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.

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