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To me Sunday was just like any other summer’s day - bleak forecast of rain, just perfect to go and watch some cricket! I usually play cricket for my Sunday team, one that is full of first and second generation Asians mostly of Pakistani origin, all of whom would fail Norman Tebbit’s cricket test quite miserably. We support Britain in any other sport but cricket is a step too far. The main inspiration for us has been the Pakistan team of recent times, in particular Imran Khan who has bought cricket back to the fore for many Pakistani people living in the UK . Many of those including myself, would try and emulate his bowling action, obviously bowling at a tenth of his speed, and with all the agility of a dead duck. I would see this in opposing teams as well, where there always seemed to be one Imran clone.
So what was so important that I had to miss my routine summer Sunday of cricket? Well it was time to observe the Pakistan cricket team playing against a rejuvenated England side; who had just won the series with one Test remaining. This was the fourth day of the match at the Oval and was still delicately poised. Pakistan had a chance to win so I was looking forward to the prospect of a great day of cricket despite the gloomy weather forecast.
I arrived at the Oval just in time for lunch. England were batting quite magnificently against the Pakistani bowlers. Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen were thrashing Danish Kaneria’s deliveries around the ground. Pakistan had made 504 in their first innings and had bowled out England quite cheaply for 173. Their decision to bowl first paid off with the seamers Mohammed Asif and Umar Gul taking eight wickets between them on the first day.
By England’s second innings on the fourth day the wicket had slowed down considerably, not making it any easier for the seamers, even though it was quite cloudy and the right conditions to get some swing and movement. I’ve never understood how this works - apparently something to with atmospheric pressures being applied to the ball!
After lunch the batsmen started from where they had left off, until Gul removed Cook with a wonderful yorker, trapping him in front of the stumps, very reminiscent of a Waqar Younis toe-crusher. Unbeknownst to the watching public as well as the media, this would trigger a chain of catastrophic events on the field. Paul Collingwood was the new batsman and Pietersen was making his way surely towards another century. At 2.30pm umpire Darryl Hair called out the fourth official Trevor Jesty with a set of six used balls. This happens quite often nowadays when the ball loses its shape or the seam splits so nobody gave it a second thought until word came through that the ball had been changed due to the condition being altered... illegally. The replacement ball was chosen by the batsmen (this is only done when the opposition has altered the condition of the ball - normally the bowling team would choose). In this instance the Pakistan captain was unceremoniously told that he was not required at the changing of the ball.
This was the start of a frenzy in the media centre as no one was sure if it was true. I observed some of the tabloid writers gleefully smiling like cheshire cats. They had been waiting years for stories like this, while their Pakistani counterparts, showing signs of anger and victimisation were blaming colonial attitudes towards Pakistan. I’d never seen anything like it, it was only on television or in the newspapers where I had read about such incidents. Pakistan carried on playing to their credit, but come tea time things were about to get completely out of control as Pakistan refused to come out after the interval. Hair took the bails off and awarded the match to England. Pakistan came out a few minutes later but this time the umpires refused to come out. At no time were the crowd actually aware of what was going on and why it was happening. Even the guys in the media centre had no official word and were all following it on SkySports where most of the news was coming from. Some of the journalists were recording the channel’s comments on their devices which I found quite amusing. After a couple of hours of consultations and meetings there was an announcement that play had been called off for the day and everyone in the centre was informed that they must make their way to the players pavilion for a press conference.
We did, and we waited and waited, but nothing happened till the police came in and started to threaten the press. I was astounded that we were told we were not allowed to ask the Pakistani players anything . We had a police officer in front of us so we couldn’t go any further, not that we intended to. I was actually quite enjoying it all as it was a first time experience for me. I only occasionally cover cricket matches but this was big. History was being made for all the wrong reasons.
I was receiving calls from friends and family who were asking me about the state of the match, and if I had any insider information. Unfortunately I couldn’t enlighten any of them with anything spectacular. At about 10pm an announcement was made that the game had been forfeited and awarded to England. There was talk about Darryl Hair being prejudiced towards Asian teams which I found hard to believe having met him a few times off the pitch during 1999. He seemed like a decent fellow but on the pitch more of a policeman who likes to court controversy wherever he goes, with commonsense not being one of his strong points. This could have helped the situation on Sunday. Pakistan obviously felt aggrieved that they had been labelled cheats without any obvious evidence having been produced. The captain Inzamam Ul Haq, a proud Pakistani, would not stand for it as he believed it insinuated that all Pakistanis are cheats. If a quiet word had been said to the Pakistan skipper that someone may have been tampering with the ball, or that the umpire had suspicions, the whole affair could have been resolved more amicably.
My own personal view is that both parties were wrong in the way they handled the situation. No man, ego or team is bigger than the game itself and it became farcical at the Oval. But I wasn’t laughing as I wished that I had played for my Sunday team instead of going to the game. What a waste of a day! However, it will still be one that people remember for its ludicrous ending as much as the Shakoor Rana incident in 1987.
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