Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Hair Episode

Darrell Hair has been sacked by the ICC! He will not be allowed to officiate in international cricket matches henceforth! Either side of their premier showpiece event, the ICC has executed this final act on the controversial Australian umpire with the ruthlessness and eeriness of a war crime prosecution.

The original ICC ruling on the ball tampering controversy gave little indication of this grave eventuality. It only carried a mild rebuke for the umpiring community in general, urging them to take a pro-active role in times of strife rather than sit pretty and point to the rule book at every opportunity.

I dislike the operating philosophy of Darrell Hair, as do most other people who love to see the cricket and cricketers take centrestage rather than rules and umpires. Yet I did not entirely like the tone of the final portion of that
verdict statement read out by Ranjan Madugalle on 28th September 2006.

It read:

(1) The Umpires would do everything possible to try to defuse tensions in the dressing-room by explaining that a team is entitled to raise any grievance through the ICC but that it is not in their interests, or in the interests of the game, for the team to interrupt play.

(2) The Umpires and other officials should do everything possible to ensure the resumption of play. And they should not return to the field of play and then declare the match to be forfeited unless and until they are absolutely sure that the team is refusing to play the rest of the match. All other options should first be exhausted, involving discussions with the team captains and management.
The worst scenario I had imagined then was of Hair getting tactfully held back from all series involving Asian countries. But the lame, 'insecure' excuses offered by ICC and BCCI for removal of Hair from ICCCT’06 duties heightened the suspicion of Hair’s nosediving furtunes. And now we all know that the decision on Hair’s ouster was taken back then. The announcement was delayed only to avoid unleashing more bears in the equity market ahead of the lucrative Champions’ Trophy.

When ICC expressed its stand on the events of the Oval Test, I personally felt that the message, apart from being ambiguous in purpose, had a not-too-subtle undermining effect on the authority of international umpires. James Sutherland, CEO of Cricket Australia, expresses that feeling today only as a reaction to the ban on Hair. Things would not be so bad for Hair if the people supporting him would make him see things as they were instead of presenting a picture too radiant to retain its glow.

This may be the right time to look back at Darrell Hair the umpire and try to reach an objective assessment of his mid-career calamity.

We must be fair to umpire Darrell Hair on two things:

1) Hair was a good umpire; and
2) Obnoxious though his role was in all those controversies over the past decade, Hair can still look his critics in the eye and claim to have simply implemented the rulebook in virtually each one of those instances.

Let us take the oldest egg in his basket, the Murali affair. Even Murali’s supporters like me have no choice but to agree that Murali’s action looks a little weird unless you are aware of his medical deformity (a fact confirmed by biomechanists at a later date). So if Darrell Hair was doing a job on the field in 1995 and was expected to be honest about what he thought he saw then maybe calling Murali was not the worst decision of all time.

The point is, he could have done it very differently. He could have tried a chat with Arjuna during a break and expressed his reservations. That would be a more effective way to be firm and yet be humane, instead of the hit-the-nail-on-the-head approach favoured by Hair all through his umpiring days. The rulebooks never elaborate these aspects in as many words, and probably he deserves some of this ill-feeling for being so insensitively inept at reading between the lines. He merits it all the more because he ends up behaving in this fashion particularly against the Asian sides.

But in the end the sole argument against Darrell Hair is his method of putting things across to certain people rather than his actual decision making on the field of play. Moreover, he could continue with this disdainful treatment of Asian sentiments only because a section of ICC allowed him to behave in that fashion for no less than 10 years and thus led him to believe that he could go on doing it. In other words, by not correcting his approach when it needed a reprimand the ICC set Darrell Hair up for this “Asian wrath”.

I mean, where were James Sutherland and the like when these on-field controversies kept happening around this same man time and again? Surely they could have done it differently too. Instead of maintaining that patronising silence and playing up the Aussie PM’s Murali bashing, these oh-so-righteous bosses could have called on Darrell Hair and said,”Hey you are a great umpire but your job in the robot factory was over last century; it is about time that you come to terms with dealing with humans.”

It might just have saved the career of a scarcely sensitive yet upright umpire who, whether on the field or off it, was always prepared to stand by his judgement even in the face of adversity and pressure.

To end this grim assessment on another note, it was amusing to learn that Hair actually ended up with three votes in his favour. Surely this was no coincidence but a reiteration of our speculation from this take-off on the Hair saga. These were the three witches within the ICC that, along with many more in the wilderness Down Under, led the ‘Macbeth’ of Darrell Hair to this tragic end.

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