Feb 8, 2007:
Hair has been in the cricketing spotlight in recent days and in both cases the reason is absurd. Zimbabwe’s more hirsute youngsters have been told to cut off their dreadlocks, an order presumably designed to improve their games, and an instruction that disregards the performances of brilliant sportsmen like Andrew Symonds and Ronaldinho.
It’s not what is on top of the head that matters, It is the content that counts. Never mind that Zimbabwe has more serious matters to consider, such as a starving population, a disintegrating economy and the collapse of democracy. A pair of scissors was found and before long the floor was strewn with locks.
Darrell Hair has also returned to the headlines with his threat to take legal action against the game’s ruling body and the Pakistan Board. Apparently he believes he has been treated unfairly due to the colour of his skin and not because he is an elephant in a delicatessen. Doubtless sympathisers will continue to wear black armbands and agitate on his behalf. It is an unworthy cause. Hair lacks the common sense needed to run a game of international cricket and should have been sacked years ago.
Hair’s re-emergence as a contentious figure coincides with an outpouring of nonsense about the state of the game. Cricket has its problems but that is hardly surprising. Sooner or later it had to move way from anglo-saxon dictatorship towards democratic debate.
Inevitably the change has had its complications. Ten nations are deemed fit to play the game to Test standard. Amongst them, India and Pakistan suffered mutual slaughters on the day of their birth, and still fight over Kashmir. Sri Lanka continues to endure a civil war in its northeast region. Australia and England are engaged in a war in Iraq opposed by other nations. Zimbabwe is governed by a tyrant. Bangladesh is impoverished. South Africa has only just started treating black inhabitants as equals. Save for cricketing purposes, West Indies does not exist. New Zealand is the only peaceful place.
Moreover many of these countries are newly defined and passionate about cricket. Many give the game of bat and ball a weight it can scarcely hold. Emotions run high. Sometimes patriotism clouds judgement. Religious intolerance can also rear its ugly head. Accordingly it’s hardly surprising that arguments break out. Indeed it is remarkable that any cricket is played.
Yet India and Pakistan often meet upon the field, and the Lankans have been playing superbly. Several coloured players have secured places in the South African team and one has served as captain. Oh yes, and West Indies is led by a black man. There are many reasons to be hopeful.
Consider the state of the game in its supposedly idyllic past. Not until the 1990’s were the majority of South Africans allowed to represent their nation at cricket. Alas, the game did precious little about that. Indeed it is not so long ago that men who made money out of apartheid held prominent positions at the MCC and BBC. Nor did cricket play a role in Frank Worrell’s appointment as the first official black captain of the regional team. George Headley had deserved the job decades before but no-one was going to give it to him. Happily Worrell emerged as the game’s greatest figure. Alas he died much, much too early.
In these supposedly halcyon days, when MCC’s word went unchallenged, the game remained resolutely impoverished, racist, and patronising. It could not last. Subcontinental cricketers were not forever going to remain deferential. Sooner or later they were bound to rebel, and then to exert their power. Thank goodness, the world has changed. Inevitably it is not all for the better, but then democracy can be a mixed blessing.
Now India has insisted upon playing home series at the height of its season. In the past the Indians were prepared to fit in with the Australians. Obviously it could not last. Before coming to Australia in December, the Indians will host the Sri Lankans. And not before time. Cricket’s most populous and powerful nation ought to stage proper series at appropriate times on its own grounds. The Australians cannot complain. Every time the teams meet, another million dollars goes into the coffers.
Recently the usual crowd has objected to Sharad Pawar’s campaign to become President of the ICC. Astonishingly, one old school critic bleated about the death of democracy. India has the clout and the votes. That is democracy. Anyhow Pawar is a proven leader. His work as head of the Mumbai police was notable for its integrity. One honest but poor detective was quietly given a retirement flat he could not otherwise afford. Pawar knew he had not filled his pockets. He is also a substantial politician. David Morgan, the alternative candidate, is a Welshman of no particular importance.
Darrell Hair deserves his day in court. Everyone has that right. But his argument will fail. He could have been discreet, could have changed the ball for any reason, or informed the fielding captain about his concerns, could have allowed the game to resume when tempers had cooled. Instead chose to be confrontational. It is a luxury the game cannot afford.