The umpire who sought golden handshake

Darrell Hair made his outrageous "non-negotiable" demand for half a million dollars to retire quietly. Though he withdrew that demand two days later, the DAMAGE was done, writes TED CORBETT.

The cricket umpire is He Who Must Be Obeyed. Even W G — "They've come here to see me bat not you umpire" — Grace recognised that all cricketers must pay homage to the belief the man in the white coat is infallible.

So how does the ruling body act when the best umpire in the world shows himself to be an imperfect human being?

That was the dilemma that faced the best brains on the International Cricket Council when Darrell Hair made his outrageous "non-negotiable" demand for half a million dollars to retire quietly. He withdrew that demand two days later but the damage was done.

Now he will always be remembered as the umpire who sought the golden handshake.

It would have been an astonishing request at any time but at the height of the row surrounding Inzamam-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, who faces charges of ball tampering and bringing the game into disrepute by failing to lead out his side after tea on the fourth day, it was shocking.

Hair's email to ICC told us all we needed to know about his own inability to cope at that moment.

This very modern method of communication was part of the problem. It is so slick, so instant, often so mindless that it is written, transmitted and received in the time it took a 20th century letter writer to stick a stamp on the envelope.

For a man under as much stress as umpire Hair the day after he ended the fourth Test between England and Pakistan in peremptory fashion at the Oval it was a dangerous weapon.

Old ICC would have quietly pushed the email under the nearest dead letter box, closed their eyes and pretended nothing had happened.

Malcolm Speed, the Australian powerhouse who runs the world's governing body, decided he had to act differently; and quickly before the story leaked.

He consulted three separate, independently-instructed lawyers on his best course of action. They came up with the same verdict. He must make the correspondence with umpire Hair public. An accidental leak would be far more damaging.

Speed immediately called a meeting of the board — consisting of the chairmen of all the Test-playing nations — but gave them 10 days to consider their options.

He flew to London, talked to all the parties who had any interest in the case against Inzamam and scheduled a press conference to announce the biggest bombshell in recent cricket history. We went expecting to hear a new date for the Inzamam hearing and left shocked, bewildered and shaking our heads.

Is this bigger than Bodyline? Maybe not since Bodyline almost resulted in Australia leaving the British Empire but that dispute was conducted either by the men on the spot — famously by the tour manager Sir Pelham Warner and the Australian captain Bill Woodfull — or by cable.

Today, when the world wide web reduces the size of the globe daily, when we can read the inner thoughts of every man on the planet as soon as he posts them on his website, the tiniest fire is a raging inferno in minutes.

Bigger than Shakoor Rana's row with Mike Gatting, another umpire with the wrong idea of how his job should be conducted? Governments had to intervene to get that Test back on the field.

Bigger than the expulsion of South Africa during the apartheid era? Bigger than the bribery and corruption scandal which affected millions?

It is certainly as important as any of these major explosions and Speed knows he will have to act decisively if ICC is to rebuild trust in cricket and its image as a straight-shooting, honest, dependable game.

Only time will tell if his strategy is correct. His judgement is on the line just as much as Hair's. Get it wrong and he may find the public perception of cricket is of a game that thinks money, that has greed at its heart, that cares not a jot for the principles it has advocated down all the years.

Get it right and Speed will be hailed as if he had stopped the Titanic from sinking.

It all began on the fourth day when, without any previous indication that anything was wrong, the two umpires Hair and Billy Doctrove of the West Indies, called over Inzamam and told him they were changing the ball, that the two batsmen Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood would be allowed to pick the replacement and that England would be awarded five penalty runs.

At this point it is worth a look at Inzamam, who walks slowly, talks English at a basic level and, I suspect, does not think quickly.

He was also — to judge from everything he has said and done since — as surprised by this turn of events as everyone else at the Oval. He was clearly deeply offended by the suggestion his team were cheating.

I have no doubt that Arjuna Ranatunga would have led Sri Lanka off the field as he did when Muttiah Muralitharan was called for throwing. One former Test captain told me within minutes of the incident at the Oval "if that was my team they would not be on the field now."

But Ranatunga comes from a family of politically shrewd men and it is not fair to expect Inzamam, captain because he is adored by his men, cricket clever from years of experience and near the top of world batting rankings, to react immediately.

At tea a meeting of the Pakistan players decided on a protest. Misunderstanding and mistiming and mistranslation resulted in the England batsmen going to the crease, the Pakistan side staying in their dressing room and Hair awarding the Test to England, a first in cricket history.

If Inzamam thought too slowly, Hair thought too narrowly.

Hair's inflexible belief is to follow the Law. It ignores such facts as the capacity crowd, who came to be entertained, the needs of the sponsors who lost the chance to advertise their services at the awards ceremony, or the wish of the players to display their skills.

It was the act of a traffic warden who continues to write the ticket even though he can see you have stopped to help a dying man; the act of an officious policeman or an intemperate jailer.

He will argue that an umpire must see the laws are obeyed but that is a simplistic judgement.

To put it in the money terms — a measure he seems to understand — he is paid �100,000 a year and he ought to have a wider view of life than that within the confines of the Laws, rules and regulations.

That salary is, even in rich, Western nations, at a level paid to the few: more than a doctor, four times more than the standard wage in Britain, not much less than a Cabinet minister.

If he continues to draw that salary — and Speed says in his lawyerly way that he hopes a way can be found — he will have to change his view of the game.

Cricket deserves men of vision, men who can see and act outside the box, men who can consult and think laterally; men who consider other men.

Hair might well, if he wants to continue to umpire — although how he does that is difficult to see — model himself on Malcolm Speed, whose vision of generation next seems to set the way for cricket to go.