Ranjan Madugalle's verdicts in the Inzamam ul-Haq hearing last week were no surprise to me. I expected the ball-tampering charge to be chucked out, and likewise I expected Inzi to be found guilty on the disrepute charge of not returning to the field. The four match suspension seems reasonable enough. The full text of the judgment can be found on the ICC website.
Madugalle dismissed the charge, saying:
Given that the physical state of the ball did not justify a conclusion that a fielder had altered its condition, and neither of the umpires had seen a fielder tampering with the ball, there was no breach of Law 42.3.
Curiously, despite any evidence of untoward markings on the ball, and despite expert evidence from Geoffrey Boycott, Simon Hughes and John Hampshire, all five match officials from the game (field umpires Darrel Hair and Billy Doctrove, third umpire Peter Hartley, fourth umpire Trevor Jesty and match referee Mike Procter) all told Madugalle that "that the marks which are visible on the ball meant that it had been interfered with by a fielder." They seem to be the only five people in the entire universe who were maintaining that claim.
Darrel Hair has copped much criticism from his detractors (many of whom, I believed, were reacting under prejudice) over his part in the ball-tampering charge, while others have pointed out that the two umpires, in this case, Hair and Doctrove, act as a team. Madugalle's report, however, leaves little doubt as to the driving force in this episode:
At the end of the 56th over, at about 14.32, Mr Hair again inspected the ball and considered that its condition had been altered unfairly. He reported this to his fellow-Umpire, Mr Doctrove. Mr Hair considered that it was necessary in accordance with the Laws of the game that the ball be changed. Mr Doctrove agreed, but he told us in evidence that his initial preference was to play on with the ball because he wanted to try to identify the person responsible. Mr Jesty was then asked to bring a box of replacement balls onto the field of play. Mr Hair signalled to the scorers that five penalty runs should be added to the England score under Law 42.3(d)(iii).
If only Billy had had his way. That be said, it was made clear in Madugalle's report that Inzamam's defence team was making no suggestion that Hair had acted either in bad faith or dishonestly.
As for Inzi's dressing-room dummy spit, he copped it with both barrels in Madugalle's judgment. But Madugalle doesn't end there, offering his opinion on the circumstances leading to the forfeiture of the Test, even though he had no brief to do so - at least not in this context. Nonetheless, it makes interesting reading, and I can't say that I disagree with any of it:
Finally, I should comment on one final matter. The witnesses agreed in evidence that player-management and effective communication is an important aspect of umpiring at international level. In my judgment, a difficult and sensitive situation such as that which arose in the present case (a finding of ball-tampering causing a substantial sense of grievance in, and protests from, the Pakistan team) requires handling with tactful diplomacy (as well as firm adherence to the Laws). This was an unprecedented situation. If (one hopes not) such a situation were to recur in international cricket, I would hope and expect:
(1) The Umpires would do everything possible to try to defuse tensions in the dressing-room by explaining that a team is entitled to raise any grievance through the ICC but that it is not in their interests, or in the interests of the game, for the team to interrupt play.
(2) The Umpires and other officials should do everything possible to ensure the resumption of play. And they should not return to the field of play and then declare the match to be forfeited unless and until they are absolutely sure that the team is refusing to play the rest of the match. All other options should first be exhausted, involving discussions with the team captains and management.
Among everything else that happened on August 20, 2006 at The Oval, there really is no justification for the umpires abandoning the match when they did. But it's also fair to expect that such a decision should be taken in a full international match by the referee. Something that the ICC should consider (but probably won't).
The responsibility to spectators and fans, to administrators, to broadcasters and to sponsors to make sure that international cricket matches are properly played out is of paramount importance. Any decision by the umpires to call a forfeit should be affirmed by a higher authority before it is carried out.