Fourth Test

England v Pakistan, 2006

Hugh Chevallier

At The Oval, August 17, 18, 19, 20. England were awarded the match when Pakistan refused to play. Toss: Pakistan.

One day before the scheduled end of a Test series previously remarkable for a lack of serious controversy, cricket made up for lost time and plunged into crisis - and the water turned out to be deep, cold and very murky. Outraged at being punished for ball-tampering, the Pakistan team refused to take the field after tea and, in front of a full and voluble house, Darrell Hair, the senior of the two umpires, melodramatically removed the bails. The gesture brought a symbolic and actual end to the game, the first ever forfeited in 1,814 Tests and 129 years. It also unleashed a media frenzy that splashed cricket over the front pages for days.

The first signs of the impending turmoil came shortly after 2.30 on the fourth afternoon, when Trevor Jesty, the fourth umpire, brought out a box of balls. It was assumed that the current ball, 56 overs old, had gone out of shape through wear and tear. However, the choice of its replacement fell not to the umpires, but to the batsmen - an indication that the officials believed the ball had been doctored. Umpire Hair then slowly tapped his left shoulder with his right hand: five penalty runs were awarded to England's total. Without warning, without opportunity to defend themselves and without apparent thought to the ramifications, Pakistan were very publicly found guilty of cheating. Though visibly shocked, the Pakistan captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, did not seem to dwell on the incident, and play continued until bad light forced the players off at 3.47. Several observers commended Inzamam for his restraint. Matters were about to change.

Almost an hour later, under brighter skies, the umpires took the field for the resumption. The England batsmen, Collingwood and Bell, appeared on the balcony, but the Pakistan players did not. A couple of minutes later, as umpires Hair and Doctrove returned to the pavilion, Inzamam briefly emerged from the dressing-room, shrugged his shoulders and went back in. At 4.55, the umpires, now joined by the batsmen, walked back to the middle. The Pakistan dressing-room door remained resolutely shut, and the umpires decided they had ceded the game.

Behind that closed door fervent diplomatic activity was taking place involving, among others, the ECB chairman David Morgan and Shaharyar Khan, his PCB counterpart. The Pakistan team, livid at what they saw as national humiliation, were eventually persuaded to abandon their protest and, at 5.23, Inzamam led his players on to the field. They spent a minute or two standing around then, in the absence of umpires, traipsed off. These various tableaux were acted out to a soundtrack of boos and jeers from spectators - most of them baffled as to what was actually happening - and a resounding silence from the Tannoy. Some in the crowd amused themselves by creating 40ft snakes of stacked plastic beer glasses before, at 6.13, the announcement came that play was called off for the day.

Not until four hours later was it confirmed that the Test really was over, and that England had won. The two boards, both teams and the referee, Mike Procter, had wanted to resume next morning, but the umpires objected. The ECB promised 40% refunds for the 20,000 spectators attending on Sunday, and full refunds for the 11,000 with tickets for Monday.

Hair, who had a track record of embracing controversy, was now accused of a heavyhanded approach on the field - why had he not had a quiet word with Inzamam about the ball? - and intransigence off it. He and Doctrove argued that, by not resuming after tea, the Pakistanis had irrevocably forfeited the match. The cricket may have stopped, but the revelations, recriminations and repercussions were just starting.

One crucial revelation was missing, however: the perpetrator of the crime. Not one of the 26 TV cameras at The Oval had captured any sign of ball-tampering. When charges were brought, they were against Inzamam as captain, rather than any individual, suggesting the umpires, too, had little evidence other than the state of the quarterseam. But Inzamam was also charged with bringing the game into disrepute. Word leaked out that, if their captain were banned from the forthcoming one-day series, Pakistan might abandon the tour.

