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Inzy on trial, General steps in

London, Aug. 21: As Inzamam-ul-Haq was charged today by the International Cricket Council with “changing the condition of the ball” - that is, cheating - and “bringing the game into disrepute”, it was disclosed that President Pervez Musharraf has telephoned the Pakistani captain to give him his full support.

Following the abandonment of the fourth and final Test at the Oval last night and the forfeiture of the match to England, the ICC, on the other hand, has decided to give its full backing to Australian umpire Darrell Hair in his showdown with Pakistan.

Now that Musharraf has stepped in, the row has now escalated beyond a dispute over whether the ball was deliberately gouged yesterday afternoon by Pakistan players, serious though this allegation was.

Should the ICC persist with banning Inzamam from the Twenty20 international at Bristol on Monday and the five-match one-day series, it is difficult to see how the rest of the Pakistan tour of England can be rescued.

Although not connected, cricket's biggest crisis coincided with a day when a number of young British youths of Pakistani origin were formally charged in connection with the plot to blow up trans-Atlantic aircraft.

It is against this background that the developing cricket row has to be seen.

Speaking before the charge was laid, Inzamam said the protest was a matter of honour. “This game is about more than winning and losing. It's about respect and countries come first. If someone says to me, ‘You are a cheat and Pakistan is doing wrong things’, my first priority is to my country.”

In an interview on Pakistani television, Inzamam confirmed he had spoken to Musharraf on the telephone and that the president had offered his full support for the actions the team had taken at the match.

The 23,000 spectators who were bemused by yesterday’s cricket -- or lack of it -- will received 40 per cent of their match fees back. The 12,000 who had bought tickets for what might have proved a thrilling finish today will have all their money refunded.

The Pakistan players came to the Oval today to collect their kit -- an indication that they had hoped some miracle solution would emerge during the night.

It is understood that following the failure last night to persuade Hair to reverse his decision -- he dramatically took off the bails to signal the game had ended when Pakistan did not take the field after tea -- the ICC has giving him its full backing.

However, if there is a rift in world cricket along racial lines, India will have to decide whether to side with Pakistan. The Sri Lankans, who once walked off when Hair was umpiring, have no love for the Australian, who is rapidly emerging as the villain of the piece.

Shahryar Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, declared today: “We are going to make it clear to the International Cricket Council that we are not going to play under the supervision of Hair in any future matches.”

The ICC’s Code of Conduct hearing will take place on Friday in London before its chief match referee Ranjan Madugalle of Sri Lanka, who is on his way to the UK. He officiated in the first three Tests.

If Inzamam, as captain, is found guilty of ball tampering, he faces a fine of between 50 and 100 per cent of his match fee and/or a one Test or two ODI ban.

Throughout the summer, “good old Inzy” has been portrayed by British commentators as a “thoroughly good egg”.

If he is found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute, he faces a ban of between two and four Test matches or four to eight ODI matches. It does not seem likely that Pakistan will submit meekly to playing one dayers in the captain’s absence.

What no one has so far presented is hard evidence that the Pakistani bowlers deliberately roughed up the ball in order to encourage reverse swing.

Although the accusations are being made jointly by both umpires, no one thinks the lead has been taken by the West Indian Billy Doctrove. The assumption is that this is a conflict between Hair and the Pakistan team.

The Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer said: “We are very sorry to the British public there is no cricket today. The team feel the whole incident could have been handled better from the word go. Of course, everyone regrets what has happened but we can’t bring it back. The team felt we had to make a stand and there was no doubt that the team was right to make that stand. We felt we did not cheat and the judge and jury had made a decision before we had the chance to make our case.”

This is the first time in 129 years and 1,814 matches that a Test had been conceded by forfeit.

Today was a day when cricketers, past and present, gave vent to their feelings.

The former Pakistani captain, Imran Khan, said that ball tampering only became an issue 14 years when the Pakistani bowlers started using reverse swing to devastating effect.

“I do not agree with the way Inzamam protested,” said Imran on Sky Television. “He should have protested when the ball was being changed, and then again at the end of the game.”

He went on: “I suspect Inzamam was shell-shocked. But under no circumstances would I not come out after tea - Pakistan were winning the Test. I certainly think Darrell Hair is at fault. The main culprit is Hair. This is no way to pass a decision - it's too sensitive an issue for Pakistan, because of the history of ball-tampering accusations.”

Former England captain Nasser Hussain was also critical of Hair: “Did Darrell Hair actually see a member of the Pakistan team tampering with a cricket ball' Has he got proof' If he hasn’t, then he has made a massive mistake.”

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