| Umpire Darrell Hair takes off the bails at the Oval on Sunday. (AFP)
London, Aug. 20: Britain’s troubled relations with Pakistan were plunged into crisis today after the fourth and final Test at the Oval ended after controversial umpire Darrell Hair ruled Inzamam-ul-Haq’s men had been guilty of “ball tampering” and awarded England five penalty runs.
The reaction of the angry Pakistani crowd was — “first you accuse us of terrorism, now you accuse us of cheating”.
Although talks were continuing late into the night to rescue the game, it is unclear whether the Test will be resumed tomorrow. And even if it, will extra time be allowed to compensate for loss of play today'
Pakistan is very sensitive to accusations of “ball tampering” which were first made more than a decade ago when Imran Khan was captain. Since then, however, England bowlers, like their Pakistani counterparts, have learnt the technique of “reverse swing” which is apparently easier when the ball is scuffed on one side and the stitching lifted out with finger nails.
Today, however, although there are many cameras trained on the players, there is no footage, it is understood, which actually catches Pakistani players in the guilty act of scratching the ball.
Play has “ended” with England at 298 for four, 33 runs behind Pakistan. The game could have gone either way, commentators said.
Until today, the England-Pakistan Test series, which England is leading 2-0 and cannot lose whatever the outcome at the Oval, was being played in a spirit of commendable sportsmanship. Only yesterday, the Pakistan Room at the Oval was officially opened.
The row began when Hair and fellow umpire Billy Doctrove stopped play to look at the condition of the ball after 56 overs with England on 230-3. It had begun to reverse-swing and they declared it had been altered artificially.
They penalised Pakistan five runs and allowed England batsmen Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood to select another ball. Inzamam-ul-Haq was clearly upset and annoyed at the decision but play continued without further incident until tea.
After tea, however, Pakistan refused to come out and the umpires removed the bails after walking onto the pitch for a second time.
But after Pakistan made a U-turn and came out on to the field after a 30-minute delay, it was the umpires and the England players who stayed in the pavilion. Since the umpires had removed the bails before going in, they had apparently signalled that the game had ended with Pakistan forfeiting the match.
But given the present tense relations between Britain and Pakistan, it will not be a surprise if the two governments now intervene, along with the International Cricket Council, the game’s ruling body, to try and rescue the situation.
The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman, Shahryar Khan, explained the delay: “We simply said we would stay indoors for a few minutes, then go out and play. We want to play but the umpires do not.”
He confirmed that the Pakistanis were angered by the accusations of cheating. “The umpires have concluded the ball was deliberately scuffed and we are absolutely 100 per cent sure that is not the case. What we feel very resentful about is that the captain was not informed something was going wrong with the ball and told to contain it.”
He added: “Umpires are within their rights to decide without consulting but there was no consultation with anyone and no evidence seems to have been given. One or two of the management staff have had a look and are convinced this is a ball which has been hit about for 56 overs, several sixes have been hit and the ball has landed on concrete.”
He also pointed out: “We think it's the kind of ball you’d expect to see and there is no evidence of deliberate scuffing. We hope the ball will be showed so people can make up (their) own minds about it.”
All the evidence suggests that it was Hair who was perhaps a little too eager to find Pakistan guilty.
The matter will now have to go higher than the match referee Mike Procter who said: “There were a number of issues raised by the on-field umpires that need to be resolved by the match referee and both teams. Meetings will be held after play to determine whether any further play will be scheduled for the rest of this match.”