winter when Marcus Trescothick's reasons for returning home early from India changed.
* Pakistan cricket is mourning the death of the former Test all-rounder Wasim Raja at the age of 54. He suffered a fatal heart attack while playing in a club game in London. Raja played 57 Tests and 54 one-day games between 1973 and 1985.