After the ICC World Twenty20 came to an exciting climax in South Africa last week, there was the possibility of a lull in the cricket calendar, if only for a few days. But no. An interesting fixture in a longer format starts on Monday: not a five-day Test, but a 12-day contest between the Australian umpire Darrell Hair and the International Cricket Council.
The venue is the Central London Employment Tribunal at Kingsway in Holborn, a bracing walk away from the Oval where Hair became something of a celebrity last August.
The Test between England and Pakistan was awarded to the former after the latter refused to play, following the decision by Hair and his fellow umpire, the West Indian Billy Doctrove, that Pakistan had tampered with the ball: the first such incident since the beginning of Test cricket in 1877.
Not perhaps since Georgian aristocrats played matches for wagers of several thousand guineas has such a large sum been officially at stake at a cricket contest in London; certainly the sum of $490,000 (£250,000) awarded to India as the world Twenty20 winners pales by comparison.
Hair is suing the ICC for racial discrimination and racial harassment and seeking compensation for loss of earnings and injury to feelings that could be in excess of $1 million, while the barristers brought in by the two sides for the tribunal hearing, due to last until October 12, are not exactly bottom-of-the-range or bargain-basement.
Hair's side is being captained by Robert Griffiths QC, who not merely belongs to MCC but is a member of their committee.
In addition to Gray’s Inn, he happens to have chambers in Sydney, where Hair has returned to live after three years in Lincolnshire. But the reason Hair has employed Griffiths is that last December he co-authored an article in the New Law Journal which was brought to Hair’s attention.
Normally cricket is a world away from the legal minutiae of ab initio or de novo findings: there is nothing like a fast off-cutter in the box to stop somebody spouting legalese.
But some of cricket’s laws, still being written and updated by MCC, have become so convoluted that only a lawyer could comprehend them.
And, having examined the evidence of the Oval Test, and notwithstanding the aforesaid, Griffiths argued in this article that the umpire’s word was law and should remain so.
A month after the Oval Test, the ICC’s senior match referee, Ranjan Madugalle of Sri Lanka, conducted a hearing and found no evidence of ball-tampering.
Pakistan captain, Inzamam-ul Haq, was however found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute by refusing to play on the fourth afternoon when the umpires decreed, and was banned for four one-day Internationals.
Hair’s case is that racism then kicked in: that he and Doctrove jointly took the decision to change the ball and impose a five-run penalty against Pakistan, but his career has been ruined and Doctrove’s has not.
For, subsequently, Hair has not stood in a match involving a Test-playing country, only minnows like Kenya.
The ICC are being led by Michael Beloff QC. Among many other things Beloff is chair of the ICC’s code of conduct commission and has nailed the odd ne’er-do-well to the wall. Griffiths of MCC vs Beloff of ICC: a legal battle between two Oxford-trained, cricket-loving barristers which John Mortimer could have conceived.