17 July 2018

HOW THE VIKINGS INVENTED CRICKET

The people of Iceland know their history. When the Vikings arrived in 871, they left behind not only a mythical legacy but a great deal of archaeological and historical evidence too. We know, for example, exactly where Iceland’s first settler first made landfall; we know he explored westwards along the south shore; we know where he stayed during his first, second and third winters; we have found his original settlement which he established in Reykjavík in 874. Everything is carefully archived, dated and catalogued. There is a rich vein of source material, and the Icelandic historians have been exhaustive in mining it.

We know that the Vikings had an annual parliament in the geological rifts to the north east of the capital, and there are remarkably detailed records of the legal disputes that caused much stroking of tangled beards and furrowing of auburn brows. We know that the Vikings populated every fjord and inlet around Iceland’s rugged and unwelcoming shore, deriving every possible resource from nature’s scant store until the country’s young birch forests were all but gone. We know how they lived their lives, how they loved to hunt, drink, and play games. It is the last of these that is most intriguing – and most pertinent – for there is now a suggestion that the Vikings may have invented cricket.

Can it really be so? This game of mind and mettle, of gentlemanly conduct, of intellect and instinct – can it really have been devised by the most bloodthirsty and aggressive of European races? The Icelanders – or more specifically, Krikketsamband Íslands (the Icelandic Cricket Board) – earnestly believe that it was. They point to the famous Viking sagas, several of which tell of ‘the ball game’ (knattleikr in Old Norse) which, they claim, has more than a passing similarity to cricket. Several students of ancient history have attempted to recreate the game they call knattleikr, using the descriptions of the games in the sagas and bridging the gaps with their own assumptions – or best guesses – based on what they know of Viking recreation and competitive values. Some of them lean towards an early form of the Irish sport of hurling, but there are just as many good and plausible reasons to consider a kinship with cricket.

It is not by any means clear whether the Vikings actually referred to the game as knattleikr. It is referred to thus – ‘the ball game’ – on the half a dozen occasions it appears in the sagas, and certainly the Vikings were very literal in their nomenclature. Their place names, for instance, are simple descriptions of site and situation (Reykjavík meaning ‘smoky bay’ and Eyjafjallajökull meaning ‘island mountain glacier’ for instance). Their nouns for inventions are similarly derived: the Icelandic word for television is sjónvarp (literally ‘seen broadcast’) and the word for computer is tölva (literally ‘prophetess of numbers’). It seems perfectly plausible that knattleikr could have been the actual name of the game. It’s a ball game, so call it ‘the ball game’.

There are five detailed descriptions of the game in the Icelandic sagas. Its first appearance is in Grettir’s saga (beginning in the first quarter of a century after Iceland was settled in 871), then in Egil’s saga (in about 911), followed by two appearances in Gísli’s saga (set between 960 and 980) and finally in Eyrbyggja saga (set in the late 900s). There are a couple of passing mentions in other manuscripts – it is briefly mentioned in Vopnfirðingar saga – but only as a context for other events. Even a casual reader of the excerpts in question would note a striking resemblance between the ball game and cricket; unquestionably there are far more similarities than differences.

The ball game was popular among spectators as well as players. The tournaments drew huge crowds from all over Iceland and many people would camp near the field of play, since the game demanded so much time that it was played from morning to night over many consecutive days. Frozen lakes were deemed most suitable for play; any visitor to Iceland will know that the country has no natural flat, unhindered grassland. The tournaments tended to get underway in the autumn, when the freeze began in earnest. The participants represented teams from their homesteads, and thus the teams were often divided not only geographically but also along family lines. Each of the teams had a captain, and this tended to be a senior member of the family rather than the strongest or best player; however, the stories in the sagas focus on the sporting prowess of their eponymous hero.

Men played against men, though there were also secondary games for the juniors, but there is no mention of women players. From what we know of Viking women, it is by no means unlikely that they did play. Viking women were strong, occupied important roles in society, and feature prominently throughout the sagas, though there is little mention of them in tales of law and war. It is possible that they were considered to be above such coarse and acrimonious competition.

When the game got underway, players from opposing teams faced each other in pairs. One had a ball and hurled it at his opponent, who wielded a bat. The batsman could strike the ball and, having been thus hit, the ball could be chased or caught by the ballman. Very hard hits by the batsman could put the ball beyond the boundary of the playing area.

Intimidation was common, and indeed was part and parcel of the game. The ballman was embarrassed if the batsman hit the ball back over his head, forcing him to chase it. The ball was hard enough to fell the batsman if it hit him. Physical fights frequently ensued and sledging was not only commonplace but highly esteemed.

Grettir’s saga begins in the last decades of the ninth century. The eponymous hero, Grettir Ásmundarson, is a typically impetuous and hot-tempered outlaw from Viking Norway. When he is fourteen, his brother Atli asks him to join the Bjarg homestead’s team travelling to the ball game tournament at Lake Miðfjarðarvatn in north Iceland. It is only a short distance from Bjarg, but teams and spectators come from distant places such as Vesturhóp, Vatnsnes and Hrútafjörður; they set up tents and stay for the duration of the competition. Atli decides that Grettir will bowl to Auðun, who is batting for the Auðunarstaðir team and is several years Grettir’s senior. He embarrasses Grettir by hitting the ball back over his head and it bounces far away over the ice. Grettir retrieves the ball and is so incensed by the humiliation that he hurls the next ball straight at the batsman’s head, drawing blood.

This provokes a fight. Auðun tries to hit Grettir with the bat, but Grettir dodges and is only struck a glancing blow. The pair start grappling and wrestling, and it is remarked that Grettir is much stronger than everybody thought, what with Auðun being so much older and supposedly more powerful. Eventually, Grettir loses his balance and stumbles, whereupon Auðun deals what is apparently the decisive blow by kneeing the fourteen-year-old in the groin. Atli and many others then break up the fight. Nobody wants the ruck to develop into a full-blown feud because Grettir and Auðun are distant relatives; wars within extended Viking families make the Middle East look like a Punch and Judy show, and much to everyone’s relief ‘the game went on as before and nothing else caused any friction.’

Egil Skalagrímsson was born in 904 and is one of the most famous antiheroes of the Viking sagas. It’s not hard to see why. He is, by all accounts, an utter bastard, incapable of even the slightest civility to any man or woman he meets. This is perhaps best demonstrated when Egil’s saga recounts how he responds to hospitality at the homestead of a man named Armod Beard. Armod treats Egil and his men to meat, skyr and as much ale as they can drink. Not unusually for the time, the drinking becomes competitive. Then as now, young men lost masculinity points by bailing out; it was a question of ‘last man standing’. Egil’s men fall into stupor one by one, while Egil drinks not only his ale but also theirs. Eventually, though, he too is beaten by the drink. He rises, staggers across the floor to his host, and:
He put his hands on Armod’s shoulders and pushed him up against a post. Then Egil brought up so much vomit that it poured all over Armod’s face, in his eyes, up his nostrils and into his mouth. Armod inhaled Egil’s vomit and started choking. Once he recovered, Armod in turn vomited everywhere. Armod’s servants all exclaimed that Egil was a disgusting man. Only the worst kind of person would do such a thing and not go outside to vomit. Egil retorted, ‘Don’t you start. I’m doing nothing worse than your master is doing. Look, he’s throwing up his guts the same as I am.’ Then Egil went back to his seat and demanded more drink.

