Monday, August 21, 2006

A Hair raising scandal.

On the first weekend of the new football season, with Manchester United 5-1 winners over Fulham whose near-neighbors Chelsea beat United's neighbors Manchester City 3-0, things slipped quickly back into last season's groove; but elsewhere in the sportosphere dramatic events were happening. We have had another cricket furore.

Cricket scandals are always headline news in England. The first was when England lost to the colonials. The Australian victory lead to a set of bails being burnt as their Ashes put in an urn and became the trophy that future teams would compete for. Then there was the 1932-3 bodyline tour when Douglas Jardine set his fast bowlers to bowl at Donald Bradman's body as the only way to cutail the run-making machine. There was further scandal when Kerry Packer recruited some of the best players in the world to play in his alternative competition.

There has always been some niggle between England and Pakistan. In 1987 the England captain, Mike Gatting had a stand up row with the the part time Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana (Gatting made a half-hearted apology and the game continued, but the cricket Board sacked him the following year using the excuse of his affair with a bas-maid), and more recently there was a court case between former pakistan captain Imram Khan and former England captain Ian Botham over accuasations of cheating.

The fourth test between England and Pakistan looked to be heading for a consolation victory for Pakistan, who had already lost the series two down with one to play. What happened next was remarkable. The umpires judged that the ball had been tampered with by the Pakistan fielders, and awarded 5 runs to England and changed the ball. This angered the Pakistan team since it amounted to an accusation of cheating, and after the tea interval, the Pakistani team refused to come out and play.

This is the first time that the 5 run penalty for "tampering with the ball" has been awarded and the first time a Test Match had been forfeited for a side failing to take to the field of play.

There is, of course, a back story here. First, we need to explain the idea of swing bowling. The cricket ball is very hard with a polished red leather skin, and a prominent circumferential seam made of rather coarse thread and three-quartes of an inch wide. There is also a very fine quarter seam running perpendicular to the main seam. This seam is supposed to be next to invisible.

When the ball is new and shiny it tends to move around in the air ("swings") because of the different resistances to air flow presented by the shiny leather and the rough seam, but as it gets older (and you play with a single ball for 480 bowls) the seam gets flatter and the shine is lost so that it swings less and batting gets easier. At the start of an innings batting is very difficult. The ball whizzes by at 90+ mph with unpredictable movement in the air, and unlike baseball, off the pich as well, because on most occasions the ball bounces once befor reaching the batter. Specialist batsmen who have a strong defense begin the innings. Those with a weaker defense and a stronger attack tend to bat later to take advantage of the easier conditions.

Unlike baseball, some ball tampering is allowed. You are allowed, for example, to polish one side of the ball on your trousers, and a certain amount of spit or sweat is winked at to favor this process. What you are not allowed to do is to rough up the other side by rubbing the ball in the dirt, or by lifting the quarter seam with an implement or your fingernail.

Several years ago, Pakistani bowlers invented reverse swing. This means that an old ball (after about 250 bowls) starts moving in the air in the opposite direction to the expected one. An element required for achieving this is to keep one side of the ball wet (with spit or sweat) and the other dry (with resin or dust). Is this legitimate? There were lots of accusations of cheating and Pakistani players have been suspended and fined for it. But Michael Atherton, the England captain, was also fined several years ago for keeping a supply of dust in his pocket. However, although the Pakistanis have long been expert at this, most countries have learned the skill. Darren Gough, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff for England are all expert reverse swingers (though all are injured at present). What goes beyond the pale is lifting the quarter seam, and this is what the Pakistanis were accused of.

The England batters were making a good job of chasing the Pakistani score, when Alistair Cook, the young batting discovery for this year, was dismissed by Umar Gull with a ball that reversed severely. I think this was the unexpected event that led to Umpire Darrell Hair inspecting the ball. The Laws of the game say that the ball must be inspected frequently and irregularly. It was Hair's judgement that the seam had been picked. Sky had 30 TV cameras at the match recording everything, but they could find no footage of the alleged seam picking. Nevertheless, it is a tradition in cricket that the Umpire's word is final. Even the slightest show of dissent is treated very severely. A batsman who looks long and hard at where a ball pitched when out leg before wicket, and turns to the TV camera and purses his lips is likely to be fined half his match fee. So even if play had been allowed to continue after the Pakistani protest,it is likely that the whole team would have fined its pay for the game.

But there is more to this yet. The umpires for this game were from neutral countries. Of course they were, you may say, but not many years ago the home side always provided the umpires, and it was mainly because of suspected favoring of the home side, particularly on the Indian sub-continent, that neutral umpires were introduced. Darrell Hair is Australian and Billy Doctrove, West Indian.

