.html> sam's terrain: cricket news, views and controversies

An umpire's view

ONE thing which Darrell Hair cannot be accused of is reluctance to speak his mind. His own book was released recently and, shortly after, the man himself went on record with the statement that he would have no hesitation in calling Sri Lanka's Muthiah Muralitharan for throwing again if the bowler had not rectified his action by the time the Sri Lankan team comes to Australia for the triangular series in January.

This has put the Australian board in a bit of a spot. For one thing, the International Cricket Council has cleared Muralitharan of throwing, attributing his action to a deformity. Thus, if an Australian umpire were to call him again for throwing, it would be tantamount to an appointee of the local Roman Catholic church questioning an appointee of the Pope himself. This would the cricketing equivalent of sacrilege.

Australia cannot afford to lose too many umpires for the busy season ahead, either. Steve Randell, who is in the midst of a child abuse case, has asked to be stood down until the whole thing is resolved. (Of course, if he is found guilty, then he is unlikely to ever stand in a match again). About the only way the Australian board can avoid a problem with Hair is by ensuring that he does not stand in games in which Sri Lanka is involved.

Randell and Hair are considered the two best umpires in Australia and this makes the situation even more complicated. Doubtless, there will be at least one umpire from England to help out in the trinations; Sri Lanka has sent over K.T. Francis for the Ashes series and he doubtless will remain to officiate in some games of the triangular tournament. But still, a sizeable number of local umpires will be needed, especially since the venues in Australia are so far apart.

It does indeed make for a rather piquant situation. The Australian board would probably like to see the whole problem disappear and it seems extremely likely that some official will speak to Hair sooner or later in order that the issue can be sorted out. And sorting it out means that Hair will have to do the board's bidding and stand only in games involving England and Australia.

The experts at the ICC who have cleared Muralitharan and Hair obviously do not agree on what constitutes throwing. In other words, there is no standard which has been decreed by the ICC one which is communicated to all the members and which they have agreed to abide by. Since others with suspect actions have been cleared as well it does not seem likely that there will be any second thoughts on Muralitharan. Down the history of the game, no two people have been able to agree on any bowler being guilty of throwing -- Richie Benaud's campaign against Charlie Griffith comes to mind when any discussion of throwing comes up -- but with video technology having developed to the point which it has, it should be much easier to spot the cheats.

Ultimately, it will come down to the type of diplomacy which world leaders practise these days. Nobody wants to call a spade a spade any more and doubtless Hair will also have to resort to calling this implement a "digging instrument consituted of steel". In this age of doublespeak and duplicity, whether somebody throws or not is unimportant in the overall scheme of the game. The money that accrues to all and sundry, especially the boards which run the game, certainly is. One umpire cannot be allowed to get in the way. Darrell Hair will, doubtless, discover that in the coming weeks.