It will not surprise you to learn that Egil’s participation in the ball game between Borg and Mýrar at Borgarfjörður in 911 is not a study in refined sportsmanship and subtle play. The contest takes place on the plains by the river Hvítá in south Iceland. Egil’s father puts together a team from his farmstead, Borg, with Þórð Granason as captain. Though only seven years old, Egil persuades Þórð to let him come along, and when the game begins, Egil goes off to play a side-game with the other children. He is paired against an eleven-year-old from Mýrar by the name of Grím. Pleased to be pitted against someone so much younger than him, Grím shows off his strength as much as he can, which enrages the diminutive and less powerful Egil. Egil hits Grím with the bat, but Grím puts an end to Egil’s tantrum by pinning him to the ground and warning him that he would suffer if he did not learn how to behave. Egil leaves the game in a sulk and is jeered by Grím’s team-mates.

Somewhat surprisingly, Egil finds a sympathetic listener in Þórð, who decides they will take some revenge on Grím and the boys from Mýrar. He gives Egil an axe and they return to the field where the children are playing. Grím has just completed a catch and is running around, being chased by the others. It is evident that Grím is something of a show pony. Egil runs up to him and drives the axe into his head, ‘right down to the brain’. Then – and this shows remarkable sang-froid, even for Skaldic heroes – the saga says simply ‘Egil and Þórd walked back to their camp.’ This is, of course, not the end of the matter. The men of Mýrar subsequently launch into battle against those of Borg, and seven men are killed.

At the end of the same century, a tournament took place on Snæfellsnes in west Iceland. This had become a very popular venue for the ball game, and indeed there were not camps but a permanent pavilion (leikskála or ‘game shed’) where the teams and spectators stayed for a fortnight or longer. This suggests that the games held here were rather better planned and organised; they were evidently also less violent, as Eyrbyggja saga recounts that ‘a good supply of fit men played, except Blig, who did not participate on account of his aggressive temperament.’

The two best players in the region were the brothers Bjorn and Arnbjorn, who lived at the homesteads of Hofgarð and Bakki. They were so good that it was considered unfair for them to play on the same team, so their people played in opposition to teach other. This all seems unusually considered and reasonable for the Vikings, and it demonstrates that for all their machismo and violence, they could be fair and peaceable people. The question might reasonably be asked ‘why then was Egil so revered?’ The answer is evidently that despite being unpredictable, violent and a psychopath, he was also very good at poetry.

At the turn of the 900s and into the eleventh century, the ball game was recorded way up in the rocky and windswept west fjords of Iceland, at the now-uninhabited and remote Dyrafjörður, which was once a thriving Viking homestead. An epic tussle between the two strongest and best players in the region was decided not by strength but by stanza. The combatants were both fugitives from Norway, Gísli (from Hól) and his brother-in-law Þórgrím (from Sæból). Nobody was quite sure which of them was better, though public opinion tended to lean towards Gísli. A game at Seftjörn pond would settle the matter, and the outlawed in-laws each brought substantial crowds of team-mates, acolytes and spectators. The Hól players were keen that their team should prove to be a good match for Sæból, and Gísli’s brother urged him not to hold back against Þórgrím. ‘Word is going round that you’re not giving your all,’ he said. Gísli responded pragmatically: ‘We haven’t been fully proven against each other yet. But perhaps it’s leading up to that.’

It certainly was. As the public had suspected, Gísli had the better of the early exchanges. He ‘brought Þórgrím down and the ball went out of play,’ says the manuscript. This doesn’t necessarily imply bodily contact. One plausible – and indeed, for our current purposes, preferable – interpretation is that Gísli bowled a short-pitched delivery at Þórgrím which knocked him over, and the ball ran away to the boundary (the idea of four leg byes thus being scored was no doubt a Victorian invention, and a needless one at that).

Þórgrím rose and held Gísli back from fetching the ball, whereupon Gísli wrestled Þórgrím back to the ground so violently that ‘He could do nothing to break his fall. His knuckles were grazed, blood rushed from his nose and the flesh was scraped from his knees.’ Gathering himself for one final attempt, Þórgrím looked up and saw, in the distance, the burial mound of Gísli’s brother Vestein, whom Þórgrím had killed in a feud a few months previously. Gaining confidence from recalling the killing, he said: ‘The spear screeched his wound sorely. I cannot be sorry.’ He rose once more. And again came Gísli with the ball, sticking to his bodyline method. This time the ball hit Þórgrím between the shoulder blades and he fell onto his face for a third time. A triumphant Gísli declared: ‘The ball smashed his shoulders broadly. I cannot be sorry either.’ Thus completing an undoubted victory, by thrice flattening his opponent and coming up with better verse, Gísli was unanimously declared the superior player (and sayer) and the men from Hól took the spoils.

Sæból’s defeat rankled, and they felt that if only they could have another crack at Hól they might prove themselves the better team. In due course, the two teams met again, and this time it was Gísli and Þórgrím’s brothers who faced each other. A great crowd came again, anxious to see what was now not only a rematch but also definitely a grudge match. But again, Gísli’s family had the upper hand, his sibling Þórstein seeing off the efforts of Bork from Sæból, who ‘made no headway all day.’ Eventually Bork became so angry that he seized Þórstein’s bat and broke it in two. Gísli was gobsmacked by this effrontery and brought his brother to one side. He told Þórstein he absolutely must press for victory, gave him his own bat, and set about repairing the broken one. Here, unfortunately, the author of Gísli’s saga becomes somewhat distracted by a particularly good poem recited by his hero, and almost as an afterthought concludes ‘the game then came to a close and Þórstein went home.’ We will, alas, never know whether Sæból levelled the series. There is no Viking Wisden. There isn’t even a ‘W’ in the Icelandic alphabet.

The physical contact may have disappeared from the game played by our ancestors – it seems that the batsman could tackle the ballman as he chased or attempted to catch the ball, and the ballman could tackle the batsman as he ran – but there are some smaller subtleties that will resonate with any cricket fan.

