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September 12, 2006
Zaheer Abbas has been replaced as manager of Pakistan for the ICC Champions Trophy in October, by former Pakistan opener Talat Ali. The decision was taken following a meeting of the Pakistan Cricket Board's (PCB) ad-hoc committee in Karachi to discuss, among other subjects, the Oval fiasco which saw Pakistan forfeiting a Test for the first time in the game's history.
Shaharyar Khan, chairman of the PCB, told reporters, "Talat Ali has been chosen to replace him for the Champions Trophy as manager." The move had been widely expected in Pakistan after Abbas had come in for heavy criticism for his role - or lack of it - during the Oval melee.
While negotiations were underway to try and save the Oval Test on the dressing room balcony, Abbas was seen by many outside the Pakistan dressing room talking on his mobile phone. His apparent inaction prompted a barrage of criticism from ex-players in Pakistan who felt he should have taken a more proactive role in resolving the matter and negotiating with the ICC and the umpires.
Others attacked him for a number of statements he made in the immediate aftermath of the incident, including his terming of Darrell Hair's US$500,000 resignation offer, a "moral victory" for Pakistan. Even before the team left for England, concerns had been voiced about his aptitude for the job. When asked by a local TV channel about left-arm paceman Samiullah Niazi's inclusion in the squad, Abbas professed ignorance about the player.
But Shaharyar denied that the move meant Abbas was the first victim of 'Hairgate'. "He has not been replaced because of what happened at the Oval. We need him as a witness for the ICC hearings later in September. After that, if the need for an appeal rises, then we might need him further so that might interfere with his role as manager. This is not a criticism or indictment of his role. It is no reflection on him."
Shaharyar added that Inzamam-ul-Haq [captain], Danish Kaneria and Umar Gul will attend the hearing alongwith Abbas. Both Gul and Kaneria were bowling when the umpires inspected the ball, and have been asked by the PCB's lawyers to provide evidence.
In the PCB's defence, however, it must also be pointed out that managerial appointments rarely follow steadfast rules of employment. Generally, managers are hired on an assignment-by-assignment basis; Abbas, for example, was manager for the tour to Sri Lanka earlier in the year but was replaced by Salim Altaf for the subsequent ODI series against India in Abu Dhabi. Not many in Pakistan, though, will buy the chairman's reasoning and certainly most journalists - admittedly a cynical lot - didn't.
The man who replaces him - Ali - was in line for the job for the England series and had the robust support of at least one senior PCB official. Ali, who played ten Tests for Pakistan between 1972 and 1979 as a dogged opener, was also an ICC match referee for the same number of Tests between 1997 and 2001.
One of the central figures of the controversy - Inzamam-ul-Haq - was, however, given the full backing of the board. "The events of the Oval Test were considered at the meeting which showed full confidence in Inzamam," Shaharyar said. But referring to further comments Inzamam made to a local TV channel on arrival in Pakistan, Shaharyar warned that more comments "would be tantamount to hitting on his own feet (shooting himself in the foot) if Inzamam said anything on the matter now." He was referring to ICC's warning last week to the PCB and Inzamam for making "unnecessary and inappropriate" comments over the issue.
About the other figure - Darrell Hair - the PCB was understandably reluctant to say too much. When asked what Pakistan would do if Hair was chosen to officiate in the Champions Trophy, Shaharyar said, "what steps we have thought about cannot be revealed at this point of time, we would disclose them after a decision on the hearing."
Reuters, however, quoted a board source as claiming that Pakistan had made its objections to Hair clear to the ICC. The board source said that the ICC had been informed in writing that if Hair was put on the umpires panel for the Champions Trophy, it would consider strong action including pulling out from the event. "Pakistan is very clear on Hair's future appointments. It does not want him appointed either in the Champions Trophy or any other series in which Pakistan is playing."
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