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August 18, 2010
Darrell Hair, the umpire at the centre of the controversy that led to the abandonment of the 2006 Oval Test between England and Pakistan, has claimed that meddling board officials were to blame for the escalation of the row, and that the Pakistan team themselves had been ready to accept his decision to dock them five penalty runs for ball-tampering.
Speaking in an interview on BBC Test Match Special, Hair recounted the events of that dramatic fourth day, which ended up with the match being awarded to England following Pakistan's refusal to return to the field following the tea interval. A lengthy stand-off ensued, with Hair and Pakistan's captain Inzamam-ul-Haq proving especially intransigent in the negotiations that followed, and it wasn't until 10.30pm that night, some six hours after the last ball had been bowled, that the game was finally declared to be over.
Four years later, however, and with the two teams back at The Oval once again, Hair insisted that his penalty award had not initially been a bone of contention. "We played on until tea [so] I suppose you could say by playing on [the players] accepted what happened," he said. "It wasn't until they got back into the dressing room that politics got involved. Too many people got involved from Pakistan and from the ECB as well.
"I'm not about to name the persons involved - I will in my book - but there is no doubt they got themselves involved when they shouldn't have, and that further inflamed the situation. The PCB thought they had some allies who would assist them. The Pakistan team accepted the ruling until they got back in the dressing room."
The general assumption around the time of the controversy was that Hair had acted alone in declaring the ball unfit for further use, and that his partner Billy Doctrove - with whom he claimed he no longer has contact - was swept along in the furore without really having a say. Hair, however, denied this vehemently, saying: "He played an equal part. I'd like to see any tape of me frogmarching Billy around.
"There was no coercion and those things can't happen unless both umpires agree. I'm an easy target because strength of character can be mistaken for arrogance or obstinacy. But if Billy had said, 'I don't think the condition of the ball had changed', we would have carried on."
As a result of the furore, Hair spent two years in the international wilderness, before returning to the ICC's elite panel for two matches of New Zealand's tour of England in 2008. He claimed, however, that he no longer felt any bitterness at his treatment, even though he his employers chose to make public a series of emails between himself and the umpires manager, Doug Cowie, in which he appeared to demand a lump sum of money in order to go quietly and spare the ICC any further embarrassment.
"I got over it many years ago," he said. "There are a couple of people who worked for the ICC who lied and I don't have much time for them, but I got back to doing what I wanted to do and I finished umpiring a Test match at Trent Bridge. For me that was the perfect ending. I knew exactly what had happened at the time and I did my job to the best of my ability."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.