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Man on the fringe's evidence could be decisive

Doctrove moves into the spotlight

From being an almost fringe player in the whole controversy, Billy Doctrove, Darrell Hair's umpiring partner in final Test at The Oval, has emerged as the key figure in the disciplinary hearing that Inzamam-ul-Haq will face on September 15

Anand Vasu

August 26, 2006

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From the fringe: Billy Doctrove's evidence will be crucial in the outcome of the hearing © Getty Images

From being a fringe player in the whole controversy, Billy Doctrove, Darrell Hair's umpiring partner in the final Test at The Oval, has emerged as the key figure in the disciplinary hearing that Inzamam-ul-Haq will face on September 15. With Hair under the cloud after his golden-handshake offer was made public, Doctrove's evidence will be critical.

Though the basic charges against Pakistan - of ball tampering, and bringing the game into disrepute by refusing to come out to play - remain unchanged, Pakistan's legal team could well question Hair's motives in the light of his $500,000 offer in exchange for a quiet retirement following the incident.

In the absence of video or photographic evidence, the ball, now in the possession of the ICC, will provide the strongest material evidence, but even with forensic tests it might not be easy to establish that the ball had been intentionally tampered with. In all likelihood, it will be a case of Inzamam's word against that of the umpires. And with Hair's reputation as a fearless enforcer of cricket laws having been somewhat eroded, the case might hinge on the word of Doctrove.

If Doctrove, who has stood in just nine Tests and is very much the junior man in the partnership with Hair, were to suggest that he was not entirely convinced about the alleged tampering, but nevertheless went along - based on Hair's judgment - Pakistan will be home free.

In April, Hair had suggested in an interview that he might give up umpiring at the end of the World Cup. "I'm not so sure that after another 12 months I'll have the passion to keep enjoying it." His demand for $500,000, based on the rationale that he had four of his best years ahead of him, is contrary to this.

One person whose job might have been made easier by this latest email saga is Ranjan Madugalle. Initially, his role would have been one of an investigator, trying to piece together a picture of what happened that fateful day at The Oval, and then reach a judgment. The core issue of the ball and its condition has been pushed so far back. Despite the ICC's protestations to the contrary, the issue is not about cricket anymore: it is an emotive and volatile one where perceptions will matter as much as the truth. Pakistan - or their highly paid lawyers who must be licking their lips in glee - will question the motives behind Hair's decisions. They might even suggest that they were willing to get on with the game, while Hair had no interest in getting it restarted.

A contentious and tricky cricket issue has now become a matter of law. When the hearing does take place - and don't be surprised if the matter goes to court before that and thereby obviates the need for Madugalle to make the trip from Colombo to London - it will be shrouded in legalese.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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