Darrell Hair is back in the news again. Predictably, on the other side of the equation is the Sri Lankan team. And in the middle stands that gutless, spineless organisation, the International Cricket Council; anybody employed by, or having to take orders from, that body has to be pitied.
The background is pretty simple: Hair was assigned to officiate in a match of the ICC Knockout tournament in Kenya. No big deal that, he is one of Australia's nominees to the panel of international umpires. But when the match in question was one involving Sri Lanka and a certain Muthiah Muralitharan, then the whole thing takes on a different hue.
The Sri Lankans have a feeling that Hair is out to get Murali. The only reason they advance is the comments he made in a book he wrote shortly before they were to tour Australia in 1998-99. He had described the bowler as diabolical. One must bear in mind that Hair was the same umpire who called Murali for throwing in 1995.
As usual, the controversy has spun out of control and descended to jingoism. The Lankans feel Hair has a vendetta, a mission to see Muralitharan banned from cricket. Hair feels that he has the right to call a bowler, any bowler, for throwing if he feels that the man in question has an action that is questionable. The problem here is that both sides are right.
Frankly, I feel that if Hair had not tried to capitalise on his having called Murali in 1995, if he had not released that book, if he had continued umpiring as he normally does, then there would be no way that anyone could fault him. But the book raised suspicions that he wasn't exactly as above board as he made himself out to be.
Now I don't know if anyone among you, gentle readers, has read the book. I have; in fact, I reviewed it for a major cricket site and you can read the review here.. The book had just one thing going for it - here was an umpire who had called a man for throwing in international cricket (and this was after a good many years that such a thing had happened) and the masala was about to be spilt. Come one, come all and lap it up.
Honestly, I would not have faulted Hair if he had released the book at any other time. But he had one thing in mind - making money at the expense of a cricketer - and so he timed the release of the book just before the Sri Lankan team arrived in Australia to take part in the CUB one-day series along with England and Australia. That says it all. It was not the hallmark of a professional to put it mildly.
If the book had not been published at this time, then I would straightaway classify the Sri Lankans as whingers. They would not have had a leg to stand on as far as I was concerned; an umpire has the right to call a bowler if he deems the man's action illegal. Of course, if other umpires do not concur with this view, then the umpire who does the calling may find his professional capabilities being questioned. But the team in question would not have a leg to stand on.
Hair has queered the pitch for himself by his remarks in the book. He cannot complain now if the Sri Lankans make a song and dance about his standing in a game where they are involved. There is evidence in black and white that he has pre-judged a man in their team. And more so, a man who often wins matches for Sri Lanka on his own.
And now to the ICC. There are two ways in which this comedy of an organisation can handle such a situation. Put Hair in charge of any match it deems fit and back him to the hilt. Else, play the diplomat and do not create controversy by posting him for matches involving Sri Lanka. But the ICC being the ICC does the worst possible thing that any organisation can do - put the man in charge and then pull him out and claim that it was an administrative error. Sure, and I am the mayor of Castorbridge.
It is a pity that the ICC continues to bungle in this amateurish way, even under a new president. Malcolm Gray is no better that Jagmohan Dalmiya it would appear. And the cover-up specialist David Richards is still the one who comes around making the excuses. Surely, we can do better than this.
It puts Hair in an awkward situation, though one that is entirely of his own making. He made his bed and now he has to lie in it. His actions have not helped other umpires either; now, the entire umpiring faternity has misread the whole episode and prefers to keep quiet even if there is genuine doubt about a bowler's action. The fact that Hair's book caused the trouble is overlooked.
The possibility of Hair officiating in a match involving Lanka is very remote now. Sri Lanka will next come to Australia in 2002 (by my reckoning). I wonder if Hair will be around then; no man can take too much of this public humiliation, no matter what he has done to deserve it. But he has done other umpires a singular disservice. If he had stood up to be counted before he wrote the book, then I would applaud him for his action, no matter whether he was right or wrong in his opinion about Murali. But in the circumstances, one can only view him as an opportunist who tried to sow the wind and is now reaping the whirlwind.