The Ball-Tampering Inquiry: Inzaman turns to Boycott for help

Pakistan captain enlists heavyweight expert supporters in effort to clear his name

Pakistan will rely on three expert witnesses in the contentious ball-tampering hearing against their captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, which begins on Wednesday. The trio will be led by Geoff Boycott, the commentator and former England batsman, with support from John Hampshire, former international umpire and batsman, and Simon Hughes, the television analyst.

If it is the most improbable threesome since Dusty Springfield and the Pet Shop Boys, the lawyers hired by the Pakistan Cricket Board, appear convinced that they can help to prevent conviction on both charges faced by Inzamam. All three are expected to tell the hearing that ball tampering both in general and in this particular case is difficult if not impossible to prove.

Inzamam is charged with two breaches of the International Cricket Council's code of conduct, interfering with the condition of the ball and, more seriously, bringing the game into disrepute. Both charges arise from the fourth day of the fourth Test at the Oval. In the afternoon, the umpires penalised Pakistan five runs for tampering with the ball under Law 42.3. Although the game then continued for an hour, Pakistan refused to resume play after tea and were deemed by the umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove to have forfeited the match.

Hair was the more proactive of the two in imposing the penalty, and such was the furore that it was revealed five days later that he offered to resign from his position as an elite umpire in return for a one-off payment of $500,000.

If found guilty of ball tampering, Inzamam - who was charged as captain because the umpires could identify no specific individual - could be fined between half and all his match fee or banned for a Test or two one-day internationals. The disrepute charge carries a potential ban of between two and four Tests and four and eight one-dayers.

Of much greater significance than any ban, however, are the repercussions that the hearing could have. Pakistan still feel mightily aggrieved that they were in effect accused of cheating. They are bitter about Hair and angry about how the ICC have handled the affair. If Inzamam is found guilty of either or both charges, the Pakistan board's lawyers, DLA Piper, are likely to appeal. That would have to be heard within 10 days, still just short of Pakistan's first match in the Champions Trophy in India. According to the code of conduct, the appeal verdict is final and binding. Should Inzamam be exonerated, the PCB are likely to target Hair. They are keen not only that he never stands again in a match involving them, but that he should be removed from the elite panel.

The adjudicator at the hearing will be the ICC's senior match referee, Ranjan Madugalle, who will be accompanied by the ICC's lawyer, David Pannick QC. Although the ICC were reluctant to reveal the venue for the hearing - in case of disruption - it will be held at the Oval, scene of the alleged crime.

Although those directly involved will give evidence at the two-day hearing, Pakistan are pinning their hopes on the independent expert testimony. The reunion of Boycott and Hampshire is bizarre. They played for Yorkshire for two decades but were never close and usually acrimonious. In his autobiography Boycott wrote: "It's hard for me to get inside his head, though it might be suggested there's plenty of room."

The ball itself, when not under lock and key in the ICC lawyers' offices, has been regularly examined. For the first time, Hair, and to a lesser extent, Doctrove, will have to say how they thought it was interfered with. Of course, had they done so at the time it might have prevented this fuss.

Both Hair and Doctrove have provided statements giving their version of events. If they differ sufficiently - and it is believed they by no means correspond on key moments - the case might be thrown out. Although it is pretty obvious that Inzamam and Pakistan did not resume the match and therefore he would be guilty on the disrepute charge, Pakistan's contention will be that one led to the other, that they were so badly wronged they had no choice.

The ICC are still refusing to reveal the umpires who will stand in the Champions Trophy, though Hair is widely believed to have been invited. If so, it might be admirable that the governing body are seen to be backing an umpire for trying to uphold the law no matter how controversial, or foolish for courting a man who has plainly lost the support of at least one country and is intent on grandstanding rather than getting on with the game. It promises to be a rumbustious week.

THE BIG QUESTIONS

1. WAS THE BALL ALTERED? Notoriously difficult to prove. One man's gouge is another's collision with an advertising board. Thousands of frames of TV footage apparently show no conclusive evidence of illicit interference.

2. WAS THE GAME BROUGHT INTO DISREPUTE? Inzamam appears bang to rights but lawyers will argue that he and his team failed to resume play because they had been falsely accused of ball tampering and the umpires would not tell them how.

3. WILL IT STOP HERE? The hearing is putatively under ICC regulations, but it could be a legal minefield. If Pakistan lose, they will appeal and if they win, they will probably never rest easy until Darrell Hair resigns as an umpire.

4. WHAT OF THE SECOND UMPIRE? The charges are against Inzamam, but the case is as much about Hair. The other umpire, Billy Doctrove, is key. If his recall of events differs, officials and the ICC could look decidedly silly.

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