Thanks to Bob Willis’ moaning about England “ball tampering” during the Champions Trophy and people looking for a story, the ICC have suddenly decided to “empower” umpires with regards to dealing with ball tampering. Umpires will now be free to act on any suspicions they have, regardless of any lack of eye witness or camera evidence.
By taking this decision, the ICC have both vindicated Darrell Hair’s stance in the now infamous Oval test of 2006 and also put themselves in a precarious position. In the Oval test Umpire Hair believed that the condition of the ball had been changed by Pakistan and awarded 5 penalty runs to England. Pakistan refused to take the field after tea and rightly forfeited the match, as the Laws of Cricket required.
The ICC’s performance in the aftermath of that test match was disgraceful and offensive. Percy Sonn’s press conference was as poor an effort as Yates has ever seen, and it could be argued that the ICC would have tried to cover up as much as it could until the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew revealed there had been correspondence between Hair and Doug Cowie, then head of ICC’s umpires. Then the story exploded as the facts became public knowledge.
Sonn made claims of ICC “supporting their employees” rather than hanging Hair out to dry but Yates has heard that kind of crap before and seen what kind of “support” is offered. A chocolate jockstrap in the middle of Africa would be better. An awful lot of rubbish was written in the aftermath of Ovalgate, both by the mainstream media and fans. The issue is simple: Hair believed that the Laws of Cricket should not be held to ransom in the way that they were by Inzamam ul Haq and Bob Woolmer.
None of the mainstream media bothered to report the simple fact that the Pakistan team management should have sought discussions with match referee Mike Procter while the game was still going on after tea. But they did not. Under the Laws of Cricket Darrell Hair had no alternative but to award the game to the team that did come on to the field of play.
What of Billy Doctrove, the other umpire on duty for that test match? Yates didn’t see much investigation into his conduct during the issue or after it. In particular his no show at Hair’s legal proceedings against the ICC which resulted in the reversing of Hair’s suspension from the Elite Panel.
This episode confirmed that the ICC was (and still is) incapable of strong yet sensible leadership. In what can only be described as a gigantic foul up, the ICC failed to back their umpires, failed to enforce any guides to the treatment of issues of ball tampering and then behaved even more disgracefully when they changed the result from a forfeit to England to a draw. This decision was later reversed after MCC were very clear in their condemnation of that change.
The infamous ball is on display in the Museum at The Kia Oval for those who want to see it for themselves. Hair has since retired from involvement with the ICC and is working in Australian umpiring.
The ICC’s announcement allowing umpires to act without any actual evidence vindicates Darrell Hair but is legally problematic. International cricket matches are covered by myriad television cameras and press photographers. Why would any player try anything illegal when the game is under such scrutiny? Screenshots and photographs can go global so quickly; if there is any doubt about someone’s conduct it should be quickly passed to the match referee so investigations and action can be taken.
Due process is one thing and the right thing to have, but due process without any evidence is farcical. Sooner or later someone will get legal on the ICC’s backside. Court scenarios are based on evidence, not belief. To allege someone is ball tampering is to call someone a cheat and cast aspersions on their character. You need more than belief for something like that to hold up in court. This could well backfire on the ICC.
On Bob Willis’ moaning during commentary stints on Sky Yates will say this: please gag him or send the old warhorse to the knackers yard. His droning rants about ball tampering, Surrey and Jonathan Trott detract from Sky’s usually excellent coverage. If Sky want someone to be cranky, Yates is available, better looking and probably cheaper than Willis.