January 15, 2007

Associates

Mixed messages from Dubai

Martin Williamson

Martin Williamson looks at what message is being sent to the Associates by the ICC deciding to appoint Darrell Hair to officiate in their tournament ... and do the ICC even know where they stand.

So Darrell Hair has been appointed to stand in the triangular one-day series in Mombasa next week, the first time he will don the white coat since that gloomy Sunday afternoon at The Oval in August when his world turned on its head.

The announcement - which caught the ICC on the hop as it only intended to release the news on Sunday - caused, inevitably, a flurry of media comment. Some were surprised that Hair was still an umpire, so intense was the criticism of him between the Oval Test and the ICC's decision to bar him from standing in major matches which followed in November.

There are two sides to this. The first is that this is actually a really good move. Hair, for all his stubbornness, was, up to four months ago, one of the top officials in the game, a fact underlined by the ICC's own internal rankings which placed him second only to Simon Taufel. There is no doubt that in Kenya his presence will benefit sides who will for the first time play in a game with such a senior official.

Hair himself will receive a warm welcome. Mombasa Sports Club, which is the home ground of Samir Inamdar, Cricket Kenya's chairman, is a delightful venue and the people there go out of their way to make all visitors feel at home. A few overseas reporters may make their way to the coastal town, but by and large he should enjoy his trip.

But there have to be questions asked of senior ICC officials as to what has changed in the last two months? In November, Percy Sonn, the ICC's president who has a habit of speaking before necessarily thinking, said that the ICC executive board had "come to the conclusion that they've lost confidence in Mr Hair". While Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, has always said he hoped to find a way to keep Hair in the game, he too admitted that the decision was right. Most of those close to the decision-making process left Dubai believing that Hair would not stand in any international match again.

As an umpire, Hair clearly is good enough. So why can he stand here and not in more important matches? If Hair was not deemed fit by the ICC to umpire then - and the key here is that nobody questioned his decision-making ability - what has changed? The ICC have spent today vociferously stressing that the ban was for Full Member matches only. But surely, either he is fit or he is not.

Perhaps even they don't actually know what they agreed or the best way forward. When Sonn was asked at the November meeting to clarify details regarding Hair's future, he refused, and when pressed snapped at reporters: "You are free to leave if you want. We are not giving any more details." Perhaps Percy was not exactly on message, or perhaps he was as confused as the rest of us.

The Mombasa tournament involves three of the six leading Associates, all of whom will be playing in the World Cup. These are among the best of the rest, and the matches are accorded full ODI status by the ICC. In effect, there is a danger that people will interpret this as the ICC saying that they have no faith in Hair but that the Associates aren't really that important.

This is a unique situation. The ICC could argue with any other official - including Hair's two colleagues also standing in Mombasa - that they were not quite good enough to make the transition from this level to the Elite. But that's not an issue or an excuse here. As an umpire, Hair clearly is good enough. So why can he stand here and not in more important matches? As with every aspect of this sorry episode, the ICC has failed to be clear or transparent in its handling and once more we can expect more smokescreens and sidestepping.

And so, while the Associates ponder just how important they are to the ICC, Hair, who arrives in Mombasa on Monday, is left yet again to face the media on his own. It's something he has become used to in recent months.

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Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Martin Williamson
Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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