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 ├ža 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.

2 June 2018

THE NEW AMBASSADORS: PART 1

It’s difficult to say who started it. The controversy that dogged almost every test series between England and Pakistan for quarter of a century became, for many, the defining point of that fixture – and nobody relished it. In so many sporting head-to-heads, the grudge match adds a little interesting piquancy to the play, but what happened between these two proud protagonists was in no way enhancing, nor edifying in the least.

Colonialism: a catalyst for controversy?

The prolonged and vicious assault by the England captain Donald Carr (and his team mates) on the Pakistani umpire Idrees Baig in February 1956 may be the nastiest story ever told in cricket history. It happened after the third day of a match between the MCC and Pakistan. Leading by 36 runs after the first innings, the MCC spent a tortuous day scoring 111 from 78 overs, setting Pakistan a target of 148. At the close of the third day, they were 130 for two. That night, a group of MCC players kidnapped Idrees from his Peshawar hotel in the middle of the night, bound and gagged him and threw him into a horse’s cart, took him to a location on the other side of town where they forced him to drink alcohol before pouring buckets of water over him. His crime? Giving what the English felt were two poor lbw decisions that day. Carr afterwards said of the incident: ‘It was considered terribly funny by everyone who was there. Quite honestly, when I look back on it, I think it was about the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life.’ Idrees – a proud and rather pompous man, as nearly all umpires are – was humiliated and mortified. He put his arm in a sling for the final day of the game and threatened to sue the MCC for damages. The Pakistani press and public demonstrated against the MCC and the opprobrium only died down when grovelling apologies were offered by the President of the MCC and the British ambassador in Lahore.

If this incident didn’t establish the pattern of relations between England and Pakistan, it was at any rate indicative of the colonial condescension on one hand and the pricked public pride on the other. Henry Root’s letter to General Zia in 1979 neatly satirises the attitude of the old ruling class. ‘Most of us realise that a backward people such as your needs, and appreciates, the smack of firm government. We are not a backward people, of course, which makes our sad National Decline in recent years all the harder for patriots to stomach.’ Indeed, it must have seemed like an authentic viewpoint, since Zia responded within a week: ‘I appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing to me to convey certain very pertinent views.’

Bad calls and bottle tops

We will never know just what prompted Imran Khan to decide to cheat by cutting up one side of the ball with a metal bottle top, but it is a matter of historical record that he did so when fielding for Sussex against Hampshire at Hove in 1981. Hampshire were following on, and at 138 for three they needed 37 more runs to make the hosts bat again. They lost their last seven wickets for 58 runs to Ian Greig, Imran and Garth le Roux. It may be that the prevailing attitude was ‘everybody else is doing it’ – the Indian team were convinced that John Lever was using Vaseline to shine the ball in Chennai in 1977 – and then again it may not. The evidence suggests that Hove was the first proven instance of a bowler making the ball rougher by illegal means.

The English had been chuntering about Pakistan’s home umpires since the Idrees assault, but the trouble with moaning about the opposition’s umpires is that you make the other team’s players highly sensitive to any errors by your own officials, and Pakistan felt seriously wronged by David Constant at Leeds in 1982. The three-match series was tied going into the third test, which was itself on a knife-edge when Pakistan took a first-innings lead of just 19 runs. After they stumbled to 115 for six (only 134 ahead), Imran launched a three-hour rearguard, adding 23 in an hour with Wasim Bari, 31 in an hour with Abdul Qadir and 30 in an hour with Sikander Bakht. They were now 218 ahead, with two wickets left to fall, when Constant wrongly gave Sikander out caught at short leg. Pakistan felt this cost them the match, and they asked that Constant never be rostered to umpire in a Pakistan match again.

Ian Botham was the next to transgress, doing a passable imitation of Henry Root when he returned halfway through England’s tour to Pakistan in March 1984 and told the British press that ‘Pakistan is the sort of place you’d send your mother-in-law on holiday.’ The characterisation was complete: Imran the upstart cheat, Botham the boorish colonial, and the umpires’ fingers loaded for their respective sides.

When the Pakistan team toured England in 1987, the on-field unpleasantness finally broke cover. Carr attacked Idrees in the dead of night, Imran didn’t reveal his Hove antics for another decade and half, the Constant saga was transacted behind committee room doors and Botham made sure he was on another continent before defaming an entire country. This time, the events unfolded in front of the entire Leeds crowd. It wasn’t brief, nor was it particularly dramatic, but given what would happen over the next few years, the false claim of Saleem Yousuf to have caught Ian Botham off the bowling of Mohsin Kamal – an act of cheating so brazen that it was obvious even on the juddery, low-resolution video replays of the 1980s – was an important milepost in the journey of antipathy between these two sides. They were now unable to keep their mutual resentment hidden from public view. Oh, and the request not to engage Constant as umpire? That was ignored.

