On Sunday, an umpire presiding at a high-profile game between England and Pakistan ruled that in his belief, Pakistani players had been tampering with the ball, and he told Pakistani players of his suspicion, awarding England five bonus runs, or points. Cricketers consider ball tampering to be one of the most heinous forms of cheating. By way of protest, the Pakistanis refused to leave their dressing room after a scheduled break for tea. The umpire, Darrell Hair of Australia, a person known for contentious rulings against some Asian teams, then removed the bails — little wooden bits that fit horizontally across the top of the larger wooden stakes called stumps — denoting that Pakistan had forfeited the game. The Pakistani team, nonetheless, walked back onto the field. But by that time the umpires had walked off, having ruled that Pakistan’s no-show constituted a terminal offense. Game to England — the first time in 129 years of so-called Test matches between national teams that a game had been forfeited in this way.
Oh well, to explain this to someone who does not watch cricket requires a long dissertation on swing and “reverse swing” (check out this video from the Beeb, this page and wikipedia). When the ball is “new” and shiny, the ball moves laterally in the air a certain way, thanks mostly to the bowler’s skillful application of the physics of air flow around a spherical object (and spit). He keeps one side shinier than the other so that the air resistance around the rough side pushes the ball in the direction of the “rough” side. The angle of the “seam”, or the ball’s stitching also helps maintain the difference in flow velocity. Weather conditions also play a big part, it tends to swing more when it is a little cold and humid. When the ball gets older (cricket uses the same ball till it gets too worn out), the “rough” side is now so rough that the airflow around this side now has less resistance, and the ball “reverses” its swing.
So what does all this have to do with what happened on the field? Well, you’re allowed to keep one side smooth with spit and polish (well, mostly spit, because polish is not allowed!). But, you’re not allowed to artificially roughen the other side to make the ball reverse swing quicker than it normally would. The Pakistan team pretty much perfected reverse swing, and have been caught tampering before. Hair looked at the ball, decided unilaterally that the ball had been tampered with, penalized the team and expected the Pakistan team to just accept his decision and play.
This particular umpire has a long history of controversy with Asian teams, I remember his first game very well, it was a test match in 1992 between Australia and India where his decisions pretty much pushed the game in Australia’s favor (this was before “neutral” or other country umpires). I was pissed off then, and his decision making has always been suspicious. He has called a Sri Lankan bowler for “throwing” when he wasn’t supposed to. I hope he never officiates another test match involving India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka ever again, his judgment is to be considered suspect!