The passage in Gisli’s saga ends with the timeless observation that ‘as the men made their way home from the game, they began to talk and debate about how it was played, and eventually they began to argue.’ Clearly the Vikings were no less prone than their modern descendants to lengthy discussions of all time elevens, managerial tactics and which team was the best in the fjord. No doubt they enjoyed these debates all the more when they were pissed, which was of course often.

This weekend, more than a millennium since cricket’s ancestor threw its weight about, Icelandic teams will compete in a modern variation of ‘the ball game’. This is the newly-created Íslensk Premier League (a sort of Hong Kong Sixes with 24-hour daylight). The five teams are drawn from Iceland’s expat communities: Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, West Indian and English. There will be no alcohol, no physical contact, no blood and axes, no lasting feuds. At least, they’re not in the match regulations these days.

30 June 2018

THE CUP FINAL

Today sees the 91st one-day cup final in English one-day cricket. 55 of them have been what we might call the ‘original’ cup final, the concluding match of the one-day competition that began in 1963 as the Gillette Cup. Then came Nat West, Cheltenham and Gloucester, Friends Provident, Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, and lastly – the current sponsors – Royal London.

For 31 seasons, there was also the Benson and Hedges Cup, destined always to be the bridesmaid, and finally jilted in 2003, when a new suitor in the shape of T20 finals’ day came knocking. And for a handful of summers – 1988 to 1991 – we were treated to a third cup final, in the shape of the rarely-recalled Refuge Assurance Cup (a playoff between the top four teams in the Sunday league).

One way or another, we have racked up 90 cup finals in the ‘List A’ format. And here’s an interesting statistic: only eight of them have gone to the final ball. Here’s a better one: there has not yet been a last-ball finish in a 50-over game.

Miller’s quick single (1981)

60 overs | Highlights | Scorecard

The ‘miracle of 1981’ may have happened at Headingley, but there was another heart-stopping conclusion at Lord’s that summer. Geoff Cook’s authoritative century gave Northamptonshire a confident start, as his opening stand with Wayne Larkins yielded 99 runs. The innings faded, however, with only 31 runs being scored from the last eight overs while six wickets fell.

Derbyshire’s overseas players, John Wright and Peter Kirsten, anchored the chase but somewhat stiffly. A platform was laid, but at the halfway stage they were a long way behind the required rate. Eight an over were needed. As the light faded, Derbyshire required seven runs from the final over, bowled by Jim Griffiths, Northamptonshire’s most economical bowler. It was quickly established that six would suffice, since a tie would swing in favour of the team losing fewest wickets, and this was Derbyshire.

Geoff Miller started with a hoick over mid-wicket for two, choosing to retain the strike rather than risk a third. Then there was a cut to deep backward point for only a single. Colin Tunnicliffe failed to score off the third ball but got a thick edge and a single from the fourth. Miller clipped the fifth ball off his pads but could only collect one. One to win from the last ball, and in came the field. Griffiths bowled. Miller raced the ball to the striker’s end. The ball hit Tunnicliffe’s pads and he legged it, leaving Miller to dive for home a couple of inches ahead of the ball.

Emburey’s leg-side flick (1984)

60 overs | Highlights | Scorecard

Two home counties teams packed with eighties cricketing legends and local heroes met under the autumnal sunshine in St John’s Wood and Kent made a solid score on a slow pitch, thanks to a half-century from Chris Cowdrey. The bowling hero had been John Emburey, whose off spin conceded little more than two runs an over, and when it was the capital county’s turn to bat, they too were kept quiet by a spinner – ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood. They had crawled to 128 for four from 43 overs and needed over a hundred more from the remaining 17 overs.

Underwood’s figures by this stage were 9–2–12–1 and he still had three overs to bowl but Chris Tavare, Kent’s captain, elected to bring back Richard Ellison. This was, to most observers, the move which decided the outcome of the match. Paul Downton drove Ellison for the first boundary in 19 overs and followed it with another.

Just as in 1981, seven runs were required off the last over, except this time both teams had lost the same number of wickets. In the event of a tie, the team with the higher score after 35 overs would win, and this was Kent. But they had bowled out their four international bowlers (Underwood, Ellison, Cowdrey and Terry Alderman) leaving the last over to Kevin Jarvis. Jarvis was an extraordinary county bowler – in a 16 year professional career he took 1018 wickets and scored just 521 runs – and he was charged with the task of restricting Middlesex to six or fewer. Emburey and Phil Edmonds scored one, one, two, one and one to leave a single needed from the final ball. There was no scrambled leg bye this year – Emburey flicked the ball off his legs for four.

Randall’s heroic failure (1985)

60 overs | Highlights | Scorecard

Rarely has there been such a county hero as Derek Randall. His disarming eccentricities, his mercurial style and his engaging idiosyncrasies at the crease must have made him the ‘favourite cricketer’ of more than most by the time his England career had come to an end. The year after his final test, he was at headquarters trying to help Nottinghamshire secure their first one-day trophy.
Essex were imperious in 1985. They had won seven first class and one-day league titles in the preceding seven years and now, when Clive Rice asked them to bat, they racked up 280 for two. Graham Gooch and Brian Hardie’s opening partnership was 202. Although Tim Robinson and Chris Broad put on 143 when their turn came, Nottinghamshire were never in touch and when Derek Randall reached his half century with a single from the last ball of the penultimate over, they needed 18 for victory – a mammoth task in those days.

Derek Pringle was not only a fine bowler, but he was a clever man and he was certainly prepared to take a risk to outsmart an opponent. He sent down a leg stump yorker but Randall stepped to leg and hit a two into the off side. Pringle reprised the delivery and this time Randall placed it better, finding the cover boundary. Two runs were scored from the third ball. Three balls left, 10 to get.

Pringle pushed each ball a little wider of the leg stump, but Randall kept moving to the on side to make room. Consecutive fours hammered the cover boundary boards and suddenly, out of nowhere, two were needed from the final ball. Nottinghamshire were on the verge of an incredible victory. Their players giggled with excitement – some even prayed – on the pavilion balcony.

Now came Pringle’s huge gamble. He brought in a short mid-wicket and bowled a massive leg side wide, hoping that Randall would move to leg again. Sure enough, Randall danced straight into the path of the ball and could only spoon it into the hands of the waiting fielder.

The analyst keeps his head (1986)

55 overs | Scorecard

In the first half of the eighties, the late-season Nat West Trophy final yielded the three aforementioned last-ball finishes. In the latter half of the decade, it was the turn of the mid-season Benson and Hedges Cup to notch up its own trio of final-ball thrillers. The first of these brought Kent and Middlesex together again and when Middlesex were inserted, Underwood bowled tightly on a slow and turgid surface. The ‘home’ team struggled to score with any freedom, adding only 10 runs between the 15th and 23rd overs. Emburey’s dogged 28 held the innings together towards the end.