‘And so to the public slanging match’

‘When neutral umpires were employed in the world cup, Pakistan didn’t fare quite well as everyone expected them to. I’ll leave that to your own interpretation.’ Botham was certainly giving the Pakistanis both barrels ahead of the disastrous tour of March 1988. He was joined by Tom Graveney and Phil Edmonds in criticising the umpires in a television report which neatly summarised the animosity between the teams. Haroon Jadhakhan, the editor of the Muslim Chronicle, said that relations were ‘suffering from a colonial hangover.’ The English, he said, ‘still believe in this master-slave relationship, they still believe they can be patronising, condescending to people abroad, not only in Pakistan but also the West Indies and Africa. We are the masters, you are the servants. We taught you the game, therefore we are going to dictate how you should play, how you shouldn’t play.’

It was surely the worst tour ever staged in terms of acrimony and behaviour. The umpires, either incompetent or corrupt, were completely incapable of making decisions that were fair. Chris Broad was given out and refused to leave the crease. Shakeel Khan came to the fore initially, but his haste to raise the finger paled into insignificance after his colleague Shakoor Rana stopped play to accuse Mike Gatting of cheating, because the England captain was making a fielding change that Shakoor felt the batsman ought to be allowed to see. The furious on-field argument which followed remains the worst televised breach of discipline on a cricket field. ‘He just abused me, you see. I can’t tell you what did he say – the words, I mean – but he used the filthy language, bad language, abusing me like anything’ protested Shakoor. The news report, with the plummy tones of Christopher Martin-Jenkins asserting that Gatting ‘must have had good reason to get as angry as he did’ did nothing to dispel the Pakistanis’ feeling that the English adopted a supercilious position in this, as with all matters.

Lord’s, Lamb and libel

Before 1992, it could reasonably be said that the teams were equally to blame for the discord that rankled between them. In the 1992 series, however, various Pakistan players took their first steps into a world of their own: a world in which they could do as they pleased regardless of the laws of the game and – ultimately – the laws of the land.

The season began with some memorable cricket – Pakistan’s win at Lord’s was one of the most exciting finishes ever seen at headquarters – but the mood rapidly declined. Javed Miandad and Aqib Javed got into a fury about what they saw as inconsistent and high-handed umpiring by Roy Palmer, with Javed eventually exploding with rage when Palmer – as the Pakistan captain saw it – handed Aqib his sweater in the wrong way.

During the fourth one-day international at Lord’s, England were set 205 to win and were 140 for five when the umpires decided to change the match ball. The match referee, Deryck Murray, agreed. The Test and County Cricket Board – the predecessor of the ECB – decided not to make the reason public. The off-field umpire, Don Oslear, submitted his match report and in due course was telephoned by Colin Cowdrey, the chairman of the ICC, who told him that under the terms of his contract he must remain silent about what had happened.

When the Pakistan team told the press that the ball had simply ‘gone out of shape’, Allan Lamb, who played for the same Northamptonshire team as Pakistani swing bowler Sarfraz Nawaz (the pioneer of reverse swing) decided that he could hold his tongue no longer. He wrote an article for the Daily Mirror entitled ‘How Pakistan cheat at cricket.’ In it, he wrote that the Pakistan team had been tampering with the ball, and that Sarfraz had shown him how it was done – as long ago as 1981.

Sarfraz sued Lamb. Oslear appeared as a witness and said that the ball had been changed because it had been tampered with. Sarfraz said this had nothing to do with him. After four days of testimony, Sarfraz dropped his case when Lamb agreed to state that his Pakistani team-mate had ‘played within the laws of cricket and did not cheat.’ Sarfraz later said: ‘I had nothing to do with the 1992 series. Whatever I have done in my life, playing for Northamptonshire and around the world, and inventing reverse swing, was within the law.’ He added: ‘I taught Imran Khan how to bowl reverse swing and everyone agreed Imran never cheated in his life.’

A year after the court case, Imran admitted to ball tampering at Hove in 1981, the same year that Lamb claimed Sarfraz had shown him how to do it. Imran’s justification was that everyone tampered with the ball, even Ian Botham. Botham was furious and called Imran a cheat. Imran upped the ante: he told India Today that Botham and Lamb were racist, uneducated and lacking in class and upbringing. It also transpired that the TCCB had fined Lamb for accusing the Pakistan team of ball tampering in 1992 whilst simultaneously refusing to release to the court a substantial quantity of video showing the Pakistan team doing exactly that. It also got rid of Oslear, who never umpired a professional match again. Martin Johnson, in the Independent, wrote: ‘As far as Pakistan are concerned, cricket in England is run by arrogant racists. As far as England are concerned, Pakistan cheat. Today, the two countries are as far apart as ever.’

Part 2 of this article may be found here.