Hair has stood in 76 tests and is the fourth most experienced umpire in the history of the game. He has clashed with Pakistani cricketers before. In last year's test series in Pakistan against England he was accused of favoring the English batsmen in close decisions - but then that is always the case. Some umpiring decisions like leg before wicket and caught at the wicket are extemely difficult and there is always a measure of inaccuracy - new electronic devices show that the umpire, who has only his eyes and ears, and is operating in real time not slow motion, gets most of the decisions right. He was also accused of unfairly giving the Pakistan captain run out when the English bowler threw down his stumps. The excuse was that the Pakistani would otherwise have been hit by the ball - he was protecting his life rather than his innings. All this shows is that Hair plays strictly to the rules without sentiment.

There is more. in 2004 Hair reported the Pakistani fast bowler Shabbir Ahnmed for throwing - the rules say that a bowler must keep his elbow straight when bowling; a bent elbow constitutes a throw which is not allowed. However, in 2003 when South Africa toured Pakistan, South Africa accused him of favoring the home team. The South African captain was fined the whole of his match fee for dissent. Back in 1994 another South African batsman was fined 65% of his fee for arguing with Hair.

Hair has been particularly harsh on suspect bowling actions. Both Grant Flower, the Zimbabwean left arm spinner, and famously Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan off spinner, have been brabded as throwers by Hair.

Given his history I don't think he shows favoritism. In his second year as a Test umpire in a Test match Australia versus the West Indies in 1992, he gave a dodgy decision in favor of the West Indies that denied vistory to the Aussies. What he is is a very strict umpire who salls the shots as he sees them without fear or favor, and won't be moved by protest or demonstration or even a TV replay. It was entirely in character that he would not chane his opinion once he had removed the bails and declared the match forfeited no matter how much cajoling from officials. It means a loss of revenue by the Cricket Board since a day's play was lost, but that doesn't concern Hair.

The Pakistan Cricket Board have declared that will never again take part in a cricket match in which Hair is umpire. And that settles that.


Steve Madden said...

This mess has been badly handled all round. Why didn't Inzi take the high ground and say "there is no evidence we tampered with the ball" finish the test and possibly win it, then chuck a "wobbly".

Terry Hamblin said...

Inzi is a proud man who reacted emotionally rather than logically? Darrell Hair is a bogeyman for the Pakistanis and this part of a long term strategy to get rid of him? It's a plot to take the media's attention off the aircraft bombing conspiracy? Sales for the one dayers were poor and they wanted publicity? Mahmood had provided a hero for the British born Pakistanis and the Pakistani team was anxious to win back their support? Darrell Hair wanted to disrupt England's preparation for the Ashes tour?

I do love conspiracy theories.

Anonymous said...

Two comments on cricket?

Pardon me, I'm going back to watching paint dry. More interesting.

Steve Madden said...

Crystal ball gazing here, Inzi will be fined and banned from a couple of tests for "bringing the game into direpute" the ball tampering may be impossible to prove so they will drop this lesser charge, Hair will retire!

England are doing a terrific job of disrupting their preparation for the Ashes, while the World Champions are fit and well rested.

We want OUR little urn back :)

boswell said...

A fascinating account of a quite arcane topic for most Canadians - thank you!

Steve Madden said...


You must spend 5 days, 6 hrs per day watching cricket to really understand why they call them a "Test". Ability is only half the battle, mental strength is the other. At last the England team has buckets of both.

Thats why I can't wait for summer.

A delay in making a decision on the ball tampering due to ill health in the family, or is this a way to ensure the one day series goes ahead. I too love conspiracy theories.

Terry Hamblin said...

Mike Atherton this morning on Radio 4. Ball tampering has gone on forever. At least with all the cameras around they don't use bottle tops to scuff the surface on the "rough" side. Inzi is demanding trial by television, because the new pakistani super-weapon is ball scuffing without the camera seeing.

Terry Hamblin said...

Another explanation surfaced today. It is suggested that the problem arose because Inzi doesn't speak very good English!

Terry Hamblin said...

Astonishing developments. Darrell Hair offers to back down for $A500,000.

Terry Hamblin said...

Has Hair thrown himself on his sword?

Steve Madden said...

How did Hair's email to the ICC get released to the media?

Pay out his contract and let him retire, Paki's happy, Sri Lankans happy. Could have been handled "quietly".

No it looks like public execution is the only route left for Mr. Hair.

Terry Hamblin said...

The ICC obviously leaked the e-mail to discredit Hair with a view to dropping him. Just as they changed the rules over the chucking debate so they will bend in the wind over this issue. WE will next get a commission of inquiry to establish what and what cannot be done to a ball.