If anything, Kent’s struggles were even greater. After 45 overs they had crawled to 116 for five, with Emburey returning the remarkable figures of 11–5–16–0. Surely they couldn’t possibly score 84 from the last 10 overs; it would be unprecedented in a cup final. What’s more, it was so murky that the batsmen, Graham Cowdrey and Eldine Baptiste, were offered the light – before DLS, the following day was set aside for the completion of the final – but they declined the offer and hit out so effectively that 31 runs were required from the final three overs, then 19 from two, and finally 14 from the last. Simon Hughes, despite Steve Marsh’s six, kept his head and his line, and Dilley could not hit the boundary required from the final ball.

Dot ball to win (1987)

55 overs | Highlights | Scorecard

Prudence and stoic watchfulness from the batsmen and typical parsimony from Yorkshire’s bowlers dominated the early stages of this warm summer day. Wayne Larkins, Rob Bailey and Allen Lamb all failed to convert starts as Phil Carrick’s slow turn kept Northamptonshire in check. At lunch, the skipper’s figures were 8–2–18–0 and the score was 128 for four off 36 overs. The pitch eased considerably thereafter, and David Capel hit 97 from 110 balls before being bowled by Phil Hartley in the penultimate over.

Yorkshire’s initial reply was similarly cautious. Tea was taken after 35 overs, with the chasers 119 for three. Choosing their moment, Jim Love and David Bairstow plundered 54 in seven overs from Capel and Alan Walker before the latter freakishly parried an aerial drive from Bairstow to Geoff Cook at cover. As the last over began, Yorkshire needed five to win – though four would have been enough to level the scores with fewer wickets lost. Love surrendered the strike to Arnie Sidebottom with a single, but got it back straight away after a heaved single. Two off four would do it now. A dot ball followed, and then an expansive cover drive from Love deprived him of the strike again. One from two – as long as Yorkshire didn’t lose a wicket. Northamptonshire brought the field up, and Sidebottom attempted a suicidal single to mid on. From close range and with the tail-ender a long way short, Bailey’s throw missed. The scores were now level and Love only had to dig out the final yorker; in an unorthodox finish, a dot ball had sealed victory.

Hemmings the hero (1989)

55 overs | Scorecard

Many of the 1985 cast returned four years later, except this time Hardie the centurion made a duck and although Randall made 49, he didn’t have to face the final over – and it was bowled by Franklyn Stephenson rather than Pringle. Essex owed their decent score to an unbeaten 95 from Alan Lilley. In reply, Nottinghamshire were accumulating runs tidily until Tim Robinson was run out by his partner Randall for 86.

Once again the Retford imp found himself in the position of responsibility, and his run-a-ball innings brought the target to 16 from the final two overs. Pringle bowled the penultimate over this time, and again got the better of Randall who skied him to Mark Waugh. Nine were needed from the final over, with Bruce French and Eddie Hemmings unable to do more than collect five singles. Gooch spent a long time setting the field for the final ball, and ended up with all but one fielder on the leg side. Hemmings made room to leg and sent the last delivery skimming to the backward point boundary. Nottinghamshire had their revenge.

Reeve’s reign begins (1993)

60 overs | Highlights | Scorecard

‘The 53rd one-day final at Lord’s was widely regarded as the greatest ever played.’ So spoke the big yellow book, and certainly this last-ball drama was very different from all that had gone before, in that this was a very high-scoring affair. Sussex racked up 321 for six, which was – for four hours, at any rate – the highest total in a cup final. Martin Speight’s quickfire 50 gave Sussex the impetus to score at an unprecedented rate, with David Smith providing the backbone of the innings with a measured 124. Sussex added 83 from the final ten overs, an outrageous rate of scoring in those days. ‘At half time we were 4—0 up,’ observed the captain, Alan Wells.

Warwickshire’s demoralised fielders soon became demoralised batsmen as they lost both openers for 18. Paul Smith, described in Wisden as ‘all long hair and long handle’ then smashed 60, but when he departed, his team still needed 157 from 24 overs. More than a run a ball. Almost unthinkable. Somehow, against odds and expectations, Asif and his captain made 142 from 23 overs before the wristy Ugandan spliced Ed Giddins deep into the outfield, where Speight pouched a steepler.
Successful last-over chases in cup finals had hitherto been: six by Derbyshire in 1981, seven by Middlesex in 1984, five by Yorkshire in 1987 and nine by Nottinghamshire in 1989. Nottinghamshire had failed to score 18 in 1985 and Kent hadn’t managed 14 the following year. Now Dermot Reeve needed to hit 15 to win the match for Sussex.

For the second time in five years, Franklyn Stephenson – for a new county – found himself bowling the final over. He’d failed to rein in Eddie Hemmings in 1989 and now struggled to contain Reeve, who welcomed him with lofted drives for four and two. Sussex were freaked and lost their nerve; a misfield allowed another two. Seven were needed from three. Reeve smacked a four over the covers. From the fifth, though, he could only take a sedate single. With all the fielders within 20 yards of him, Roger Twose had to hit two from the only ball he faced all day. He decided to try and hit it over them. He pulled it off – and Warwickshire’s golden era of one-day cricket had begun.

Carter’s unhappy farewell (2012)

40 overs | Highlights | Scorecard

The cup final at Lord’s celebrated its 50th birthday with its only final-ball finish of the century so far. Both finalists were bristling with experience and skill. Hampshire’s top seven contained six batsmen who had (or would go on to have) international honours: Carberry, Vince, McKenzie, Ervine, Katich and Dawson. Warwickshire boasted six in their top eight: Maddy, Bell, Ambrose, Clarke, Woakes and Blackwell.

Warwickshire needed five runs from the last four balls, and Kabir Ali was the bowler. He was surprised to be playing in the cup final at all, having only been selected at the last minute. Ian Blackwell, one of the most destructive batsmen in the professional game, decided to risk everything and try to hit a six. He missed and was bowled. Into the fray came Neil Carter, who – at 37 – had decided to make his 12th season at Edgbaston his last. This would be his curtain call. Kabir almost had him lbw first ball, but the next was a half volley which Carter managed to drive past the diving extra cover for four. One run needed. The scores were tied, but Warwickshire had lost more wickets than Hampshire, so a run it would have to be.

Hampshire had selected a specialist wicketkeeper – a rarity in any white-ball game, let alone a cup final. Michael Bates averaged just 10.09 in the format, but he hadn’t been required to bat, and now he was standing up to Kabir. This deprived the batsmen of the chance to steal a bye; Carter simply had to get ball on bat. Kabir tried to bowl a yorker, but a low full toss came out – perfect for another cover drive. Carter duly drove, but found only air and for only the second time, a dot ball had won the match.

23 June 2018

POINTS, OR POINTLESS?

