October 12, 2000

News and Views

Murali - Hair problem solved amicably

The problem between star off spinner Mutiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka and umpire Darrel Hair of Australia that arose 5 years back and kept simmering should have as a matter of fact died its natural death. If that was so, the disenchantment caused by the last minute change of umpire Hair during the ICC KnockOut at Kenya could have been avoided. It only required someone to act sensibly before start of the tournament. The unpleasant incidents taking place on and off the field occupy the memory and mind for a long time, even at times haunting people. They must be given due consideration while planning big events.

The Murali-Hair tussle took its roots in the year 1995 when the upcoming off spin genius trying to show his mettle in a test match in Australia was sensationally no balled for 'throwing' by umpire Darrel Hair. The matter was referred to the ICC's Committee for Illegal Deliveries, which after a critical examination of the action videos absolved Muralitharan of the charge. Was this not done, the cricket world would have been deprived of a great bowler and the magic of his baffling off spin.

The rift between the two parties, however, intensified in 1998 when Darrel Hair in his book 'The Decision Maker' criticized the bowling action of Muralitharan describing it as 'diabolical'. Hair followed it up with a pronouncement that "he would not hesitate to call Muralitharan again if ever he got the opportunity". Such a statement by a renowned umpire was the reflection of a biased mind, especially when the bowler had been cleared by the ICC. The reaction of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board was natural. They made all efforts to ensure that Hair does not officiate in any matches involving Sri Lanka in future. Their wish was granted till someone bungled up things by appointing Hair to supervise the quarterfinal match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

It was great on the part of the ICC to react promptly to protest from the Sri Lanka Cricket Board to remove Hair from the all-important tie. Not only that David Richards the ICC Chief Executive apologized for the administrative error, he had to review the appointments of at least 6 umpires to keep the ICC Knock Out championship free from possible controversies. Reacting to the news that the Sri Lanka Board was preparing to fight for the controversial umpire's removal from the international arena, the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) has stepped in to defend Hair and offer him all the support. Notwithstanding the controversy there is a common feeling that umpires should not be retained in the international panel for so long. Not only that they create hegemony of their own, eventually becoming targets of conflicts and controversies, they also deprive other competent umpires in the pipe line of the invaluable international experience.

Poor Crowds at Nairobi

The ICC KnockOut Tournament in progress at the Nairobi Gymkhana Ground which is supposed to be the center of attraction for cricket lovers is said to be facing a dearth of spectators. Even on the first day, when the opening ceremony of the tournament was performed by the President of Kenya, the event was witnessed by only 2000 spectators, most of them school children. A stadium with a small capacity of only 7000 not being filled by the spectators when a tournament called the 'Mini World Cup' is taking place, is really a cause for concern. The reasons sited for such a pathetic situation are, the people's lack of interest in cricket, the attitude of considering the game rather too difficult to understand and high rate of tickets.

The tournament being a part of the ICC's development program, the world cricket body is said to have granted 500,000 dollars for the development of the match venue to bring it to the level of this prestigious event. The experience has shown that income from gate money is like peanuts as compared to the expenditure involved in staging big events. Money must be generated from other sources and high rates of ticket avoided to attract maximum spectators. Another method of gathering the crowds at cricket grounds is to hold the matches at more than one cricket center, so that the cricket fans can watch the game alive in their respective regions. This applies more to a country like Kenya where the spectators' interest is at rock bottom. The building of people's interest in the game is the first step for promotion of cricket in the country, even if the gates have to be kept open.

It is surprising that Kenya being at such a close proximity to South Africa and Zimbabwe, its people lack interest in cricket. The country requires to introduce cricket at the grass roots level, in schools, colleges and clubs and even let the urchins play the game in the streets and parks. The television must show cricket matches as often as it can. More the people watch the game, more they would get to understand and enjoy the same.

PCB asking for another Judicial Inquiry

The Chairman Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has put the people and the press of Pakistan in a fix by asking the President of Pakistan to order a judicial inquiry into Pakistan's defeat in the matches against India and Bangladesh during World Cup 99. With the famous match fixing problem suitably handled and almost settled with players awarded due punishments, the step appears like the unnecessary digging of an old grave. More so when the Pakistan team is rejuvenated after all the pits and falls and is on the path of success, the inquiry is likely to demoralize the players and affect their performance adversely.

Than what?, if Pakistan lost two matches. Losing to India should not cause a worry because it is a first rate team to whom we had lost many times before. As for defeat at the hands of Bangladesh, let us treat it as a miracle for the winners and a mishap for Pakistan. The Pakistan team still made to the finals and finished as runners up in the championship, which is not a small honor. Like the match fixing, this inquiry will also take a year to complete, and it will be a year of constant tension and pressure on the players who represented Pakistan in these matches. Some people feel that it is being done to defame the team management and the then officials of the Board. If that is so, it is not cricket. The PCB Chairman Lt. Gen. Tauqir Zia is generally a man of good intentions with overwhelming love for the development of cricket and its facilities. Unfortunately he has some incompetent people around him who advise him to take such unwise steps.