Leading article: Not playing the game

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The Independent Online

Could there ever have been a scene further from the English summer idyll of leather against willow than the one played out under a leaden sky at the Oval yesterday afternoon? The commentator's gentle statement - "Pakistan refused to come out after tea" - offered the merest hint of it.

Cricket's perfect storm had been all afternoon, all season, perhaps all century, in the making. It was England v Pakistan on a rain-bedevilled day. There were tired players, a suspect ball, a particular Australian umpire and the unexpected prospect of a close finish in the final Test. Of course, there was history and politics - and a great deal of both - on either side.

As we went to press, an unusually animated cricketing commentariat presumed that Pakistan had forfeited the game by "not coming out after tea". There were also murmurings that, after delicate and protracted mediation, the tail-end of the match might be rejoined at a gentlemanly hour today. After all, a cricket match should not end like this. Not a cricket match.

Whatever turbulence rocked the world - and this season has seen its fair share - one thing could be relied upon. A Test match was a Test match and a Test match was cricket. It was played in whites; it paused for lunch and tea; and a player walked back to the pavilion without demur, however preposterous the umpire's ruling.

England and Pakistan have quite enough issues with each other without a dispute about ball-tampering queering the pitch further. Is nothing sacred if the fourth day of the Fourth Test descends into anarchy? Bad light can stop play, but not bad attitude.