An opportunity missed. A fudge. An unholy mess. Another day, another unpopular tournament structure from the International Cricket Council. They don’t seem to be able to please anyone. Criticised for ponderous World Cup tournaments, told repeatedly that the 1992 was the model tournament, they adopt the 1992 structure for 2019 and are torn to pieces for not extending the competition to include more teams. And now, after several false starts, they have finally launched the World Test Championship. It’s hard to find anyone outside Dubai who will defend it.

It’s worth starting by looking at the bigger picture, before focusing on the finer details. Now that the Champions’ Trophy ODI series has been scrapped, there is an opportunity to have a four-yearly World Cup and World Test Championship Final competition alternating with the biannual World T20. However, the ICC has decided that the test match competition will take place on a two-year cycle, between World Cups (think Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games). This leads to a rather untidy overall plan, not least because the ICC has decided to schedule World T20 tournaments in successive years.
The purpose of the WTC is to lend context, competition and clarity to test cricket. In the first of these aims, it will by its very existence succeed. Having a league of sorts is more meaningful than a number of bilateral series which are entirely separate from each other. Of course, the Ashes has a historical context which could hardly be improved upon by any stroke of a contemporary scheduler’s pen, and some other series also have a tangible history. The obvious series are the Trans-Tasman Trophy and India v Pakistan, though it has been more than ten years since the latter have met. Australia and South Africa rubbers have acquired a certain relish and piquancy, though not always for cricketing reasons. On the whole, though, the matches have no higher purpose than fulfilling their inherent value of examining players’ abilities in the most difficult form of the game.

Whether the WTC turns out to be a meaningful competition remains to be seen. It has the advantage of not replacing an existing tournament, so there will at least be a degree of competition where before there was none. The substantial challenge facing the ICC is how to quantify results given the competition’s two chief statistical difficulties: the varying number of tests in each series, and the fact that certain teams will not play each other. Thus it will not necessarily be obvious to the public, at the outset of a match or series, what impact the result will have on the Championship table. It will quite possibly be necessary for the table to utilise an index – a weighted system of points – rather than allocation of absolute integers. If this turns out to be the method used, the system will have to be demonstrably distinct from – and superior to – the present international test team rankings assigned by David Kendrix’s algorithm.

The prima facie evidence strongly suggests that the designers have been prepared from the outset to discard any temptation towards clarity. In an ideal world, the nine countries involved would play each other, home and away, in series of identical length. Three-test series would do the trick; they are neither too long nor too short, and they allow for a deciding match (which the recent two-test series between England and Pakistan sorely missed). Each test team would therefore play 16 series, and given that the right balance seems to be two series in a home season, the whole competition would be played over four years.

The ICC has rejected this approach. The competition will not be played over four years, but two (thus still potentially allowing the teams to play each other only once, either at home or away). The schedule for both the first and second two-year cycles was published last month and it was immediately observed not only that the series will be of different length, but some teams will not play each other at all. Further scrutiny throws up a number of incongruities across the two cycles (2019—2021 and 2021—2023):

  • England will not host Sri Lanka, and will not play Bangladesh at all.
  • Australia will not host Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, nor visit New Zealand or the West Indies.
  • India will not host West Indies, nor visit Sri Lanka, and will not play Pakistan at all. They will play only six matches in 2020 and not a single one in India. The following year they will play 15 tests.
  • New Zealand will not host Australia, nor visit South Africa or the West Indies.
  • Bangladesh will not host South Africa at home, nor visit Australia, and will not play England at all. They will have tours to Zimbabwe in consecutive years (2021 and 2022).
  • Pakistan will not host the West Indies, nor visit South Africa, and will not play India at all.
  • Sri Lanka will not host South Africa or India, nor visit England or Australia. They will not play any test matches for two years, between July 2020 and July 2022.
  • South Africa will not host Pakistan or New Zealand, nor visit Sri Lanka or Bangladesh.
  • West Indies will not host Australia or New Zealand, nor visit India or Pakistan. From January 2021 to October 2022 they will play four consecutive home series and no away tests at all. In the next three months to December 2022, they will undertake three test tours, to South Africa, Sri Lanka and Australia.
  • The first two-year cycle of the WTC (2019—2021) comprises two five-test series (The 2019 Ashes and India v England), two four-test series (Australia v India and South Africa v England), eight three-test series and 15 two-test series. England will also host New Zealand for a two-test series that doesn’t count towards the Championship.

From a spectator’s point of view, it is an absolute mess. From a scheduler’s perspective, it is utter madness. But there is method in it. The competition may be far from the ‘ideal’ format outlined above, but the realities of modern cricket – of test cricket, moreover – effectively rule out any hope of simplicity and legibility.


The World Test Championship: 2019—2021 and 2021—2023
It’s possible that the ICC considers a four-year cycle too long to decide the best team in the world. Squads change, players’ stars rise and fall, teams evolve. The WTC needs to reflect the form of international teams as it is now, not as it was three or four years ago. It’s tempting to say ‘ah, but the World Cup takes place every four years, so why not the World Test Championship?’ But the World Cup is only played over a few weeks; the time between tournaments exists in order to allow teams to change their ways and methods. The WTC needs to reflect the prowess of teams over its entire duration.

As much as it would be wonderfully neat and tidy to dictate a uniform length of test series, but to do so would be to impose an unrealistic and arbitrary system on a complex reality. As we all know only too well, test cricket sells in some countries and is more or less obsolete in others. The English adore it, and it suits them to schedule three, four or five-test series knowing that they will be able to sell every seat. In other countries, this just isn’t the case, however much we would like it to be. The ICC’s schedule allows each country to schedule the test cricket it thinks it can sell; a one-size-fits-all tournament may look desirable in the shop window, but if the goods can’t be sold then the product is worthless. We need to remember that the ICC is trying, through the WTC proposals, to keep test cricket alive, to set in stone what remains of it in the countries where it has been in a steep decline.

We can’t make India play Pakistan. It would be wonderful it these two proud nations could put their politics aside and play a ‘friendship series’, but the reality of the situation is that the boards and governments involved are not ready for it. You cannot force cricket teams to do things their governments don’t want them to do and, to be honest, why even try?

Yes, the schedule is a mess. No, it has parallels in serious other global sporting competition. But had the ICC published this schedule simply as the next four-year cycle of the ‘Future Tours Programme’ then nobody would have batted an eyelid. The fact is that the Future Tours Programme, with its haphazard arrangement of bilateral series, was the only system that the boards could agree on. The ICC’s test team rankings table was considered sufficiently robust to award a ‘Test Championship Mace’ to the highest-ranked team every odd-numbered year. The present WTC proposal is – in essence and in practice – a simple coupling of the FTP and the rankings. Once it gets underway next year, it will feel no different from the present system. Teams will play a series, at the end of which the table will be updated. In 2021, instead of a massive crystal-encrusted sceptre being awarded to the best team, there will be a test match between the top two teams. Ultimately, that’s the only thing that’s changed. The ICC has kept the baby and the bathwater.

