Richard Boock: A hunch too weak for ball debacle

By Richard Boock

It's never a pleasant experience to be accused of cheating or dishonesty, even less so when the charge is supported by flimsy and uncorroborated evidence.

So it's not hard to see why the Pakistan team and their supporters are now calling for the head of international umpire Darrell Hair, the man whose ball-tampering accusation led indirectly to the forfeiture of the fourth test at the Oval.

As many feared yesterday, Hair's basis for the charge and the subsequent awarding of five penalty runs to England centred solely on the condition of a 55-over ball, rather than any dubious activity in the field.

That was made abundantly clear yesterday when the International Cricket Council, finding themselves desperately short of a suspect, slapped a representative charge of ball-tampering on captain Inzamam ul-Haq. Inzamam later said that if he was not cleared of the charge, the Pakistan tour of England was over.

A sobering point is that despite 26 TV cameras, five match officials and thousands of video cameras in the crowd, no one has been able to produce a skerrick of incriminating evidence.

Which brings us back to the ball, the likely star exhibit at the upcoming hearing on Saturday, when Inzamam will be also be charged with bringing the game into disrepute - as a result of his silly stand-off on Sunday.

It's difficult to defend Inzamam against the latter action, even if the Pakistan skipper was feeling deeply aggrieved over the initial ball-tampering accusation. There were many options open to him in regard to seeking redress, but going on strike wasn't one of them. And it was even less advised when you factor Hair's reputation into the equation.

For all that, the idea of an umpire taking a unilateral action against one team on the basis of a hunch, in the process provoking an unprecedented forfeiture and tarnishing the reputation of an entire team, isn't likely to go down well at ICC level.

It's one thing to catch a ball-tamperer in the act, it's quite another to deduce, solely on the condition of the ball, that foul play has been evident; that one team should be penalised.

Why Hair didn't insist on simply changing the ball on the grounds of its apparently suspect appearance and leave it at that is anyone's guess.

But the upshot is that the Pakistan team are feeling persecuted and marginalised, and seem unlikely to let the matter rest here.

At the very least, the upcoming one-day series against England is in jeopardy and, at worst, one of the world's most experienced and senior umpires could be forced out.

Was it worth it? I very much doubt it.

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