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Syed Atiq ul Hassan: Pompous Aussie or Firebrand

Pompous Aussie or Firebrand?


By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney
August 30, 2006

Australians are admired as one of the best sporting nations in the world. In cricket, Australia has maintained a tradition of winning series, tournaments and has given legendary cricketers to the world like Jeff Thomson, Dennis Lillee, Steve Waugh, and Shane Warne. These cricketers have been the aspirations for millions of people around the world. Nevertheless, contrary to their recognition as the top cricket nation; players and cricket associates are often referred as supercilious communicators and prejudice in the ground. While people admire Australian sports' talent and strength worldwide; they are also famous for being arrogant and sledgers in some parts of the world. Famous World Cup-winning Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga branded the Australian cricketers as arrogant as well as vulnerable. Another great alrounder and World-cup winning captain of Pakistan, Imran Khan called the Australian cricketers as biased.

Most of the world's cricket fans live in the subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh). Contrary to Australia where almost every sport is valued and played; in the sub-continent people are just fanatic about cricket. On the streets, in the parks and on every empty space available one will find people of all ages playing cricket with whatever gear they can afford. The live international coverage of international games from all over the world through satellite TV channels like Dubai-based Ten Sports (TV channel) has not only promoted cricket but also great knowledge about the various aspects of the game. The players from sub-continent might be less professional than the Australians but the knowledge and interest of the cricket fans in the subcontinent is far greater than Australia.

Fair Umpiring has been the issue from the very beginning of cricket. The introduction of modern technology in cricket, with cameras documenting every moment of the game has made the umpires' decision more open to criticism. Australians might acknowledge Darrel Hair as one of the best umpires in the world however; he has been regarded as a controversial umpire in the subcontinent, due to many crucial and controversial decisions he has given against world-class players like Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka and Waqar Younis of Pakistan. In 1995, Darrel Hair called for no-balling spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan seven times for a suspect bowling action during a test match against Australia played in Melbourne. Again in 1997-98, the then Sri Lankan captain Arjuan Ranatunga had threatened to walkout on Sri Lanka's tour of Australia when Darrel Hair blamed Muttiah Muralitharan for chucking in a one-day match. His consistent decisions against the sub-continental players led the people of subcontinent to think his judgment held prejudice.

The International cricket shook again by a new twist in the ball tampering controversy when it was revealed that Darrell Hair, the umpire at the centre of the affair, had offered to resign from the game for $US500, 000.

During the recent Test series between Pakistan and England Darrel Hair had already given couple of very prominent wrong decisions at a very crucial stage of the game. According to many observers and commentators, had this decision not been given, Pakistan would have not lost at least one Test match. Pakistan as already down by 2-0 by the end of 3rd Test match. In the fourth Test match, victory for Pakistan was very much certain at the 4th day when Darrel Hair made an extraordinary decision in Test cricket history. According to Darrel Hair, Pakistani bowlers tempered the ball. He docked 5 runs from Pakistani innings and changed the ball. When both the umpires, Hair and Doctrove found that Pakistani team did not come on the field on time, they decided to forfeit the match and awarded it to England. However, according to Pakistani coach, Bob Woolmer, at about 16:45 (BST) the Pakistan team started to go back on the field. Inzamam led his team out, only to see that Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove were walking off and at that time umpires Hair and Doctrove had seen the Pakistan team coming.

Regarding the ball-tempering charges, Hair could not produce any evidence nor was any proof caught by any camera.

Pakistanis took this charge so seriously that the protestors came out on the streets of Pakistan amid support of the Pakistani team by President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf who phoned captain Inzamam to offer his backing in the row. On the other hand, in Australia, opposition leader Kim Beazley showed himself on Darrell Hair'side by saying that the Pakistanis should have taken umpire Hair's decision 'on the chin'. Australian opening batsman Matthew Hayden implored the ICC to take strong action over Pakistan's controversial walk-off at the Oval.

Umpire's decision must be obliged in and out of the ground. However, in this case, aaccording to many experts and senior players including Imran Khan, Michael Holding and David Gower, Darrel Hair should have issued warnings prior to his decision or should have consulted with the neutral umpire watching the game closely from outside.

Responding on the current incident, Sri Lanka's World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga said that Darrel Hair should be taken off Elite Panel of ICC umpires as he was creating bad cricket relations between the countries. Oppositely, in Australia, almost every cricketing professional backed Darrel Hair.

In 2000, when Reid fined and suspended Waqar Younis with ball-tempering, the public in Pakistan may have called Reid bias but there wasn't a single statement from any cricket professional in Pakistan against Reid's judgment.

Darrel Hair's image though took a major blow across the cricketing nations with the release of his email correspondence with Malcolm Speed where he demanded for $US500,000 as a compensation for him to retire from international umpiring. Yet, the Australian media and sports personalities have also come in support of Hair, classifying him amongst very few burly up holders of the cricketing law but no one commented about Darrel demand for $US500,000. Former legend English umpire Dickie Bird who had never been popular in Pakistan, said that Darrell's demand for $US 500,000 in return for standing down as a Test umpire had left him shocked and stunned. Former England captain Michael Atherton said it was "extraordinary" that Hair had not been charged with any offence by the ICC.

Another all time legend from West Indies and international commentator, Michael Holding, said that there was a double standard at work in cricket and this episode has only highlighted it. When England used reverse-swing to beat the Australians in the 2005 Ashes series, everyone said it was a great skill. When Pakistan did it, the opposite happened; no one thought it was great skill. Everyone associates it with skulduggery. Michael Holding referred this as first-world hypocrisy.

Pakistani captain Inzamam-ul-Haq is facing two counts of charges by ICC, ball-tampering and bringing the game into disrepute. Yet, in the public eyes Inzamam except in Australia has received remarkable support even from the England court. On the other hand, Pakistanis now want ICC to launch an investigation against Darrel Hair before taking a decision on charges levelled against Inzamam.

Though Darrell Hair now apologised about his e-mail demanding US500.000, still in the present situation, it would be hard to see that Darrell Hair would serve as an umpire in international games. As the former Australian cricketer Greg Chappell said, Darrell Hair's international umpiring career has ended now.

*************

(The writer is a Sydney-based journalist, media analyst and foreign correspondent).



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