Five years ago the drive from Faisalabad to Rawalpindi was one the scariest experiences of the national squad’s collective life. The bus driver was clearly under instructions to maintain his speed above 50 kilometres an hour at all times and never, ever to drop below that speed – through traffic lights, circles, impromptu street markets and…oncoming traffic.
The experience this time could not have been more different for Graeme Smith and his men. It’s difficult to know why and how the economy of Pakistan has done so well with wars going on around them, but a magnificent, brand new highway now exists between the cities allowing children to play with their dogs in safety.
The SA national team’s safety was also paramount on Wednesday’s drive with the jeeps and motorcycle outriders providing security that was not only classified as presidential but looked and felt like it, too.
But if it wasn’t the roads and traffic getting under the team’s skin this year, there was something else making the hair on the back of their necks stand up. Daryl Hair appeared to take particular delight in continuing his hate-hate relationship with SA’s players, a state of affairs that saw Andrew Hall threatened with a ban and Shaun Pollock fined his entire match fee.
Hair is an enormous man but his physical size is matched only by the size of his ego. The best umpires, without exception, know they are simply there to help provide the best stage possible on which the world’s best players can perform. Hair, unfortunately, not only believes he is part of the production, he believes he is at the heart of it.
Sportsmen with big egos tend to panic and ‘hide’ when they get something wrong rather than hold their hands up, take stock of the situation and make a calm decision – even if it’s an admission of error.
So when Yousuf Youhana was run out by Andrew Hall with an accidental deflection of his own bowling, at Hair’s end, the big man knew he’d missed it, panicked and called ‘not out’ instead of calling for the third umpire.
Hall, under intense pressure from authorities to behave after his physical confrontation with Youhana in the previous match, looked at Hair and said simply: “I touched it.” It was the kind of comment players make to umpires all the time – it was low-key, unprovocative and certainly not dissentful.
Yet Hair snapped back, telling Hall that if he said another word he would be reported to the match referee for dissent and, therefore, almost certainly banned for a match, possibly two.
Later in the match Pollock took it upon himself to alert Hair to his earlier error and, gently, to suggest to the (very) big Aussie that he wasn’t, perhaps, having a very good match. Unfortunately the observation came hard on the heels of yet anothyer rejected lbw appeal from the former skipper.
It is a well known fact, within cricketing circles, that players lose their cools with umpires in most matches. The only reason it is not well known outside cricketing circles is because good umpires know that tempers flare in the heat of the moment and as long as the player keeps his reaction and comment out of the public domain, the moment will be kept private.
Unless you happen to be a cry-baby official.
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