It’s judgement day for Pakistan’s cricket captain, Inzamam ul-Haq, with the start of the long-delayed hearing into the accusations of ball tampering and bringing the game into disrepute that surfaced in the infamous forfeited Test five weeks ago.

The hearing is taking place at The Oval, where the match was – and, more to the point, wasn’t – played, and evidence has been taken (overnight, our time) from everybody involved, including umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove, the third and fourth umpires, the umpires’ coach and the ICC’s head of umpiring. Meanwhile, ul-Haq brought along representatives from a legal team, the Pakistan coach, manager, national chairman, a couple of teammates and even some witnesses for the defence, Geoffrey Boycott, Simon Hughes and John Hampshire. Written statements from three English players were also taken account.

The whole shebang is being chaired by the ICC’s chief referee, Sri Lankan Ranjan Madugalle who has the unhappy job of trying to work out whether the Pakistan team was out of line. Darrell Hair, who penalised the Pakistan team for ball-tampering, didn’t actually see anybody working on the ball illegally, and Doctrove’s statement seems to suggest he was less than certain of what had happened and what should be done.

The English media is so hyped up about the hearing that even the BBC gushed about every little thing, such as noting who arrived when, with such zingers as: “Inzamam headed to The Oval just after 0900 BST, just before umpire Darrell Hair turned up in a taxi. Hair said: ‘No comment — good to see you all’.” Gosh!

Madugalle will hear closed evidence on the second day of evidence and is expected to deliver a verdict by this time tomorrow. If found guilty, Inzamam’s maximum punishment for ball tampering could see him miss a Test or two one-dayers, and lose up to 100% of his match fee. The charge of bringing the game into disrepute could see him miss up to four Tests or eight one-dayers.

But Madugalle will know the actual penalties are neither here nor there. This case has divided the Asian and non-Asian sectors of the cricket world and a decision either way threatens to start a bushfire. Hair has already been hung out to dry by the ICC over clumsy attempts to get paid out and just go away, while Inzamam has complained loudly of his treatment. He insisted to The Guardian before the hearing that his conscience was clear.

It’s going to be a big 24 hours in the world of cricket.

Peter Fray

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