IT'S not cricket is a phrase which has been widely adopted wherever the English language is spoken, even where cricket is not played or understood. Defining it is not easy but it carries an implication of a lack of sportmanship and fair play, so it can certainly be applied to events at the Oval on Sunday afternoon. Yesterday's news that Pakistan's captain Inzaman-ul-Haq has been charged with changing the condition of the ball and bringing cricket into dispute focuses the bewildering succession of claim and counter-claim that has filled the media. The match referee Ranjan Madugalle will conduct the hearing into these charges on Friday. He is a Sri Lankan who has been match referee at 40 tests and over 100 one-day internationals since he retired from a distinguished career as Test player and selector.
It is impossible for the casual observer to say whether the ball was tampered with. However, it is strange that the penalty for this offence is no more than the award of five penalty runs to the batting side; the same penalty applies if the fielding side hit a discarded helmet. So why is it apparently such a big deal? Some well-known retired English bowlers were yesterday heard to say that everybody does it to some degree.
The Pakistanis were ill-advised to protest in such a provocative way. The umpire Darrell Hair may have acted arbitrarily and will have to defend himself against that accusation. The hope must be that the matter can be settled without rancour.
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