In Defence of Darrell Hair
Russell Degnan

I'll confess at the start, that I have always been an admirer of Darrell Hair. He has consistently been one of the better umpires in general decision making for some time, and is rightly perceived as such by the ICC. In spite of the controversy that often surrounds him, he has carved out a long career on the international circuit.

As a decision maker, he is confident and unflustered. But most importantly, he is a literalist when it comes to interpreting the laws.

To read the comments on Will's site many commentators think Hair is either biased, arrogant, narcissistic or merely undiplomatic. I disagree. As an umpire Hair is employed to interpret and apply the law, as written. Many, nay all, of the controversies revolve lie in the difference between Hair's strict interpetation and the looser interpetation, steeped in politics, negotiation and outright threats that certain nations want to engage in.

You may disagree with the role the umpire should play, and no doubt, a calm and approachable unpire is better, but when it comes to the laws of the game, I believe, strongly, that first and foremost they should be applied. To do otherwise it to invite chaos. If someone has an issue with the rules, then they can apply to have them changed, but that is a different thing.

Hair has been consitently correct in his actions, and deserves credit for doing so. For reference, here are the four most significant decisions he has made:

1. Calling Muralithatan

Law 24.2
[...] the ball must be bowled not thrown [...] If either umpire is not entirely satisfied with the absolute fairness of a delivery in this respect he shall call and signal 'no ball' [...] [emphasis mine]

This law has been changed since 1996, but that was what was in operation when Muralitharan was called. Note the emphasis. There is no "close enough is good enough" in that statement, no "he seems like a nice chap, let's not ruin his career", no "this is a big occasion". If an umpire is not "entirely" satisfied that a ball is bowled then it is a 'no-ball'. The onus is on the bowler to be fair. Hair was right to call him. He was wrong to call him less often than he did. As were all the other umpires who "expressed doubts" and didn't make the call.

2. Giving Jimmy Adams LBW

Law 36
The striker is out LBW [...] is either between wicket and wicket or outside the line of the off stump, if the striker has made no genuine attempt to play the ball with his bat. [emphasis mine]

This was controversial at the time, as Adams was slowly building a career out of playing spinners with his bat behind his pad. Once again Hair, albeit with a mindset against such a negative approach, applied the law literally. The word "genuine" implies something more than a general waft in the direction of the ball. Despite the impression the commentators like to give, there is nothing in the rules anywhere about giving the batsman the benefit of the doubt. Adams approach to kicking the ball away with his bat safely tucked was given out, and rightfully so.

3. Penalising Pakistan for Ball Tampering

Law 42
[...] The umpires shall be the sole judges of fair and unfair play. If either umpire considers an action, not covered by the Laws, to be unfair, he shall intervene without appeal [...] (c) The umpires shall make frequent and irregular inspections of the ball. [...] In the event of any fielder changing the condition of the ball unfairly, as set out in (b) above, the umpires after consultation shall
(i) change the ball forthwith. [...]
(iii) award 5 penalty runs to the batting side.
(iv) inform the captain of the fielding side that the reason for the action was the unfair interference with the ball.
(v) inform the captain of the batting side as soon as practicable of what has occurred.
(vi) report the occurrence as soon as possible to the Executive of the fielding side and any Governing Body responsible for the match, who shall take such action as is considered appropriate against the captain and team concerned. [emphasis mine]

I quoted this at length for the simple expedient of pointing out to people who obviously haven't read the relevant rule, that the actions taken by the umpires in the current controversy have to follow a set routine.

They don't have to tell the opposing captain they think they cheated, nor do they need to get involved in an on-field altercation over it. Nor do they need to show any evidence, video or otherwise of the player actually tampering with the ball. The regular and infrequent inspection of the ball is there precisely because the law expects the umpire to take action when they notice the ball has been tampered with. If Umpire Hair, after consulting with his partner believed the seam had been lifted then he can change the ball, and apply a penalty.

Neither the match referees, managers or captains need to be involved in the decision, and nor does it need to take all day, or be done later while the fielding team bowls with a suspect ball. Change it, apply the penalty, inform the captain and the authorities. once again, Darrell Hair did exactly as was expected of him.

4. Allowing Pakistan to Forfeit

Law 21
A match shall be lost by a side which [...] in the opinion of the umpires refuses to play. If an umpire considers that an action by any player or players might constitute a refusal by either side to play then the umpires together shall ascertain the cause of the action. If they then decide together that this action does constitute a refusal to play by one side, they shall so inform the captain of that side. If the captain persists in the action the umpires shall award the match in accordance with (a)(ii) above. [emphasis mine]

This is really quite straight forward. As the CricInfo report notes, Pakistan did not resume play, the umpires went back inside to ascertain why, and when Pakistan did not resume playing the game was forfeited. You don't have to like the law, you might even consider it ridiculous and harsh, but don't complain to the umpires for applying it. There has been nothing in any of the reports to suggest that the umpires did anything wrong, including, most importantly, the ICC Press Release:

In accordance with the laws of cricket it was noted that the umpires had correctly deemed that Pakistan had forfeited the match and awarded the Test to England.

In short. If you don't like the laws of cricket then petition the ICC to change the laws of cricket. But don't complain about an umpire, who, throughout his career has applied the law as the wording implies it should. Umpires are not politicians or diplomats, they are unbiased officials. No matter that the outcome of this game was unsatisfactory, we should applaud their efforts to uphold the Laws of the Game as they are employed to do.

Cricket - Articles 21st August, 2006 14:56:42   [#] [5 comments]