The fourth Test between England and Pakistan has been forfeited in favour of England, after an extraordinary day of rumour, speculation, and high farce that brought the game to the brink of one of the biggest crisis in recent memory. The decision was finally made at 10pm London time, in a makeshift press conference hall in the bowels of the Oval pavilion. It was the first such forfeiture in 129 years of Test cricket.
Four long hours after play was called off for the day, and after protracted negotiations between the ICC, the ECB and the PCB, it was left to David Collier, the ECB's chief executive, to read out a statement that will doubtless raise more questions than answers. Though both teams and their boards were keen for the match to continue, it was the umpires, Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove, who were not willing to budge from their original decision.
"It was concluded with regret that there will be no play on the fifth day," read the statement. "The fourth npower Test match between England and Pakistan has therefore been forfeited with the match being awarded to England. In accordance with the laws of cricket it was noted that the umpires had correctly deemed that Pakistan had forfeited the match and awarded the Test to England."
It may have been the correct application of the letter of the law, but the decision made a mockery of a match in which Pakistan had made all the running from the very first morning, and had been bubbling towards a thrilling conclusion on the final morning, as England looked set to put at least a token target on the board.
According to Surrey officials, 12,000 tickets had been sold in advance - all of which will now have to be refunded, along with 40% of today's takings - a combined loss of about £400,000. And Pakistan will certainly not be content to return home with a 3-0 defeat to their name, not to mention the further implications of the forfeiture. As Bob Woolmer announced at the close of play: "The team is upset by the inference they have been accused of tampering with the ball and therefore cheating." The ICC, in a separate statement, confirmed that Pakistan has been charged under Level two of the Code of Conduct, 2.10, which relates to changing the condition of the match ball.
The initial incident took place in the 56th over, when umpires Hair and Doctrove deemed that the quarter seam on the ball had been raised and would therefore have to be changed. But the situation only really kicked off after tea, as the Pakistanis remained in their dressing-room in protest at the decision.
After waiting in the middle of the pitch for twenty minutes, the umpires went to the Pakistan dressing-room to ask whether or not Inzamam-ul-Haq would lead out his team or not before they went out, took the bails off and left, thus awarding the Test to England.
Bob Woolmer told Cricinfo that after Pakistan refused to come out after the tea break, both umpires, after waiting on the field, went to the Pakistan dressing room to ask whether or not they would continue to play. Inzamam countered by asking the umpires why they had changed the ball, which led to the Pakistan team protesting.
"We are not here to answer that question," Hair was reported to have said, and when Inzamam didn't provide any reply to their initial query, they walked back out again. By the time Pakistan were eventually led out onto the field by Inzamam, the umpires had already walked on, knocked the bails off and gone back inside, refusing to come out again.
The decision was made according to Law 21, regarding the result of a match, which states, "A match shall be lost by a side which in the opinion of the umpires refuses to play." A further subsection adds, "If an umpire considers that an action by any player or players might constitute a refusal by either side to play then the umpires together shall ascertain the cause of the action. If they then decide together that this action does constitute a refusal to play by one side, they shall so inform the captain of that side. If the captain persists in the action the umpires shall award the match in accordance with above."