He’s back

Whether or not Hair stands in games involving Pakistan, it is safe to say that whatever happens between now and the Australian’s retirement he will be watched closely, writes Lawrence Booth.

Darrell Hair’s reintroduction to international umpiring’s top table brings to an end a fraught 20-month period in which he has hardly been seen in the middle but has rarely been out of the headlines. His decision, taken with his junior colleague Billy Doctrove of Dominica, to accuse Pakistan of ball-tampering at The Oval in August 2006 was the catalyst for a string of extraordinary exchanges which reflected poorly on the way the world game is run while adding t o the prickly reputation of a man who has aggravated the International Cricket Council at every turn.

First, in an e-mail exchange leaked to the world by the ICC chief executive, Malcolm Speed, Hair offered to resign from the elite umpiring panel in return for a severance package worth $500,000 (£248,500). Just over two months later he was told he would not be used for the remainder of his contract, but in February last year he said he would sue both the ICC and the Pakistan Cricket Board, alleging racial discrimination. Although the case against the PCB was dropped, he took the governing body to a London tribunal in October before dropping the charges after an at times bizarre seven-day hearing.

Since then, as per his post-hearing agreement with the ICC, he has embarked on a rehabilitation programme involving minor one-day internationals as far afield as Mombasa, Toronto and Belfast, and mentored umpires at the Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia. There is little doubt that if the ICC board had ruled against offering him a route back to the Test arena more legal action would have followed, with its attendant bad publicity.

In an e-mail detailing other decisions taken at the board meeting in Dubai, confirmation of Hair’s reinstatement — although technically he was never removed from the elite panel — was hidden down the pecking order and expressed in sober terms: “The ICC board resolved that Darrell Hair would remain on the Emirates elite panel of ICC umpires and would be appointed to umpire matches involving full-member teams. This position will be reviewed at the end of March 2009.”

He might be only 55 but there seems little likelihood of Hair having his contract extended, despite the assessment of him by David Morgan, the former chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board and now president-elect of the ICC, as “a good, competent umpire.”

If Hair does step down next year he may be tempted to cash in by writing a book about an affair which briefly threatened to expose old fault-lines in the cricketing world. So it came as no surprise that Inzamam-ul-Haq, the former Pakistan captain who clashed with him at The Oval and was banned for four one-day internationals for failing to bring his side out after tea on the fourth day, should fan old flames.

“The Pakistan Cricket Board needs to learn a lesson from the Indian board,” he said. “See how they backed their players in Australia recently on contentious issues. Our board should never have backed down on this issue.”

Umpires less sure of themselves might have given up the fight a long time ago but, typically, Hair has stood his ground. Hair’s lawyer, Paul Gilbert, said: “It’s excellent news. In a lot of ways it vindicates the agreement entered into after the tribunal procedure.

“But the quality of that decision was dependent on the decision made. We all look forward to the moment when Darrell walks back on to the field.” The game’s administrators may have mixed feelings. Only last year the ICC’s former president, the late Percy Sonn, said the governing body had “lost confidence” in Hair, even though he was rated as the second-best umpire in the world at the time. Yet there is a widespread feeling that umpiring standards have been slipping.

Since Hair’s demotion the game’s top officials have presided over a farcical conclusion to the World Cup final in Barbados last April, when the five-man team wrongly insisted the Australian team re-emerge in the dark to bowl three more overs to Sri Lanka. The infamous five — umpires Aleem Dar, Steve Bucknor, Rudi Koertzen, Billy Bowden and Match Referee Jeff Crowe — were subsequently stood down from the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa, and more trouble ensued when Bucknor was removed from the third Test between Australia and India in Perth in January after some high-profile blunders in the fractious Sydney Test.

Whether or not Hair stands in games involving Pakistan, it is safe to say that whatever happens between now and the Australian’s retirement he will be watched closely.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008