And it could be worse. Spare a thought for poor Ireland, which has drawn the shortest straw from the scheduler’s hand. After they hosted such an engaging and successful first home test match, they must now wait two whole years for their next home campaign: a solitary test against Bangladesh in June 2020. Excluded from the new schedule, they instead have three tours to Afghanistan – all in the freezing central Asian winter – in the space of 22 months. They must be wondering what they did wrong.

16 June 2018

THE NEW AMBASSADORS: PART 3

Ball-tamperers. Liars. Cheats backed up by corrupt umpires. The accusations had become hackneyed phrases in their own right after a couple of decades doing the rounds of Fleet Street or Bow Street, or indeed both. The Darrell Hair humiliation had, at least, resulted in no more that a Pyrrhic victory for the white-coated antagonist himself. What followed, four years later, sank even the hardiest of Pakistani hearts.

Their own worst enemy

On Wednesday 25 August 2010, undercover reporters from the News of the World met a sports agent named Mazhar Majeed, who claimed to have unrivalled access to – and influence over – the Pakistan team currently touring England. For the right price, he could arrange for certain things to happen during matches. Or so he said. For a payment of £150,000 he said he could arrange for Mohammad Amir to bowl the third over of England’s innings, and for the first ball of the over to be a no ball. He also promised that Mohammad Asif would bowl the tenth over and that its final delivery would be a no ball. To cap it all, the final guarantee was that the in first over Amir bowled around the wicket to a right-handed batsman, the sixth ball would be a no ball. To make this happen, he needed the team captain, Salman Butt, in his pocket.

‘No balls are the easiest and they’re the most clearest. There’s no risk, there’s no signal’ he told the reporters. ‘These three are definitely happening. They’ve all been organised, okay?’ The newspapermen had it all on camera. The Lord’s test began the following day, Amir and Asif duly serving up the no balls as promised. That was on camera too.

Spot fixing is an ingenious way to make money. The trouble with match fixing – bribing a team to lose, and then betting on the other team – is that the players have to go to extensive and obvious efforts to throw the game away. The innings of Dubai Stars in January 2018 was one such example; indeed, it would have been funny were it not so pathetically sad. Live sports betting, on the other hand, presents plenty of in-game opportunities for ‘microbets’ such as how many runs will be scored off the next over, how the next wicket will fall, and whether the next delivery will be a no ball. In the case of the latter, the odds against a no ball are very short, and the bowling of a no ball is such a trivial moment in a test match that it presents an ideal candidate for fixing. Nobody loses the game, nobody gets out, nobody notices and nobody really loses anything (except the bookmakers).

The News of the World published their splash on the final day of the test match. The day’s cricket was, not altogether surprisingly, somewhat surreal. While the two teams played the game to a conclusion, spectators sat in the stands reading the full story in the tabloids. So did the Pakistan team’s manager, Yawar Saeed, who was obviously completely non-plussed. None of the players or officials knew what to think or where to look. In a strained atmosphere, the formalities of the series were carried out and Amir ironically received a cheque for £4000 as named man of the series. Giles Clarke’s face, when handing it over, was a study in barely-suppressed fury.

Butt, Amir and Asif all pleaded innocent at an ICC hearing and were suspended pending an inquiry, which took place in January the following year. When it took place, its verdict was a foregone conclusion, but the punishments were without precedent in their severity: five-year bans for all three players, with additional probationary periods for Butt and Asif. This was by no means the worst of it for the disgraced trio. In the UK, a criminal case was being prepared. Though Asif pleaded not guilty, and Amir argued mitigation, all of the miscreants served time. The jail terms were 32 months for Mazhar, 30 months for Butt, 12 months for Asif and six months for Amir.

The corroded chalice of captaincy

The honour of leading the Pakistani cricket team has turned out something of a poisoned chalice, and not just for Salman Butt. Throughout the 1980s, the role alternated between Javed Miandad and Imran Khan; though polar opposites in personality, they suffered from the same inferiority complex when responding to the overbearing and pious assertions of the English. Javed had little self-restraint and ceaselessly got up the noses of opponents and umpires alike. He simply would not be told what to do by anyone, and he would – if he felt provoked, which was often – argue with anyone about anything. Few cricketers of that era were more widely disliked than Javed. His personal furies made his team behave furiously.

Imran was completely different. A cool, contemplative, attractive personality made him a totemic figure and a highly popular leader, never more so than when leading Pakistan to the world cup of 1992. Vanquishing England, of all teams, in the final was the icing on the cake. When confronted by the arrogance and outrage of Botham and Lamb, his instinctive response was to fight like with like. You sue me, I sue you. Javed would never have cheated because that would have given his opponents a reason to start an argument – and Javed’s fights were always his. Imran cheated deliberately and consciously – he just didn’t regard it as cheating, because his was a just cause. When tackling the colonial oppressors, the rules could be overlooked. The end justified the means. Imran had a higher purpose, ergo he was allowed to make up his own standards.

Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were the best things to happen to Pakistani cricket in the 1990s, and not just on account of their astonishing talent for manipulating the movement of a cricket ball. Between them, they captained Pakistan in 42 test matches – first Wasim, and then Waqar – and it is no coincidence that their team was comparatively free of controversy during their tenures. By all accounts this disciplined environment was created by Wasim’s intimidatory powers; indeed, it is said that he ruled the team with a rod of iron. You didn’t muck about with him. He attempted to recreate Imran’s authoritarian rule, without possessing the necessary personality or charm. All autocrats, benign or otherwise, ultimately face revolt and in Wasim’s case it was open rebellion from Ata-ur-Rehman and Rashid Latif that was his undoing. Despite a lack of obvious chicanery on the field of play, his tenure was considered suspect enough for an internal inquiry led by Judge Malik Mohammad Qayyum, whose report concluded: ‘it is recommended that Wasim Akram be removed from captaincy of the national team. The captain of the national team should have a spotless character and be above suspicion. Wasim Akram seems to be too sullied to hold that office.’ Nevertheless, the Pakistan largely acquitted itself with distinction and dignity when he was at the helm. As Hassan Cheema put it in an ESPN article: ‘When a Pakistani of a certain age gets nostalgic about the team of the 1990s, it’s the one with Akram as captain.’

