Sunday, October 01, 2006

I C C-rious connotations

There was a sense of rejoice in learning that Inzamam-ul-Haq got a light rap on the knuckles by ICC for ‘bringing the game to disrepute’ but was cleared of the big bad charge of ball tamperin. I reckoned both decisions to be….proper. [‘correct’ is not an option, is it?]

My happiness had more reasons than just an agreement with the verdict. The incident has evoked unanimous support from the bowlers’ community for their fellow swingers, a phenomenon I always love to see. The ‘rejoice’ was complete when I imagined the impact of this ‘not out’ decision on high-handed umpiring. Never saw footage of the actual incident at The Oval but the outcome of that affair added to a growing feeling that of late some umpires are getting a few free rides too many in a game that is so strict on its players.

But even in celebration of such rare moments of triumph you can trust the ICC to dish out half cooked broth. The withdrawal of Hair from ICC trophy is one such faux pas; not so much the actual decision to withdraw the controversial umpire but the ridiculously roundabout way of announcing it. However ICC Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle’s adjudication on the ball tampering charge announced during his press conference is perhaps a far more resonant botch. In the conclusive paragraph he says:

“Given that the physical state of the ball did not justify a conclusion that a fielder had altered its condition, and neither of the umpires had seen a fielder tampering with the ball, there was no breach of Law 42.3. The course of action which I would have expected from umpires concerned that there may be ball-tampering would have been for the Umpires to draw Mr ul-Haq's attention to the marks and to tell him that they intended to keep a close eye on the ball after each over.”

While the second line of that all-important paragraph was designed as a brief guideline for umpires to act upon future incidents, I have serious objections with the first line and the distorting effect it has on the second line. That last bit of “there was no breach of law 42.3” could have been worded otherwise. It could go like “there is no conclusive proof that law 42.3 was breached.” As you read the paragraph in totality you’ll find a marked alteration come about in the sense with that little change of words.
In the brouhaha of coming out with the right verdict ICC have missed spelling out a little but crucial message for players and umpires alike: that the Pakistan team are being let off for want of evidence in support of the charge – nothing more, nothing less. At present that first line makes the second line look less of a guideline and more of a cold instruction from ICC for the umpires alone. ‘Do this and do no further,’ seems to be the underlying message.

The statement from Madugalle can only serve to unduly undermine the authority and inclination of an umpire to interfere with suspected ball tampering. Irrespective of the validity of the present charge, the verdict unwittingly discourages umpires from looking for ‘rape’ of the ball unless the ‘rape’ is extensive enough to be proven. If that means allowing the requisite ‘rape’ to happen in front of their eyes then so be it.

Is that the intended essence of ICC’s seminal “note of caution” for its umpires? Then they better be prepared that lesser mortals than Hair (you can’t help having that one regard for him) will pretend looking the other way when a ball tampering incident actually happens on the field. I’m sure none of us would love that.

Maybe I’m reading too much into Madugalle’s choice of words. Let’s hope the umpires do not.
Update: It seems some other people are also harbouring similar thoughts about the outcome of ball tampering controversy. Cricinfo Pakistan's Osman Samiuddin ponders:
Should the law perhaps make it necessary for an umpire to spot at least one individual or one act of tampering before taking action, as Dickie Bird said immediately after the hearing?
Update 2: Jagadish expresses his apprehensions about the verdict.

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