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December 6, 1999


Hairsplitting about Hair

Harsha Bhogle

While the Indians won one battle, it was just as significant that they showed that they were willing to fight another. Beating New South Wales was a huge shot in the arm for a team that has been fairly unanimously written off. But they did it with a fairly abundant display of aggression on the field and in the media room.

Darrell Hair When a touring side takes up the fight against an umpire, it rarely receives support. And rightly so because it is often seen to be, and often is, a facade for some poor cricket. But Kapil Devís media outburst against Darrell Hair, and the official communication that is bound to follow, will receive some sympathy in cricketing circles; certainly all over Asia and South Africa where Hair, over the years, has rarely earned points for popularity.

It is a peculiar situation because Hair is widely perceived to be a good umpire in Australia and, for the first time last year, lost out on the best umpire nomination to Darryl Harper. Overseas, certainly in the countries I mentioned, he is viewed with deep suspicion. Even paranoia.

I donít think it has as much to do with his decision-making as with his headmasterly attitude. On Saturday, he strode across to Ajit Agarkar fielding at mid-off after a very confident lbw shout had been turned down. Agarkar had reacted to the situation and normal practice is for the umpire to have a quiet word with the captain and, if it doesnít work, display his authority. The best umpires in the world do that and are respected for it. And so, you rarely have scenes of open dissent when Steve Bucknor or Venkataraghavan are standing.

Instead Hair chose to go across to mid-off and it was the manner in which he was striding that was provocative, even to people beyond the boundary line. It is like a surgeon telling his patient on the operating table, 'shut up or else' with a flourish of the scalpel.

Then, after the television replay had proved his colleague wrong with a bat-pad catch, and Channel 7 showed the replays on the wide screen at the SCG (or did until the start of the fourth day of this match!), the Indians expressed their disappointment. Sure as ever Hair, from square leg, walked across to Ganguly and said: "You are not supposed to watch replays and make gestures. The Pakistanis did it and now if you do it you will get into trouble."

Ganguly was clearly upset but he is a polite man at most times and while he tried to explain the situation, Hair repeated himself: "You will get into trouble," he said.

Another way to have done it would have been to stroll across to Ganguly, who wasnít too far away, and say quietly, "Just be careful how you react to the replays." Ganguly is an experienced cricketer and he would have understood. More important, he would have appreciated the fact that someone was trying to defuse a situation.

An umpireís job is as much to demonstrate authority as to invoke diplomacy. It doesnít help to carry a pistol to a treaty.

Things didnít end there. The last day saw some visible differences of opinion as well and Hair was being the gunfighter in blazing saddles rather than the elderly diplomat.

Indian team with the Australian Prime Minister Sadly for him, Hair went into this match with a deep mistrust in the minds of one of the two teams. And you cannot escape getting the feeling that he likes getting under the skins of international players. In South Africa they composed a poem on him suggesting that he put his finger elsewhere if he ever got there. He was at the centre of the Muralitharan throwing affair, the Indians felt crucial decisions went against them in the two Test matches he stood in during the series in England in 1996, and purely coincidentally of course, he was one of the umpires when Shoaib Akhtarís action was suspected to be faulty.

I am convinced he should be stood down in this series, not because he is a poor umpire - because that is the prerogative of the Australian Cricket Board, but because he has such a visibly antagonistic attitude towards visiting sides. A lot of Australians are embarrassed by his approach, indeed by the aggression that a lot of Australian umpires have shown.

Early in 1996, the ACB had to apologise to the Sri Lankans for the charges of ball tampering that the umpires brought against them. They were caught on the wrong foot over the Muralitharan episode and very early in Pakistanís tour were embarrassed by the fact that two umpires chose to compile a tape of Shoaib Akhtarís bowling action.

Jeff Thomson said that repeated chucking allegations against visiting players were giving Australia a bad name. "Itís getting embarrassing because it seems to happen here all the time," he said. And his former fast bowling colleague, Len Pascoe said this was "extremely damaging to Australiaís relationship with cricketing nations on the subcontinent".

In each case there has been an Asian team involved and while it might be politically incorrect to draw inferences from that, I believe that an umpire who arouses deep feelings of suspicion in the minds of one of two teams, and who chooses to visibly demonstrate rather than quietly implement his authority, should not be asked to stand in a Test match.

The ICC has to recognise that. Sometimes, compromise rather than confrontation, is more prudent .

Mail Sports Editor