Sorry state of affairs

Modern man has too many alternatives to be MESSED about as the crowd was at the Oval on the fourth day of the fourth Test between England and Pakistan, writes TED CORBETT.

If you have �62 in your pocket in England you can buy a night in a decent hotel, or take your girl friend for a slap up meal, or hire a car for at least two days, or buy at least eight paperbacks.

Or spend a day at a Test.

That is why cricket must understand that it cannot afford the luxury of an umpire who believes that his own personal crusade is more important than the game. The game does not need a captain who puts honour above cricket.

It lives in the 21st century commercial world of entertainment, where the only law is that the show must go on.

If the show comes to a sudden halt too often those spectators in the Mound Stand, or the pavilions, or sitting in not too much comfort in the bleachers, will find another way of relaxing.

Modern man has too many alternatives to be messed about as the crowd was at the Oval on the fourth day of the fourth Test between England and Pakistan.

The story is too well known now to need much retelling. At 2.30 that afternoon, with England fighting hard to avoid defeat — or if you were of a romantic turn of mind trying to make 500 to have a chance of victory — the umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove changed the ball.

They penalised Pakistan five runs and set off a train of events that are still hurtling along. Heaven alone knows where this express will finish its journey.

We will be lucky if the game that emerges is recognisable as the one that was being played that afternoon at the Oval.

It has set huge problems for England, who staged the Test, for Pakistan who were accused of cheating and for ICC who have some catching up to do if they are to retain any semblance of respect.

For the next few hours the game ran out of control. The lack of communication, between the umpires and Pakistan in particular, was blatant; you could identify it from the Press box on the opposite side of the ground.

You could hear the silence as the ground announcer — who is normally so keen to tell the spectators they cannot run on to the pitch ("a reasonable request" he always adds although once upon a time it was a common, enjoyable sight as the crowd used the lunch and tea intervals to inspect the pitch, play a little soft ball cricket and have a chat to those nearby) — gave 18,000 people no clue about the chances of play.

If only for the sake of politeness they should have been told what they might expect. My partner once forgot to turn on the oven as we prepared Christmas dinner. Did we stay quiet or did we go round to all our guests and tell them they should prepare for a wait until the turkey was cooked? I think you know the answer.

Afterwards Surrey said they could not announce anything because there were business and legal and financial considerations. Rubbish. How about: "Sorry, there is no cricket. A problem has arisen which we are trying to solve. We will keep you informed."

But then it is no surprise. You don't get much for your �62. Just a seat and a warning that you will be prosecuted if you run on the ground. It does not sound very reasonable to me.

Cricket still does not understand that it is selling a product and that the product had better be good or else the fans will find somewhere else to spend their cash.

Perhaps the administrators have forgotten the bad old days. They were not long ago.

Once people laughed out loud whenever the England team was mentioned. Now, even the daft blonde girl over there has heard of Freddie Flintoff and his cute wife and his cute kids. The lads wear replica kit, their parents buy the videos and DVDs and books for birthday presents, maiden aunts follow the game on the telly.

Everyone has heard of Kevin Pietersen and his pop singer girlfriend and compared with, for instance, the England football team everyone knows that the cricketers win a lot of matches.

The grounds are full — 12,000 tickets were sold for the fifth day and a couple of years ago tickets for the final day had to be discounted in order to get anyone to watch at all — the tills ring merrily, all the suits have big cars and personalised number plates, all the players can afford a millionaire lifestyle.

It's boom time but I am here to tell you it will not last forever.

In the last few years cricket has grown fat while the players have grown old prematurely because they play too often to keep up with the needs of the TV companies who know sport is cheap and popular.

It has become an entertainment whether the purists like that or not and it must behave like part of the entertainment industry.

It must learn to communicate and it must learn that it is not enough to pull in a crowd and offer them a game.

Now is the time for all those public relations blazers to earn their keep, for the ground announcer to say something other than keep off the grass and for the whole game to understand modern living.

