Another noxious whiff of scandal
"The umpire's decision is final." Since Sunday afternoon, when the world of cricket embarked on its latest journey through the moral maze, the ICC has clung desperately to this one central tenet. No matter how insensitively Darrell Hair may have acted in his confrontation with Inzamam-ul-Haq, and no matter how irate Pakistan's players, politicians and public may have become in the days that followed, it appeared throughout that the letter of the game's laws had been scrupulously adhered to.
And then along come today's revelations, which have altered the landscape dramatically. The press conference at the Danubius Hotel near Lord's contained one of those JFK moments, as Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, took the assembled press corps slowly and deliberately through the exchange of emails between himself, Hair and Doug Cowie, the ICC's umpires and referees manager. The mention of large sums of money, a nudge and a wink and a "say no more" from Hair, and another noxious whiff of scandal drew a sharp intake of breath from everyone present.
Though his critics in Asia have long been claiming otherwise, the one thing Hair had left was his integrity. Even the PCB chairman, Shahrayar Khan, while attacking his intransigence and general attitude, could not deny that Hair was a "good umpire", a man with the courage of his convictions and a sense, on the cricket field, of right and wrong. Now, for one reason or another, he has let his motives be questioned. He can certainly never umpire at the highest level again, and his name is all set to be dragged through the mud.
Is it Hair's fault alone that things have come to pass like this? In a sense it is not. Pakistan have made it clear that they will never countenance his presence in another of their Test matches, and that, allied to a swathe of vicious and often racial innuendo, backed Hair into a corner. "It was a silly letter and a sign that he was under great stress," said Speed of Hair's offer to go quietly but lucratively into the sunset. When one team refuses to accept an umpire's authority, that authority is hopelessly eroded regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case.
Hair is 53, and in the prime of his umpiring career. The money, though it looks on the surface like a king's ransom, could in fact be interpreted as a reasonable "golden handshake". As an elite umpire, he receives roughly $60,000 per year as a basic salary, plus $5000 per Test. Over the next four years, his best years as a decision-maker, that would have equated to something approaching the figure that Hair has just asked. "I am confident that there was no underhand or malicious intent," insisted Speed, who added that there had been no charges brought against Hair, although that could yet change.
However, as a former lawyer, Hair should have known full well the implications of his offer. What on earth was he doing asking for a clandestine payment? Such non-disclosure clauses may be common practice in the corporate world, but the ICC is a body of nations, almost always in disagreement over one issue or another, and in this case, in disagreement over Hair himself. They are liable to file audited accounts; was Hair expecting the ICC executive to hide the money from the board? After the comments made by Shahrayar, did he expect Pakistan to sanction such a get-out?
There may yet be nothing untoward about this situation, but that's not how the public will perceive it. Hair is likely to be seen by many as buying his compliance and silence from the ICC, and cricket's previous experience with such shady issues means that suspicion comes as part of the package. Cricket is increasingly becoming a game run by and for the lawyers, and over time, it becomes hard - nigh on impossible - for the average man on the street to distinguish one scandal from another. Speed, himself a lawyer, has roped in the appropriately named David Pannick QC to represent his organisation.
Meanwhile the original charges that were laid at Pakistan's door seem utterly trivial, although it would be wrong for Hair's indiscretion to detract from the seriousness of the stand-off that his penalty-run call triggered. Amid all this madness, the one thing that needed to happen then and still needs to happen on Monday, is for the game to blunder on regardless.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo