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Last Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Pakistan backs cricket team in ball row
By Dan Isaacs
BBC News, Islamabad

Man reads Pakistani newspapers
Newspapers in Pakistan berated Australian umpire Darrell Hair

This is not just about a game, this is high politics. None other than President Pervez Musharraf himself has weighed in to the fray surrounding the ball-tampering allegations, according to Pakistani media.

Shortly after the match at The Oval in London was awarded to England, it is reported that he called Inzaman ul-Haq in order to discuss the situation with the Pakistani cricket captain.

And if the president has become sufficiently agitated to get involved, you can be sure he is not alone in this cricket-obsessed nation where everyone from the president to the local taxi driver watches ball-by-ball coverage.

The morning papers here in Pakistan are full of it, with Australian umpire Darrell Hair taking the full force of Pakistani anger. The headlines say it all. It is a "Bad Hair day" with Pakistan caught in the "Cross-Hairs", and "Hair comes trouble".

Hair is one of those characters when he wears the white umpire's coat, he metamorphoses into a mini-Hitler
Imran Khan
Former Pakistan captain

Mr Hair is a highly experienced umpire, but this is not the first time he has made a decision on the playing field that has angered Pakistan and the nation has clearly taken it very personally.

On the streets of the capital, Islamabad, comments were forthright. "I wasn't surprised at all," one man says, "the umpire has a very bad reputation with the team. The protest by the Pakistani players, if anything, was not strong enough."

And there is also an undercurrent of anger at what is perceived to be a personal bias on the part of the match officials involved.

"It's a kind of discrimination against Asian teams", says another. "Whenever we start swinging the ball around, instantly they want to accuse us of tampering with it."

War of words

One former Pakistani player, Ramiz Raja, who was at the match, writes: "The pride of an entire people has been tarnished by his (Hair's) ludicrous and highly insensitive decision."

All these comments reflect widespread support for Inzaman and his team for standing up to what are perceived here to be unfair decisions - first, penalising Pakistan for cheating, and then calling off the match, even though Pakistan did finally return to the field of play.

And in his regular cricket column, the former Pakistani captain, Imran Khan, made perhaps the most ferocious comment: "Hair is one of those characters" he writes, "when he wears the white umpire's coat, he metamorphoses into a mini-Hitler."

But the Pakistani team and its captain do not entirely escape from criticism.

Some commentators are suggesting that the Pakistani team, while within their rights to protest, should have handled the situation differently.

"If I were in Inzaman's position," Imran says of the Pakistani captain, "while I would have made a strong protest against Hair's most unfair judgement... my prime objective would have been to squash England and win a handsome victory."

There is clearly more to come in this war of words over this not-so-gentlemanly game of cricket.

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