A brilliant bowling partnership they may have been, but Wasim hated Waqar, and resented it hugely when Waqar was eventually appointed as his permanent replacement. ‘We hated each other so much that we were not even on talking terms both on and off the field, but the fact is that Pakistan benefited from our rivalry,’ Wasim told Gulf News. ‘Every time Waqar took wickets, I would get charged up to do the same.’ Waqar took a demoralised but successful side – invariably pressured into performing by his new-ball partner – and inspired them. Initially a caretaker captain, he seized his chance. ‘There is not an iota of doubt that he has made the most of this opportunity,’ wrote Agha Akbar for ESPN. ‘Leading from the front, he has had a big hand in transforming the fortunes of a side whose morale was so low when he took over. No longer do you see a defeated look about this Pakistan.’ A team that looks defeated when it is winning is a pathetic sight, but Waqar changed the complexion that victory wore.

When Inzamam succeeded Waqar, he set about making an enormous positive difference to the players under his charge by encouraging them to look to Islam, and by association their country’s pride, heritage and culture, in search of their inspiration of thought and deed. He adopted a patriarchal role, and his players certainly looked up to him; Mohammad Yousuf even converted from Christianity. His initial influence on the team was exactly as he had wished. Yes, he was in charge at Faisalabad when Afridi deliberately damaged the pitch, but this was clearly a moment of individual recklessness entirely ungoverned by the will or rule of the captain. Islamic guidance on cheating and deception are very clear, and there was surely a link between the dearth of accusation during Inzamam’s tenure and the moral code that prevailed in his team.

It came as an enormous shock – and an even greater affront – to Inzamam when Darrell Hair publicly accused, condemned and punished his team for cheating. There was no hearing; the laws of cricket bestow unquestionable authority on the umpires. There is no due process in the little light blue book. And, let’s be honest, coming from a white non-Muslim at a time when Islam was subject to all manner of criticism from others, this unsympathetic arbitration hurt all the more. Inzamam’s image was tarnished by events at the Oval, and it never really recovered. His demoralised team were bundled out of the 2007 world cup at an early stage and then, of course, Bob Woolmer died. A desolate Inzamam stepped down, and watched from a distance as first a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team put an end to international cricket in Pakistan, and then the spot-fixing scandal engulfed the team, his teachings of integrity and honour relegated to footnotes under the usual anti-Pakistan headlines.

Honour regained

The team inherited by Misbah-ul-Haq was broken, seemingly beyond repair. Shattered, dropped, kicked around, picked up, glued back together and shattered again; the cycle had repeated interminably. Slowly, delicately, Misbah pieced his squad back together once more and brought them something they had not experienced for a generation: peace of mind. Cricket had been taken seriously by many in Pakistan, but joyously by precious few. His record as captain was the most successful in Pakistani history, but there was much more to his leadership than mere results. ‘He had exactly the right qualities to lead his team at its moment of supreme crisis,’ wrote The Spectator. He had studied management – he had learned about working with people – in an academic career that extended well into his twenties. He came to cricket late; he was effectively an elder statesman from the moment he made his national debut and when he ascended to the captaincy aged 34, he was the de facto father of the team. He brought emotional wellbeing to the squad, and his positive influence proved infectious.

When Pakistan beat England at Lord’s in 2016, the enduring memory was of Misbah doing push-ups on the outfield immediately after reaching his century. The whole team reprised this iconic celebration once they had completed their victory. It was one of the most life-affirming moments of cricketing jubilation and brought a rheumy eye to even the most hard-hearted dinosaurs of the Long Room. With two years of hindsight, it is no exaggeration to say that it was at this precise moment that the Pakistan team’s spirit and image changed. Past misdemeanours were at once forgiven, old enmities set aside.

Misbah could not have lead the team until he was 50 years old – well, he probably could have, but although the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak, push-ups notwithstanding. The team that Sarfaraz Ahmed inherited was a positive, optimistic and an effective unit. The new batsmen may have faltered, and the imposing figure of Inzamam – now playing the role of godfather, for better or worse – may loom over the team again, but the team’s various components have been integrated and harnessed. They work as one. Watching Pakistan play in Ireland and England this spring, just as in 2016, has been an undeniable joy. No more is the arrival of the Pakistan team cause for trepidation and the wetting of muck-rakers’ pencils. Like New Zealand, they are the new ambassadors of the global game. They are living proof that any team can drag itself up, can be reborn, and can look to the light. The star of Pakistan is shining, and it illuminates a path of achievement and destiny, at last, fulfilled.

9 June 2018

THE NEW AMBASSADORS: PART 2

After the outrages of the series that had gone before, and much to everybody’s surprise, the 1996 series between England and Pakistan unfolded completely contrary to the narrative. There was no unpleasantness, no controversy, and there were no accusations from either side. Pakistan won the series 2—0 playing wonderful cricket with dominant victories at Lord’s and the Oval. The series highlights are well worth watching; it’s something of a forgotten series owing to its brevity, and perhaps on account of its lack of histrionics and headlines, but the Pakistani cricket was amazing and deserved to be more memorable than history has allowed. There was Inzamam-ul-Haq in run-machine mode, the flashing blade of Saeed Anwar, the hooking and pulling of Ijaz Ahmed, the outstanding leg spin of Mushtaq Ahmed and the unparalleled swing of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. 

While Pakistan were demonstrating their glory and greatness on the field, there were uglier scenes off it, though far beyond the control or remit of the touring party. Botham and Lamb were suing Imran for calling them racists and for claiming that Botham had tampered with the ball. The trial was chaotic. Geoffrey Boycott gave a bewildering testimony, Imran first argued justification, then offered an apology, which was rejected, and finally the jury surprised everybody by siding with Imran.

The court decided that India Today had misquoted Imran and that he only called Botham a cheat because he felt that Botham called him a cheat (which he was). The judge labelled Botham and Lamb’s case ‘a complete exercise in futility’ which left Botham facing costs of £260,000 and Lamb faced a bill of £140,000. They both struggled on, arguing the costs bill until 1999, when they gave up ‘citing the best interests of cricket’.

Pakistan’s opening batsman in that 1996 series, Aamir Sohail, later admitted on national television that: ‘Imran damaged Pakistan cricket by encouraging our bowlers to tamper with the ball. This has led to a culture where we can’t produce good new ball bowlers or quality openers.’ Perhaps knowing better than to tempt providence again, Imran elected not to sue his accuser on this occasion.

Hostilities resumed

The ceasefire wasn’t to last. In October 2000, England arrived in Pakistan for their first series in that country since Gatting and Shakoor had their almighty bust-up twelve years earlier. The first two tests were drawn, setting up a winner-takes-all showdown at Karachi – as long as the match wasn’t drawn. The rapid setting of the sun had curtailed play early on several occasions during the series, but the final day dawned on a precarious position for Pakistan, who were 71 for three in their second innings – a lead of 88. It took them exactly half the day’s play to set England a target of 176, and Saqlain Mushtaq quickly had the visitors 65 for three. Thorpe and Hick dug in and it gradually became clear that England would reach their target in the overs remaining. Only sunset could save Pakistan. So Moin Khan, who had replaced Wasim as captain, slowed play down to a crawl. Any captain would have done the same thing, but the senior umpire – Steve Bucknor – was having none of it. He insisted that Pakistan bowl the remaining overs, regardless of the light. The sun had indeed set when the winning runs were struck, the fielders no longer able to see the ball.