The fourth Test was hardly worth watching until that fourth day and so we must be grateful for the diversion. Inzamam-ul-Haq won the toss and told England to bat and, under cloud cover that made the ball hop around, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul bowled them out for 173. Only Alastair Cook reached 40; it was a first innings with defeat writ large across the scoreboard.

Pakistan's latest opening partnership of Mohammad Hafeez — what a good batsman he is for a late substitute — and Imran Farhat got within sight of a century each; naturally Mohammad Yousuf made another hundred so that Pakistan totalled 504, leaving England to make 332 to get their noses in front.

Cook led the way with 83 — he is the best struggler since John Edrich turned miss-one, hit-one an art form — and Pietersen seemed to be ready to make that huge score we have all come to expect but got out to an appalling stroke for 96. You should have heard the agony in Geoff Boycott's voice.

So, as Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell tried to get England into a lead and give Monty Panesar the chance to bowl Pakistan out on a fifth day wicket, the umpires decided some naughty fielder had tampered with the ball.

Why did they not issue a warning? Any English county umpire would have said: "Hey, cut it out or I'll report you." Oddly enough, it was the five penalty runs that brought the incident to a head.

More than the public condemnation, the clash between two proud men, or the difficulties of language and culture.

Now someone has the difficult task of unravelling this twisted skein, turning this argument into peace and understanding, stopping the spark becoming a roaring inferno.

It is an unenviable task. THE SCORES

Fourth Test, England v Pakistan, Kennington Oval, August 17-20, 2006. England awarded the match after Pakistan refused to play.

England — 1st innings: M. Trescothick c Hafeez b Gul 6; A. Strauss c Akmal b Asif 38; A. Cook lbw b Nazir 40; K. Pietersen c Akmal b Asif 0; P. Collingwood lbw b Asif 5; I. Bell c Iqbal b Kaneria 9; C. Read b Gul 33; S. Mahmood b Gul 15; M. Hoggard c Akmal b Asif 3; S. Harmison (not out) 8; M. Panesar b Gul 0; Extras (b-4, lb-5, nb-7) 16. Total 173.

Fall of wkts: 1-36, 2-54, 3-54, 4-64, 5-91, 6-112, 7-158, 8-163, 9-173.

Pakistan bowling: Asif 19-6-56-4; Gul 15.2-3-46-4; Nazir 11-1-44-1; Kaneria 8-1-18-1.

Pakistan — 1st innings: M. Hafeez c Strauss b Hoggard 95; I. Farhat c Trescothick b Hoggard 91; Y. Khan c Read b Mahmood 9; M. Yousuf c Read b Hoggard 128; Inzamam-ul-Haq c Strauss b Harmison 31; F. Iqbal (not out) 58; K. Akmal c Collingwood b Harmison 15; S. Nazir c Hoggard b Mahmood 17; U. Gul lbw b Panesar 13; D. Kaneria c Trescothick b Harmison 15; M. Asif c Cook b Harmison 0; Extras (b-4, lb-9, w-11, nb-8) 32. Total 504.

Fall of wkts: 0-35* (M. Hafeez retd.), 1-70, 2-148, 3-325, 4-379, 5-381, 6-398, 7-444, 8-475, 9-504.

England bowling: Hoggard 34-2-124-3; Harmison 30.5-6-125-4; Mahmood 27-3-101-2; Panesar 30-6-103-1; Collingwood 6-0-29-0; Pietersen 2-0-9-0.

England — 2nd innings: M. Trescothick c Akmal b Asif 4; A. Strauss lbw b Kaneria 54; A. Cook lbw b Gul 83; K. Pietersen c Akmal b Nazir 96; P. Collingwood (not out) 26; I. Bell (not out) 9; Extras (b-8, lb-3, nb-10, pen-5) 26. Total (for four wkts.) 298.

Fall of wkts: 1-8, 2-115, 3-218, 4-277.

Pakistan bowling: Asif 17-1-79-1; Gul 14-1-70-1; Hafeez 4-1-13-0; Kaneria 29-6-94-1; Nazir 8-1-26-1.