Monday, August 21, 2006

Ball Tampering?

As a cricketer and responsible blogger, I am obliged to comment on the ball tampering allegations against Pakistan during the Oval Test match.

I was fortunate enough to have tickets for the match on Saturday and enjoyed a good day out in south London. There were some rain delays, but the crowd were treated to a bit of an English fightback with Pakistani wickets falling at regular intervals and some fine batting by Cook and Strauss at the end of the day. All this is now, of course, mostly irrelevant.

My well-documented view that cricket can be a force for good and help to improve our understanding of different cultures is now completely justified in the worst possible circumstances. On Saturday, the crowd was entertained and appreciative of the efforts of both teams. There was no hint of what was to come. The only trouble was outside the ground; and it may have a surprising bearing on the outcome of the cricket problems, so I will explain what happened.

I was an early arrival at the Oval (despite the fact that the vaunted One train was delayed for 20 minutes out of Norwich), so I wandered down to the newsagents just outside the Oval tube station. I bought my paper – more about this later! As I was paying, I became aware of an altercation near the exit from the tube station. One of the tickets touts was in the process of being arrested. And, he was not happy. I had seen these “laddos” when I left the tube station for the ground. Touts are almost part of the game. At the Oval, of course, they are all apprentice “Del Boys” or, perhaps Peckham Pouncers. I paid little attention to them as I exited the station, but now I had to - for there was an almighty row erupting right in front of me. The Toutster was being arrested and he was not happy. Lots of shouting and screaming let everyone know that he was not going quietly. Two officers struggled to get the cuffs on him but eventually succeeded. He was not a happy bunny. Still, it must be an occupational hazard if your chosen career is touting. Hundreds of people were standing around watching.

Things were all fairly uniform and predictable when yer man decided to call one of the arresting officers a Paki b******. The officer wasn't amused and pushed tout-ie into the wall, fairly forcefully. Now a simple arrest for ticket touting became a racial incident. No doubt it will appear on some statistical analysis of racial incidents in London in 2006. Fortunately, the crowd, despite the touts protestations of police brutality, were firmly behind the police and ignored his pleas for the mob to come to his aid. By this time I was just about even with the exit from the Underground and saw one of the London Underground employees watching what was going on. I asked him how this all happened and he explained that the touts were gathered outside the station and were hampering the crowd exiting the station. He told them to move on; but they wouldn't, so he called the police. All fairly normal stuff, no doubt, for London. What particularly struck me was the crowd's reaction. They were very supportive of the police and not very impressed with the local wide boys. Walking back to the Oval I passed the rest of the touts sitting on a wall 20 metres from the tube station and looking quite sheepish. Made me laugh, I can tell you.

Now, dear reader, I hear you ask, what has this got to do with allegations of ball tampering by the Pakistani cricket team? You asked, so I'll tell you.

There is a very unpleasant undercurrent of racism in the reaction of some of the commentators and officials of the Pakistan team. Some seem to be accusing umpire Hair of being prejudiced against the Pakistanis or Asians in general. These are more serious charges than tampering with cricket balls.

The facts: both umpires at the match agreed that the ball had been tampered with. Otherwise, no action could have taken place. Nothing could be done on the instigation of umpire Hair without the support of his colleague, Billy Doctrobe. Fact number one. Both umpires concluded that the ball had been tampered with – under the laws of the game they do not have to identify the culprit or culprits – nor do they have to have video evidence as some commentators are calling for. Fact number two. After they have applied the law regarding to ball tampering – everything followed a sorrily predicable course. The Pakistan team were upset – did not come out to play and forfeited the match. These are the facts.

What has concerned many commentators, including some ex-Test players, is the (seemingly) lack of sensitivity of the umpires in applying the laws. Here the critics are probably right. Unfortunately, the umpires are not obliged to be sensitive. They are obliged to apply the laws of the game. This they did. They are, apparently, receiving the support of the cricket authorities. Most likely we have not heard the last of this. If the authorities support the umpires and suspend or fine the Pakistan captain, we may have a real crisis on our hands.

Cricket is the loser.

After sitting on my paper all day at the Oval, left it outside Macdonalds at Liverpool Street. Not a great day in the end.

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