Tehelka — the People’s Paper

THE Darrell Hair-Inzamam-ul-Haq controversy is less about racism and more about differing cricketing cultures. An inside analysis of the incident

The crisis in international cricket which saw Australian umpire Darrell Hair first penalise Pakistan five runs for ball tampering in the Oval Test and then, when they failed to take the field after tea, give the match to England has raised the old question of racism.

The Pakistanis certainly believe that. Hair is a White Australian and Pakistanis are Brown and, to adapt a phrase used by Jawaharlal Nehru during India’s freedom struggle, it was again the old White versus Brown battle in cricket. And while an element of racism was perhaps there, as there always is when a White team plays a non-White one, the more evident faultline here is one of culture and language.

It is interesting to note that this is the opinion of a Pakistani who was until recently head of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and knows both international cricket and his own countrymen.

Ehsan Mani, who has just retired as president of the ICC, is a Pakistani who lives in London’s St. John’s Wood. Currently holidaying in the hills above Islamabad, he told me from there, “I do not see anything racial in what has happened and a split between the Asian countries and the White countries led by England and Australia is not going to happen. India, Australia and the West Indies are just about to play a tri-nation one-day series in Kuala Lumpur. But there is a very rich cultural diversity in the ICC family and people do not make enough allowance for that. I have been banging on about it during my three years as president. Just because you and I speak English does not mean we think like Englishmen. Inzamam doesn’t speak English very well and there could have been a communication gap between him and Darrell Hair which contributed to the events.”

Mani’s words were reassuring for those who felt that this crisis could lead to the break-up of world cricket into rival racial camps, but it emphasised that cricket administrators must take into account the fact that the countries that play international cricket are culturally very diverse, Their failure to do so might have contributed to a Test being forfeited for the first time ever in the 129-year history of Test cricket.

My inquiries with Pakistani sources in London back this up. I am told that when Hair changed the ball, having decided that Pakistan had tampered with it, Inzamam did not fully understand what Hair had done. Both men spoke in English. Inzamam’s natural language is Urdu and his understanding of English is limited.

Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan has made much of the fact that had this happened when he was leading Pakistan, he would have protested then and there and got the manager on to the field of play — but Imran is an Oxford graduate. I am told Inzamam only understood the gravity of what Hair had done when he returned to the dressing room after bad light ended play. What followed was a devastating Pakistani farce. The dressing room was full of loud, clamorous voices giving Inzamam all sort of advice. The Pakistan coach, Bob Woolmer, listed two or three options none of which involved refusing to take the field when play restarted.

One source told me, “I am not sure how much of what Woolmer said was understood by Inzamam. Inzi decided the team would not go out.”

Picture the scene. Woolmer is a bluff, no-nonsense Englishman, talking to Inzamam who, while he may be a great batsman, is not the brain of Pakistan, let alone the brain of Britain. In this overheated atmosphere, as he receives advice in a language he does not fully understand, the opportunities for farce are understandable. Woolmer for his part would not have understood the izzat issue which Hair’s actions had raised and which Inzamam was then wrestling with. For Inzamam, what Hair was doing was call into question his and Pakistan’s izzat.

We in the subcontinent would all understand what izzat means, and how a man can be prepared to lose everything he has including his life but not his izzat, but how would you expect Woolmer, a man of Kent, who has never even heard the word let alone known what it means, to understand the concept of izzat.

This analysis suggests that what we are dealing with here is a drama of culture more than that of race. The first act of this farce soon developed into a second more climactic act when Hair, having waited for the Pakistani team, came back to the pavilion and knocked on the Pakistani dressing room door.

“Are you coming out?” asked Hair Inzamam asked “Why did you change the ball?” (A question that indicates that Inzamam did not fully understand what had happened on the field). Hair snorted, “I am not here to discuss that”, and walked off.

Pakistani sources are insistent that Hair did not tell Inzamam that if he did not take the field this time his team would forfeit the match. They also feel that the way Hair spoke to Inzamam was disrespectful and scornful and this added to the hurt he had already inflicted. Yet observe what is going on in the English dressing room at the same time. As Hair knocked at the Pakistani dressing room, his colleague Billy Doctrove was doing the same at the English dressing room. But in contrast to the Pakistanis, the English, well-versed in the laws of the game, understood what was at stake.

