High-profile umpire for cricket festival

CHRIS LAKEY Controversial former Test match umpire Darrell Hair is to officiate at one of Norfolk's biggest games of the season this year.


Controversial former Test match umpire Darrell Hair is to officiate at one of Norfolk's biggest games of the season this year.

The Australian, thrown off the ICC's Elite umpire panel after the ball tampering affair during last year's England v Pakistan Test at The Oval, will be at Manor Park in Norwich for a game against Lincolnshire during the showpiece festival in August.

Hair, who had offered to resign as an elite umpire last year in return for a “non-negotiable one-off payment” of US$500,000, will receive £25 for each day of the three-day Minor Counties Championship match from August 5-7, plus expenses.

Had he still been umpiring on the international circuit, he would have been taking home US$4,750 for a Test match - and US$1,900 for a one-day match.

But instead of walking through The Long Room at Lord's on his way to lunchtime tea and sandwiches, Hair will have to nip round the side of the Manor Park clubhouse and into the portable building for sustenance - or the burger van next door.

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The 54-year-old Australian, who now lives in Lincoln, officiated in 76 Test matches but the ball tampering affair, which led to Pakistan forfeiting the Test, resulted in him being banned by the ICC in November from officiating at international matches until the end of his contract - March, 2008.

However, in the aftermath he was voted Wisden umpire of the season and a leaked ICC report showed he was the second best umpire in the world.

Hair was retained on the reserve list of umpires for 2007 for a third year, although a space had opened up on the full list following the retirement of David Constant - a vacancy that went to former England batsman Tim Robinson.

The reason he didn't get the vacancy was because the ICC had not yet made their decision to sack him - and that he didn't know what the future held.

While Hair is still seen as a controversial figure, Norfolk County Cricket chairman Keith Bray - himself a former umpire - welcomed his appointment for the Manor Park festival game.

“I have no qualms about it whatsoever,” said Bray. “He is only officiating in two Minor Counties matches during the season and we are one of them and it adds something extra to the festival.

“It's something that might well add a few more people to the gates, people who might want to come and see someone like Darrel Hair in action.

“I am sure he will deal with it in exactly the same way as he would have done had it been a Test match. There is no difference - you are talking about a job that needs to be done.

“You have to admire him in that he is willing to do the job. He was one of the best umpires in the world and he is to be congratulated for not hiding. A lot of people would have said no.

“We look forward to greeting him at Manor Park.”

Reserve umpires are eligible to stand in any first-class match under the ECB but are more often found in second XI or Minor Counties Championship fixtures.

And while it may appear to be a long way from Mumbai to Manor Park for Hair, the ECB's umpires and match operations manager Chris Kelly said that could change.

“He is still contracted to the ICC for a start,” said Kelly. “He has been on the reserve list for the last two years and if the situation changes, if he is available, and wants to do it, he will be considered for the full list next season.”

Hair is believed to be in his native Australia, where he has kept away from Ashes matches but has reportedly putting feelers out over a return to officiate in domestic matches. There was a groundswell of support Down Under for Hair, with the New South Wales Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association's umpires wearing black ribbons at club matches one weekend.

Hair's next appearance will be followed with interest, but Kelly said he was hopeful there would be no problems.

“If any situations arise we will deal with them at the time,” he said.