The biggest shock of the lot came five days later. ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed flew to London to release emails from Hair, who had gone to ground amid accusations that he was a racist. He had offered to resign from the elite panel of umpires - in return for $500,000. The Pakistan camp claimed vindication; others saw it as a huge error of judgment on Hair's part, though an even bigger act of betrayal by the ICC. One unforeseen event helped to defuse the tension. The senior ICC referee, Ranjan Madugalle, was due to supervise the hearing. But a family accident delayed his attendance until after the one-day series; rather than find a replacement, the ICC opted for masterful delay, so the threat to the one-day games was dissipated.

Given the violence of the storm that blew up that Sunday afternoon, it was easy to forget that an intriguing game of cricket had been lost. The talk before the Test was of Inzamam restoring Pakistani pride with a face-saving win, or the England batsmen slugging it out to safeguard their places in Australia once Flintoff was fit. As it turned out, Inzamam's defence of national honour converted a dominant position into defeat... and denied Bell and Collingwood, the likeliest to miss out when the Ashes started in November, the chance to show how they could cope with a leg-spinner finding sharp turn.

England were unchanged, while Pakistan jettisoned both openers; Imran Farhat, back after breaking his finger, was joined by Mohammad Hafeez, their fourth opening combination in four Tests. And Mohammad Asif, recovered from an elbow injury, made a late but impressive entrance to the series. Bowling with a beautiful, liquid action, Asif wholly justified Inzamam's decision to field under cheerless skies. He maintained an exemplary line and length, brisk but not straining for pace, never letting the batsmen settle. Somehow, Trescothick survived beyond an early lunch, without ever looking comfortable. When he did get hold of a ball, Hafeez, at gully, pulled off an exceptional catch.

Life was easier for Strauss, who unfurled a range of pulls and drives until, playing away from his body, he edged Asif. That brought in Pietersen, The Oval's conquering hero a year earlier, to fall first ball, caught at the wicket like his captain: an eloquent reminder that fortune will humiliate even her favourites.

The momentum, seized so brilliantly by Asif, was now firmly Pakistan's. Cook and Read hung around, but no one else did. Umar Gul, a workhorse to Asif 's thoroughbred, whipped out the tail, and England were buried by the 54th over. At the close, Pakistan trailed by just 77. Younis Khan had gone for nine and Hafeez to a sore knee, but Mohammad Yousuf, despite giving two chances off Hoggard, had not gone, except past 1,000 Test runs in 2006.

Next day, it was all Pakistan. The England attack was feeble, with Harmison, in particular, bowling like the proverbial drain. While Yousuf was making a hundred as elegant as it was inevitable, some mused whether The Oval had ever seen a better exhibition of cutting. And with Farhat and a fit-again Hafeez contributing hard-hitting nineties, a huge total beckoned. Rain and bad light had eaten into the second day, but an overnight 336 for three was daunting.

A combination of Pakistan's thirst for quick runs and far better bowling saw eight wickets on day three, another punctuated by rain. Harmison got one to bounce on Inzamam to give him only his second wicket since Old Trafford, at a cost of 302 runs - and Yousuf followed next over. Even so, Pakistan deservedly led by 331 as England batted again. And when Asif plucked out the forlorn Trescothick for four, an innings defeat seemed likeliest.

Come the fourth morning, Kaneria, fizzing the ball out of the rough, was posing huge problems for the left-handers. He bowled Cook through the gate from a no-ball, then had Strauss lbw with one that spun in outrageously. Cook rode his luck to make a useful 83 before Gul summoned a majestic inswinging yorker out of nowhere. (And that perhaps was what prompted Hair to scrutinise the ball: four overs later came the penalty runs.)

The right-handed Pietersen, though, was equal to Kaneria's challenge. In other circumstances, his 96 might have been the talk of the Test: a small-scale reprise of his Ashes-clinching epic the previous September. Within one shot of a dazzling hundred, Pietersen - his eyes lighting up at the introduction of the innocuous Shahid Nazir - slashed too hard. It was a shrewd and cool piece of captaincy by Inzamam, who seemed to have yanked the game away from England and put the ball-tampering far from his mind. As it happened, neither was the case.

Men of the Series: England - A. J. Strauss; Pakistan - Mohammad Yousuf.

© Wisden Cricketers' Almanack