Hair-raising antics

February 11, 2007

Darrell Hair is again in the news. The man is suing the International Cricket Conference and the Pakistan Cricket Board for racial discrimination.

This time, Hair hasn't got as much mileage as he normally does: either the media feels that he has tried one too many stunts or there is a collective feeling that one should not paint him in a bad light any more. Accusing an organisation of racial discrimination is serious business.

Hair was dropped from the ICC's elite panel of umpires last year. This followed an incident in August when he and fellow umpire Billy Doctrove accused Pakistan of ball-tampering during the fourth Test against England.

Pakistan refused to play and ended up forfeiting the encounter, the first time this had happened in 1814 Tests. Hair was then revealed to have offered to quit in exchange for $US500,000 which cast him in an entirely different light. An ICC referee threw out his charges and Hair was dropped as a Test umpire. No such penalty was levied on Doctrove who returned to umpiring at the Test level in January 2007, officiating in the first two of a three-Test series between Pakistan and South Africa.

The ICC has allowed Hair to stand in minor tournaments - he announced the legal action against the ICC and the PCB in Kenya where he was officiating in the World Cricket League, a one-day tournament for the six top teams which are not Test-playing countries.

Why is it that Hair's actions often have the smell of opportunism about them? It looks like the man wants to stand in the World Cup which is starting in the Caribbean on March 13. He hopes that the bad publicity ahead of the tournament will convince the ICC to come to a compromise.

This isn't an isolated case. In November 1998, Hair, who at that stage was just 46 and had been a Test umpire for just six years and a bit, suddenly released an autobiography titled Decision maker: an umpire's story. If someone who is famous publishes an autobiography at such a young age it is understandable - Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, released an autobiography a few years back when he was around 30. But an average cricket umpire?

Hair had good reason to publish the book - he had called Sri Lankan spinner Mutthiah Muralitharan for throwing in the Boxing Day Test in 1995 and Murali was about to return to Australia for a one-day series. What better time to milk such a sensational incident? There was little of substance in the book (for the curious ones, a full review is here).

But back to the England-Pakistan Test incident. A day after the charges were laid, Hair emailed his employers, the ICC, and offered to walk away if he was paid $US500,000. There were subtle hints in a second email that he was thinking of revising this offer. If this is not a demand for hush money, then I am a Chinaman.

It's worth looking at this affair in some detail as Hair's current claim rests on it. On August 20, 2006, the fourth day of the fourth and final Test between England and Pakistan at the Oval in London, Hair changed the ball during the post-lunch session and awarded five penalty runs to England, claiming that ball-tampering had taken place. Neither he nor the other umpire, Billy Doctrove, specified who had been guilty. In effect, this meant that the entire Pakistan team was being labelled a bunch of cheats.

Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq did not react immediately. However, the Pakistanis did not emerge after the tea break when England had reached 298 for four, after having trailed by 331 on the first innings. The rubber had already been decided - England had won the second and third Tests after the first was drawn. The ball was 55 overs old when Hair decided that it bore the signs of being tampered.

When the Pakistanis did not emerge, the umpires decided that the match had to be deemed as forfeited. Meetings then took place; involved were the Pakistan cricket board chairman Shaharyar Khan, his English counterpart David Morgan, Inzamam, England captain Andrew Strauss and match referee Mike Procter.

There was hope at this stage that the game could be restarted. Everyone, including Procter, was in agreement on this. But Hair refused to withdraw the decision to abandon the game.

ICC head honcho, Australian Malcolm Speed, who was in Dubai, where the organisation is now based, made a long phone call to Hair and attempted to convince the man to go along but failed. At 10.15pm local time the game was officially awarded to England.

The next day, Monday August 21, the umpires levelled charges of ball tampering and bringing the game into disrepute against Inzamam, both under the laws relating to cricket's code of conduct.

To digress a bit, here lies one of the oddest things about cricket - the ICC, which is touted as the world body controlling the game, did not level the charges, the umpires did. This strikes me as very odd. When Zinedine Zidane head-butted Italian defender Marco Materrazi in the final of the 2006 World Cup, FIFA, the world body, brought charges against him. When Australian rugby union winger Lote Tuqiri up-ended New Zealand captain Richie McCaw on August 19, 2006, in an illegal spear tackle, he had to face charges brought by a jury from SANZAR, the organisation that controls the game in the southern hemisphere and draws its authority from the International Rugby Board. But cricket appears to be something of a different beast. 

The charges levelled against Inzamam were set down to be heard by a referee, Sri Lankan Ranjan Madugalle, on August 25. A day before the hearing, Madugalle informed the ICC that he would not be able to make it in time - family commitments was the excuse - and the hearing was then put off.

