Neutrality crisis

It is only 20 years since neutral umpires became a red hot subject — raised by Imran Khan, captain of Pakistan, by a coincidence — and now it is clear that neutrality does not begin with the colour of skin or a regional accent but on how the man thinks, writes Ted Corbett.

August 21 — Let us not cast any stones but just remark on the wisdom of the saying that `truth is the first victim of war' and that war breaks out at the Oval yesterday. I have my own timeline for the events that lead up to the day's play being cancelled and so I know that some of the explanations that come out of the two dressing rooms are utter and complete rubbish. There are too many officials around the ground with training in the subtle art of spin. When, just to give one instance, David Graveney, chairman of the selectors, tries to defend Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, who is accused to going into the match referee's room — with the inference that he wants to tip him off about the amount of ball tampering — all Graveney does is to say that saying and writing this simple truth is a disgrace.

August 22 — Then there is the explanation for the absence of Ranjan Madugalle, the chief match referee, due to act as adjudicator in the hearing against Inzamam-ul-Haq. If you leave it that he has a family problem that has some truth; but it does not stop him from going on his various duties for ICC around the globe. Let us take a generous attitude and suppose that it is entirely necessary for him to be at home at this difficult time. Why is no other match referee available? They all have affiliations to one of the interested parties or another; that is the ICC explanation. But because Billy Doctrove is from the Caribbean, is it impossible for Clive Lloyd, whose roots are in Guyana and who lives in the north of England, to dispense justice? If it is then we must ask how Darrell Hair, a long time resident of Australia, now living in England can be expected to be a "neutral" umpire. Is he Australian or is he English? In the days when Kevin Pietersen, born in South Africa and resident there until he is 19, can play for England after four years qualification, the distinctions are blurred. It is only 20 years since neutral umpires became a red hot subject — raised by Imran Khan, captain of Pakistan, by a coincidence — and now it is clear that neutrality does not begin with the colour of skin or a regional accent but on how the man thinks.

August 23 — It is widely written that one of the causes of the failure to get Inzamam-ul-Haq and his men back on the pitch is the language barrier. So whose fault is that? In England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, English is a common language, although some Afrikaners are far from happy with the subtler forms of my language. English is also the third commonest language in India and widely spoken in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. But is it too much to ask that an umpire — said to earn �100,000 a year — take a course in Urdu or Hindi? Or that on every ground where a foreign team plays there ought to be a fluent speaker of both languages to help out when the going gets tough. MCC once have Urdu speakers to sit in the crowd at Lord's and urge supporters to remember they are proud Pakistanis and that they ought not to invade the pitch. It is worth putting these interpreters to a wider use.

August 24 — Before all the nonsense breaks out, the Surrey club unveil a plaque to Fred Trueman who holds a special place in the county's history. It is at the Oval in 1964 that Trueman captures his 300th Test wicket. They also open a Pakistan room to mark the historic first victory by Fazal Mahmood and company in the Test at the Oval 10 years earlier. Trueman does not play in any of the four Tests in 1954 and is not chosen for the trip to Australia the following winter; it is still not clear whether the selectors think his temperament will be a liability or whether he is too tired after taking 134 wickets at 15.15 that summer.

August 25 — This week makes one part of society very happy. I am talking about the minority group known as the tabloid sub-editors. They love the fact that the main man in the controversy has the pun-on-demand name of Hair. So it is "Hair today and gone tomorrow" and "Hair we go again" and "Hair I am" as the caption to a picture which claims the man is rarely seen in public. That does not seem to take account of the fact that I interview him in the breakfast room of my own hotel less than 24 hours after he calls off the fourth Test. There is also an advertisement which appears on the main sports pages of several newspapers in which Shane Warne talks about the benefits of a method which gives him a full set of curly locks once again. So, close to all the stories about Hair and the ball tampering row there is in large letters: "Advance Hair, Yeah, Yeah!"

August 26 — Crisis! What crisis? Colin Evans, head of Lancashire's public relations team, arrives in London for the Cricket Writers' Club dinner only to find that he forgets to pack his best suit. What is the solution? Colin walks down the nearest street and finds a charity shop. In the window is one dark blue suit just like the one in his wardrobe back home. Within a few minutes he not only buys the suit — for a miserable �25 — but has it on his back and goes off to the dinner where one of his friends remarks: "Once he looks as if he buys his clothes in a charity shop and now he looks as if he buys his stuff in Savile Row." The star of the dinner is young Stuart Broad who accepts the Young Cricketer of the Year award from David Gower and says quite simply that he is hoping to enjoy his cricket wherever he plays this winter. Many want him to be in Australia with the full England squad. His dad Chris Broad grins. "We talk about cricket a lot," says the left-handed, sometimes controversial, opening batsman turned match referee who recently spends a week of his life watching the rain fall in Sri Lanka.

August 27 — Crisis! What crisis? I spend as much time this week obtaining my cash rewards from the foolish idea that England can win the fourth Test as I do in reporting the aftermath. I place the bet only an hour before the game changes from a peaceful struggle for victory into a war where anything goes — at 33-1. I promise these unexpected riches will not change my life; or to put it another way, I'll be back Hair next week.