With hindsight, it might be argued that the English press and public were so committed to the ‘Pakistanis are cheats’ narrative that they fell on rather less controversial passages of play with relish. Moin had by no means cheated, and the ‘go slow’ was not against the laws of the game. Slow over rates, after all, were nothing new. This was not ball tampering, and ‘everybody does it’ would not have been an unreasonable defence of Moin’s tactics.

Pakistan came to England in 2001 and this time there were only two tests. Gough and Caddick steamrolled the visitors at Lord’s and the match passed without incident. The second game was punctuated – some might even say ruined – by a litany of umpiring errors against England which saw their second innings collapse from 201 for two to 261 all out in a little under 23 overs on the final afternoon. Four batsmen – Knight, Ward, Caddick and Cork – were dismissed by what television replays later showed to be no balls. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that today’s post-dismissal tedium of ‘checking for the no ball’ can trace its genesis back to Manchester on 4 June 2001.
After the series-levelling victory, Channel 4 showed footage of Waqar apparently gouging the ball with his fingernails. There was no official fuss, but the media circus began again. Mark Nicholas, a man who manages somehow to combine leaden understatement and soaring hyperbole, told his television viewers: ‘If the match referee had been watching on television, one wonders what he would have made of those pictures.’ The match referee, Brian Hastings, ‘elected not to discipline anybody after warning both sides about their behaviour on Saturday evening,’ according to the BBC. Plus ça change.

Ian Botham was back in Pakistan – without his mother-in-law – for England’s next visit in late 2005. Now he was working as a television pundit, and he quite literally had a box seat when England played their first test in Faisalabad since the Gatting incident. It was the first trip by England to Pakistan since the terrorist attacks on New York; several players were jittery about going, but the welcoming and sympathetic Pakistani authorities guaranteed their safety. Nevertheless, there was an anxious moment when a gas canister accidentally exploded during the match and the England players ran from the field. While the police checked what had happened, several of the Pakistani players remained on the pitch, and one of them – the excitable Shahid Afridi, not known for his self-control – took the opportunity to damage the pitch with his spikes in the hope of making the pitch more responsive to the leg spin of Danish Kaneria. Caught red handed on television, Afridi was banned for three matches. Botham, picking over the video footage, was – by his previous standards – remarkably restrained, though it is hard to imagine him suppressing his satisfaction off-camera.

The tangle with Hair

Pakistan’s 2006 series in England had been a routine affair until the touring party played in the final test at the Oval. Having already lost the series, Pakistan were in the field and well on course for a consolation win in the dead rubber when the umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove decided that the ball had been tampered with. What followed was a preposterous and unprecedented saga of rank-closing, ego-defending and image-preening.

The umpires changed the match ball and awarded five penalty runs to England for the offence. The laws of cricket had recently been changed to ensure that ball-tampering by the fielding side carried a tariff, so it was impossible for the umpires to change the ball and keep the reason secret, as they had in 1992. Inzamam, the Pakistani captain, looked bemused and shell-shocked but appeared to accept the decision and play continued until the tea interval. Once in the privacy of their changing room, the Pakistani players’ umbrage held sway, and they collectively refused to resume the match.

Hair and Doctrove stood alone on the pitch, no doubt quickly realising the gravity of the situation, and quite possibly relishing their new role as leading actors in the drama. They radioed back to the dressing rooms and ordered the England batsmen to come out to play, which they did. The off-field umpire, Trevor Jesty, informed Inzamam that if his team didn’t emerge sharpish then the match would be awarded to England. They didn’t, so it was. This was astonishing; no team had ever forfeited a match in international cricket history, even on those few occasions when irate captains had led their teams off the pitch in protest at some perceived wrong.

Eventually, suited negotiators from each country’s board managed to persuade the Pakistan team to resume play, and they reluctantly (this would shortly become ‘willingly’) walked out onto the turf. But the umpires didn’t come. Shaharyar Khan, the chairman of the Pakistani board, attempted a diplomatic repositioning: ‘they came out on the field and expected the umpires to follow, but it appears that the umpires are reluctant. We are ready to play; we are in fact very eager to play and to put this incident behind us.’ It was to no avail. The umpires stood firm. They had awarded the match to England, under the laws of cricket, and the match had thus been irrevocably concluded.

Shaharyar’s view of the sequence of events was somewhat revisionist. He insisted that, when the umpires had warned Inzamam that his team’s continued intransigence would result in a forfeiture, the team had held a discussion and decided to end their protest and continue with the game. While that discussion was going on, he said, the umpires had awarded the match to England. This version of history neatly overlooked the shuttle diplomacy between the boards and the players after the announcement had been made that the match had been awarded to England. It was quite obvious that Inzamam’s charges had decided to acquiesce only after the umpires had announced the game was over. They assumed – or at least, they assumed – that the umpires would ‘do the sensible thing’ and change their minds.

Change their minds? An umpiring team including Darrell Hair? Not bloody likely. This was the man who decided the judgement of his naked eye – combined by a good deal of personal pomposity and prejudice – was superior to the combined academic and physiological expertise of not one but two universities who told him that he had been wrong to call Murali for throwing. Umpires are, by nature, a self-regarding breed. Some, like Dickie Bird and Billy Bowden, think of themselves as entertainers in their own right. They are not easily disabused of the prominence of their billing. Hair is a man whose judgement was demonstrably not only wrong but crooked. ‘Pakistan cricketers show no respect for the game and continually attempt to cheat. The game as currently being played by Pakistan is a hoax and fraud to the public,’ he told the Daily Mail. He asked the ICC for £250,000 in exchange for his resignation, was removed from the umpires list, and ended up working in a shop (where he embezzled and stole his employers’ money).

But Doctrove and Jesty agreed that the ball had been tampered with. So did the match referee, Mike Proctor. The ICC, which had taken on the role of governing the international game, took a lesson from the TCCB’s 1992 textbook and kicked the debate into the long grass. With the deftness of touch seemingly elusive to anyone without an MBA, the game’s administrators announced that there was no evidence of ball tampering, suspended Inzamam for four matches for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’, then reversed the forfeiture and proclaimed the Oval test match a draw. In other words, it announced that Inzamam was right all along, but wrong, that his punishment should be revoked, and that he should instead be punished. Not long afterwards, it changed its mind and reinstated the forfeiture. When decision makers are as bewilderingly abstruse as this, it’s easy to understand why they much prefer a cover-up and total silence.

Part 3 of this article may be found here.