Initially, when Pakistan had not taken the field for the first time, the two not-out English batsmen, Bell and Collingwood, had looked across at the Pakistani dressing room and, not seeing the fielders emerging, remained on the balcony. The convention in cricket is that the batsmen are the last to walk on to the field after the umpires and the fielders. However, when Doctrove came and asked if they were coming, the English did not need a second invitation. They did not look across to see if the Pakistanis were taking the field but quickly followed the umpires to the field, knowing that if Pakistan did not appear for a second time, the match was England’s. It is interesting to note that Doctrove is a West Indian, so the essentially White English team had no problem understanding this Black person while the Brown Pakistan team was struggling to understand what the motives of the White Australian were.

Part of the failure to understand was also due to that very common subcontinental problem: chaos. The Pakistanis were to pay dearly for this cultural trait and the failure of their officials to make sure their team went back on the field, whatever their feelings about Hair’s decision. Instead they allowed the dressing room to descend into utter confusion. They included Shaharyar Khan, president of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Dr Nasim, a member of the ad hoc cricket committee that runs Pakistan cricket, and David Morgan, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

To add to the farce, the Pakistani wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal emerged from the dressing room without pads and sat on the balcony to read a newspaper. Commentators took this as Inzamam’s showing another two fingers to Hair. I am told that this is not the case. Inzamam did not even know he was doing that. It was just that a young player, who knew he had no part to play in Inzi’s decision, decided to leave an overheated dressing room and seek some peace on the balcony. Eventually, Morgan and Shaharyar persuaded Inzamam to come out — but by then Hair and Doctrove had taken the bails off and Pakistan had forfeited the match.

One man who should have played a decisive role but did not was the Pakistani manager, Zaheer Abbas. This is not the first instance of players getting angry with umpires and wanting to walk out. The most infamous example was in 1981 in Melbourne when Sunil Gavaskar, then captain of India, now chairman of the ICC cricket committee that approved Hair’s appointment, was so furious at being given out lbw that, as he walked off, he ordered partner Chetan Chauhan to follow him. The manager, Wing Commander Durrani, understanding what was at stake, ordered Chauhan back and India won a famous victory by 59 runs.

In the 1999 Calcutta Test, Indian batsmen refused to come out following riots and Wasim Akram the Pakistan captain wanted to claim a forfeiture. Pakistan’s manager Shaharyar Khan refused and ordered him to win the match on the field, which they did. But Zaheer has shown no such leadership. In fact, such was his detachment at one stage that while the debate was on in the dressing room, he was on his mobile phone on the balcony. Caught up in all this, Woolmer, the Englishman in the Pakistani camp, just does not understand what is going on and one can only imagine the chasm between him and his team.

In many ways the heart of this crisis lies not so much in race but in personal relationships and the fact that the relationship between the Pakistan team and Hair had completely broken down. Indeed, Hair is the 21st century equivalent of David Constant. In the days before neutral umpires, he was the English umpire whose decisions through the 1980s so infuriated Pakistan that it led Imran Khan to call for neutral umpires. His decisions in the 1979 Oval Test also cost India a great victory and angered the Indians.

Imran Khan used to say, comparing Constant with Dickie Bird, that Bird also made mistakes but unlike Constant did not rub players up the wrong way. Players accepted his decisions even when they did not like them because they liked the man. Not so with Hair. Pakistan and Hair have a history. A story common in Pakistani cricket is that in the mid-1990s, on a tour of Australia, Hair told the then Pakistan captain, “I hope you people will not carry on appealing like monkeys in this series.” Now this may be apocryphal, but it is widely believed in Pakistani cricket and, of course, has racial overtones.

Of course race overlays culture. At the weekend we have had pictures of Hair and his English wife in the English countryside, blending in with their essentially White country which Inzamam could never do.

However, like Mani, I believe this episode illustrates problems of culture rather than race and that is all the more important in cricket where, for the first time, a Brown country, India, is the economic powerhouse of cricket and where cricket needs to find a framework which can take into account that this sport created by Whites is actually sustained by the might of Browns who speak a different language and come from a very different culture. How well cricket does it will determine its future.

© Mihir Bose


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