The difference a ball makes ...

Cricket is uniquely complicated, even impenetrable. So when controversy blows up, it is never going to be simple. With Sunday's ball-tampering row leading to the first forfeiture of a Test in 129 years, STEVE DOWNES sizes up what it means for the game.

Cricket is uniquely complicated, even impenetrable. So when controversy blows up, it is never going to be simple. With Sunday's ball-tampering row leading to the first forfeiture of a Test in 129 years, STEVE DOWNES sizes up what it means for the game.

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And it was all going so well. Test series between England and Pakistan have been notoriously volatile in recent years. From England captain Mike Gatting jabbing his finger in the face of Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana in 1987 to unproven allegations of ball tampering in 1992 when bowlers Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram destroyed England, the match-up has had its moments.

And with relations between the Islamic world and the “West” looking wafer-thin, pessimists could have been forgiven for expecting Pakistan's current tour of England to be explosive.


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But - until Sunday's extraordinary events - this series has been the most harmonious between the two sides for decades.

Now - as the first out of 1,814 Tests to be conceded by forfeit - it is one of the most notorious in the history of cricket.

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Which means it is also the first ever Test to be won by the team scoring the least runs. England, it seems, really have mastered the art of winning in all circumstances.

But, mercifully, it is unlikely to become a diplomatic crisis.

England's players were bemused bystanders, and the tourists already had their favourite hate figure to point the finger at - umpire Darrell Hair.

Which brings us to the issue of the International Cricket Council's (ICC) role in the farce at The Oval.

Knowing that Pakistanis hate Hair, they myopically appointed him to officiate in the Fourth Test.

Former England batsman Geoffrey Boycott said: “It should have been obvious that appointing him created a situation like a volcano waiting to erupt.”

According to Ian Botham, the ICC is also culpable for leaving 23,000 paying spectators, millions of TV viewers and radio listeners “completely in the dark”.

Botham said: “They needed to make a statement specifying exactly why the ball was changed, what they had seen, who was involved and how often.”

Politician and former Pakistan cricketer Imran Khan said the “pride of an entire people has been tarnished” by Hair's decision to award England five penalty runs and the choice of a different ball.

He also called for Hair to be sued by Pakistan for “defamation”. Coming from someone who has not seen the ball in question, nor spoken to the umpires, it sounds like a slight over-reaction.

Former England skipper Nasser Hussain, meanwhile, said Pakistan were right to refuse to come on to the field after the allegations of cheating.

All heartfelt opinions, but surely the greater good of the game would have been served by Pakistan coming out to complete the match - then launching an impassioned defence of their integrity at its completion?

Their decision to stage a sit-in looked like an attempt to blackmail the umpires into changing their minds. Nonetheless, in passionate situations decisions are made from the heart, not the head.

Cricket's world governing body is now charged with administering justice - and hopefully looking again at the rules that allowed the situation to develop.

As they stand, if umpires are sure that a ball has been tampered with, they can act without consulting the captain of the fielding team.

With ball tampering notoriously difficult to prove, there must be room for making the process more transparent.

The tasks of judge and jury fall to ICC chief match referee Ranjan Madugalle, who must come up with a watertight verdict on the charges of ball tampering and bringing cricket into disrepute levelled against Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq.

If they are not proven, then some serious questions will be asked about the future of Hair and his fellow umpire Billy Doctrove.

But if evidence of cheating is unearthed, the ICC is going to have to be brave enough to ignore the likely hysteria and dish out some draconian punishments.

Let's hope Madugalle has the wisdom of Solomon and the hide of a rhinoceros.

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