But in the background, plenty had been happening. On August 22, Hair had emailed the ICC umpires manager Doug Cowie, a New Zealander with whom he was obviously on good terms. And Hair made his now infamous offer - I'll quit if you pay me $US500,000, directly to my bank account and say nothing about it. In a second email, Hair hinted that developments - he had earned plenty of flak for his decision to award the game to England and the word "racist" had been flung about quite a bit - meant that his offer was being revised. The language used indicated that the figure would be revised upwards. Hair made it clear in his first email that the payment of this amount did not mean that he would not later take legal action against anyone who had made comments about him - including the Pakistan team and board, and sections of the electronic and print media. Once Speed got into the picture, Hair, in a third email, withdrew his offer.

The Pakistanis had given indications that they would not be agreeable to continuing the tour if their captain was found guilty. The England and Wales Cricket Board was looking at a loss in the region of £10 million. As a precaution, the ECB arranged for a 20-over match and five one-day matches, the first against an international XI and the others against the West Indies, should the Pakistan team withdraw from the tour.

On the afternoon of Friday, August 26, Speed, who had by now flown to London, called a press conference and made public Hair's emails. He called Hair's offer "silly." Hair had to offer a riposte and came up with the statement that there had been no malicious intent behind the communication. Sure.

Speed said the ICC executive would meet in Dubai on September 2 and a possible item on the agenda was consideration whether the charges against Inzamam could be dropped. The hearing before Madugalle was then put off to September 15 or later. After Hair's emails were made public, the Pakistan team claimed a moral victory and said they were prepared to continue with the tour.

The ICC hearing was finally held on September 28 and while the ball-tampering charges were thrown out, Inzamam was penalised by being ordered to sit out four one-day games. In a statement, Madugalle said: "Having regard to the seriousness of the allegation of ball-tampering - it is an allegation of cheating - I am not satisfied on the balance of probabilities there is sufficiently cogent evidence the fielding team had changed the condition of the ball. In my judgement the marks are as consistent with normal wear and tear of a match ball after 56 overs as they are with deliberate human intervention."

The four-match ban was explained this way: "On two occasions [Inzamam] led a protest against the umpires by failing to come on to the field of play at the relevant time. I have taken into account Mr Ul-Haq's expression of regret and an apology and I take into account all the surrounding and mitigating circumstances."

But the affair had not ended. The balance of power in the ICC shifted some time ago and India is now the kingmaker. Hair is not a popular figure among non-white teams due to his overbearing nature. The Guardian's Paul Weaver describes him thus: "Hair, at times bluff and overbearing, can convey the impression that he is a particularly officious police constable in the midst of a flannelled rabble; communication with players is not his strong point and Asian countries feel he has been biased against them in the past."

On November 4, the ICC board - which has 10 members, one from every Test-playing member - voted by a 7-3 margin to drop Hair from the ICC's elite panel of umpires. The motion was moved by the Asian bloc and only the three white-majority members - England, Australia and New Zealand - voted against it. The other seven - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa and Zimbabwe - voted to throw Hair out.

Hair has been involved in numerous controversies in the past. His very first Test match, between India and Australia, in January 1992, was won by Australia by a margin of 138 runs. Wisden says the game was "marred... by controversy over lbw decisions... eight times Indians were given out, while all but two of their own appeals were rejected".

In 1994, Hair was involved in a verbal spat with South African Peter Kirsten after Hair had given three of Kirsten's teammates out lbw in the first innings of a Test against Australia; Kirsten himself was out the same way in the second innings and another verbal stoush eventuated. The player was fined 65 percent of his match fee.

In 1995, Hair called Muralitharan seven times for throwing during the Boxing Day Test. Steve Dunne of New Zealand at the other end did not call Murali. After this, Hair was not allowed to stand in Tests involving Lanka until the islanders toured the West Indies in 2003.

In September 2000, Hair, standing at square-leg, no-balled ZImbabwean Grant Flower thrice during a one-day tie against New Zealand.

In October 2003, Shaun Pollock was fined for questioning Hair's judgement during the third one-day tie against Pakistan. In January 2004, Hair and New Zealander Billy Bowden reported Pakistan's Shabbir Ahmed for a suspect bowling action. Later that year, in November, Hair told the ICC that he did not want to officiate in matches in Zimbabwe.

There's more. In November 2005, Hair referred an appeal for a run out against Inzamam to the third umpire during the Faisalabad Test against England. Inzamam appeared to be taking evasive action against a throw from Stephen Harmison, something which a batsman is allowed to do by the rulebook. The third umpire sent Inzamam back to the pavilion.

The ICC has reacted to Hair's action by saying that there is no merit in the claim and that it would defend itself vigorously. And the PCB chairman, Dr Nasim Khan, says the racism claim is preposterous and that Hair was dropped from the elite panel because he showed poor judgement.

It would be interesting to see whether the case will be decided before, during or after the World Cup. The ICC is unlikely to allow a settlement before the Cup; Hair would love it if he can throw some mud on the organisation before its showpiece.