More questions than answers in the morning after

Are you all set for an exciting final day’s play today? It is a pity that in all the noise, there’s been very little said at all about the cricket itself, because England played some magnificent cricket until tea, with Kevin Pieterson to the fore once again. It would have been interesting to see what might have happened if England had been able to force Pakistan to chase 150 on the fifth day with plenty of help for Monty Panesar.

Well, if ‘ifs and buts’ were berries and nuts, we’d have Christmas every day. Of course the big story is the Great Oval Farce of 2006.

A couple of bored or overexcited journalists have called it the biggest crisis since Kerry Packer, which is just a bit over the top; there was the general match-fixing crisis and the Hanse Cronje affair, after all. What this farce is, when it comes down to it, is just a massive dummy spit that has been badly managed.

There’s been a lot of ill-informed commentary about this affair all over the internet already. However, you can not blame the commentariat for that; we still do not know all the facts about what has gone on. The failure of just about everyone involved to come out with timely information has simply added a layer of frustration to the whole mess.

We still do not know about what has happened with the state of the ball, and in talking to the BBC this morning, Malcolm Speed was pretty delphic with his remarks.

“The ball tampering charge, that will be dealt with, and there is power there for the match referee to fine or ban the player there. Similarly, if other charges are laid, the player could face fines or, if he is found guilty, he could face a fine or a ban.”

So it is quite possible that the umpires had someone specific in mind. I will await with interest the ‘charge sheet’ that is brought in the wake of all this, because if there is no particular individual charged with ball-tampering, then I have to say that the umpires have been way out of order.

It also appears that Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq may be charged with bringing the game into disrepute, by staging that ‘sit in’ after tea. Now bear in mind that he’s already been penalised by means of the forfeit, I think the ICC should tread carefully there. I basically agree with Aggers that the whole idea was pretty infantile, but having the game forfeited is actually a pretty severe penalty already.

I have to wonder about the Pakistani management though; how well was Inzamam advised? I do not blame him for not being aware of the ins and outs of cricket regulations; I think it is perfectly possible that he was not aware that in staging his protest, he ran the risk of forfeit.

And there is nothing wrong with that- a cricketer has enough on his plate without becoming the equivilent of a cricket lawyer. Inzamam is busy enough as it is avoiding training drills and actually playing the game. The role of being aware of every contingency is the role of the team manager. He is the fellow who should have got things moving.

Here is the timeline, once again:

4.40pm – Although play is officially due to resume, Hair and Doctrove wait in the middle, England batsmen Ian Bell and Collingwood remain on the dressing-room balcony while Pakistan do not re-emerge.

4.44pm – The match officials leave the field of play.

4.50pm – England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive David Collier is seen addressing England coach Duncan Fletcher.

4.55pm – The England fifth-wicket pair and umpires Hair and Doctrove return to the middle but Pakistan again are absent.

Now, to me, it seems that at 4.55pm, Pakistan should have emerged- they had staged their sit-in, made their point, and should have got on with the game. Clearly the players feelings were running high, and when that happens, people do not think as clearly as they ought, and it is at that point that the Pakistani hierarchy should have insisted to their players that they resume.

Because we don’t clearly know what happened, we can only guess that sometime in the next few minutes after 4.55pm, the umpires decided on declaring the game forfeit. However, if they did so, they were plainly in the wrong in clearly explaining this to the teams and the relevant ground authority.

England seem to have understood clearly enough- when Pakistan walked onto the field at 5.23 pm, they stayed confined to barracks. After all, they had been awarded the game. So if England knew it was all over, why did Inzamam lead his men on the field? Either they did know, and were trying to force the umpires to reverse their decision, or they did not know, in which case the umpires and Mike Proctor were incompetent in explaining the situation to Pakistan.

However, if the game had been forfeited, why was the ground authority not told? Play was ‘officially called off’ at 6.13pm, so from that we can infer that the game was still live at 5.23pm when Inzamam led his team back on the field.

In which case, why did England and the umpires not appear at that time as well?

Are you confused yet?

This is what happens when people aren’t kept clearly informed.

Where do we go from here?

The ICC needs to have a full inquiry into the mess, and to release its findings of what actually happened to the public. Beyond that, it is clear that dispute resolution procedures need to be improved. Also, the ICC needs to reform the way that it appoints umpires to fixtures. It is pretty clear that some teams have problems with Darrell Hair, and while it is a pity, it is also the case that cricket teams are entitled to play the game with confidence in the officials who are standing.

It is worth remembering after all that the whole point of having neutral umpires in the first place was to give both teams confidence in the integrity of the match officials.

Still no confirmation about the status of the Oval Test

There has still been no confirmation about whether or not the Fourth Test has been forfeited or not. Readers with tickets to day five are advised to check on the Surrey CCC website.

ECB Vice Chairman Mike Soper has once again hinted that he doesn’t think there will be play tomorrow. Meanwhile we learn that ICC HQ was thinking they were going to have tomorrow off.

It’s just been noted that the ICC office will be closed tomorrow. As the press release has it: “The day has been declared a holiday in Dubai to mark the Ascension of the Prophet (PBUH). The office will be open as normal on Sunday 20 August (8.30am – 5pm) and, after the day off, it will reopen at 8.30am on Tuesday 22 August.” Could this situation get much more farcical? Probably not…

ICC President Percy Sonn and CEO Malcolm Speed certainly will not be having a day off, I guess.

My own guess, and it is only a guess, is that we will have play tomorrow, as ICC puts pressure to avoid a Test ending via a forfeit, which would be unprecedented.

Aggers has put his column up. He has some sympathy for Pakistan’s plight, he doesn’t think that a ‘sit-in’ was the appropriate way to protest. He does not address the ‘forfeit’ issue, which is fair enough. There’s enough for everyone to get their heads around as it is.