Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?

Just had a brain flash, more often known in my world as a brain fart. Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? If you assume the ICC as the court, or the judge, then Pakistan are the party being tried. But without evidence, surely this incident should not have progressed to its current state so quickly? Pakistan haven’t so much been tried as convicted. Not even the BCCI are coming to their assistance and bailing them out.

I ought to point out my stance on this, or rather my own confusion. I don’t know where I stand, because no evidence has been put forth. None of the 26 cameramen saw anything but, as I said yesterday, if Darrell Hair honestly believed the ball had unlawfully altered in shape then he was perfectly in his right to call Inzamam-ul-Haq’s team to account. Pakistan, then – in my opinion – ought not to have reacted so strongly. In doing so, they almost came across as the blushing cheater at the back of the classroom. That’s at least what they might have appeared to be: guilty. But their knee-jerk reaction was inevitable and fully understandable too given Hair’s notoriously gloomy reputation in the subcontinent, and past history with Sri Lanka and others.

Hair is no fool, though. Courting controversy over eleven years is not something an umpire can do without reason. He will have known, in his gut, the storm he would provoke by making these allegations; I simply cannot believe he is the heartless dictator people are making him out to be. He’s a straight-talking bloke merely doing his job, isn’t he?

All’s fair and rosey in retrospect, of course, but it’s an interesting thought comparing this incident to the legal system. If nothing else, at least the ICC should learn from this mess. Well…we can hope

BCCI (comb) back Hair, not Pakistan

Sensationalist headline, apologies for that. How about I improve it with the news that the BCCI are acting like a soothing, herbal shampoo for Darrell; that’s right, the India board have stated their allegiance to the ICC, not Pakistan.

This has many implications, some of them a little worrying; others rather amusing; most utterly fascinating. In short….had India agreed to Pakistan’s stance (and Sri Lanka’s too) on refusing to play in any matches Hair officiates in, the umpire’s career would be over. And that would’ve been the very start of the problems.

I stuck up the full fart in all its wafty glory on Cricinfo:

“We would never say no to any umpire that the ICC supported,” Shah told the Sydney Morning Herald. “If the ICC is happy with [Hair], then we are happy. Let us see a report first, and if Mr Hair has made a mistake, then we will see what happens. But it is up to the ICC to take action.”

Were India to side with the ICC and not Pakistan, a potentially disastrous situation would be avoided. Given Hair’s history – he has courted controversy with Pakistan in the past, as well as Sri Lanka – it is unlikely he will ever umpire games involving either of those two countries. And if India were to be added to that list, his role as an elite international umpire would be reduced to officiating in only half the international sides. Hair also cannot stand in matches involving Australia, his birthplace.

“If the Asian bloc gangs up on him and says, ‘We don’t want him appointed in our games’, there might be trouble,” Dick French, a former umpire and Hair’s mentor, told AAP. “He can’t umpire Australia as a neutral, so he can’t then just umpire South Africa, West Indies and England for the rest of his career. So that’s a tough one for the authorities.”

The importance of being earnest

Tim de Lisle opened up in Cricinfo with an interesting post relating to independence in the media.

Trescothick is much liked, and even after his story changed, most commentators were gentle with him. But one pundit was conspicuously tough: Mike Atherton, cricket columnist for the Sunday Telegraph, who said Trescothick’s virus line was “so utterly implausible” that “ridicule is the only proper response”.

Atherton used to open the batting for England with Trescothick. He was a team-mate for years at Lancashire of Trescothick’s agent, Neil Fairbrother, who also came in for criticism in Atherton’s piece, albeit unnamed. The condemnation possibly went a touch too far, but it came from the right place: a belief in honesty. Atherton can’t stand spin – of the PR variety – and he is right to highlight the way it is spreading through the sports world.

Atherton is one of the best ex-player pundits for three reasons. He wants to get better; after a tentative start, his writing has steadily acquired more scope and flair. He is curious: he asks questions, while some ex-players still wait for the questions to come to them. And he has a clear grasp of the importance of being independent. He knows he is now batting not for England, but for his readers.

In a free press, that distinction is straightforward. In televised sport, it is becoming a grey area. The ultimate producer of cricket in India is now the Indian board. Atherton, who commentated for Sky on the India-England series, says local commentators were “asked not to mention sensitive subjects”. This provoked denials, but it will continue to be an issue. And some ex-players just don’t seem to see that it matters.

I posit that it is not quite so simple as this though. As a general rule of thumb, in whatever field you work in, you do not crap in your own nest. Cricket authorities are different in various places but all of them expect their broadcast partners to be supportive. And the management of the broadcasters themselves would be most displeased if the commentators were to disparage the game, lest they invite viewers to change the channel.

After all Michael Atherton would hardly expect the Sunday Telegraph to be very friendly to him if he bagged the paper in his column.

That is why there will always be a role for newspapers and blogs in cricket and indeed, in many other areas. We can ask the questions that broadcast media can not ask.

India, this is Nike

India have secured the sponsorship of Nike for the next five years. That’s a significant development. It’s no surprise that India have managed to attract such a global marketing icon such as Nike, but it bodes well for the game. The BBC have more on this. To my knowledge, it’s the first time Nike have sponsored an entire team; Shane Warne was one of their minions a few years ago (maybe he still is). Maybe Ganguly will welcome Nike’s obsession in putting air in their trainers…

England’s tour dates for India 2006

The BCCI are acting like only the BCCI can, but today they’ve been poked into life and have announced, at the last minute, the tour schedule for England’s tour there in March 2006. More at Cricinfo:

First Test: March 8, Ahmedabad
Second Test: March 16, Nagpur
Third Test: March 25, Mumbai