More random thoughts for the weekend

An old friend, an inexplicably obsessive cricket fanatic, has just telephoned in a state of high excitement about the collapse today of the fourth Test match between England and Pakistan.  My first thought was that the Pakistanis must have walked off in protest at racist insults from the spectators.  Happily it turns out that they had not walked off at all: they had declined to walk on after the tea interval, in protest against the (Australian) umpire's accusation that they had illegally tampered with the ball, and his action in taking it away and making them play with a new one.  When the Pakistanis failed to come on after tea, the umpires waited for the statutory two minutes and then removed the bails, signalling the end of the match.  It has now been announced that the umpires had acted correctly and that by its failure to appear when play was supposed to resume, the Pakistani team had forfeited the match. 

There are various ironies in all this:  Pakistan was well placed to win the match, had it continued;  relations between the Pakistani and England teams have been (and apparently remain) extremely cordial; at one point the Pakistanis trooped out onto the field to signal their willingness to resume play, but neither the umpires nor the England batsmen followed them out, so they returned to the pavilion; the Australian umpire has, I'm told, a history of controversy in other matches over which he has officiated — but in this case he apparently has the backing of cricket's international governing body, the ICC (don't ask me what that stands for) so presumably he will continue to umpire matches elsewhere, leaving a trail of drama behind him. 

There's evidently an element of farce in this mini-saga, but it's very sad for Britain's large Pakistani population (including very many Brits of Pakistani parentage or grand-parentage), already feeling somewhat battered by Pakistan's ambiguous role in the so-called war on terror.  But I confess that the heart sinks a little at the prospect of weeks of post mortem all over the media, with the experts ponderously comparing today's events with long forgotten cricket controversies involving Wally Hammond and Ranjitsinji in 1906.

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Hats tipped to Tony's 'Retired Rambler' blog — no, not that Tony — for his comments on the extraordinary story of the passengers on a flight due out of Malaga for Manchester who refused to remain on board in the company of two fellow-passengers "reported to be of Asian or Middle Eastern appearance" who they thought were behaving suspiciously, although according to some accounts they were doing nothing more suspicious than sweating heavily.  The two men were removed from the aircraft, "questioned for several hours" (according to the BBC report) and eventually allowed to board a later flight.  

For some reason this dreadful episode reminds me of the weekend Financial Times's interesting survey of the situation in a number of countries' airports as regards the draconian restrictions on permissible cabin baggage following the revelation of the UK plot to bomb aircraft flying between the UK and the US.  According to the FT, British airports (as of 18 August) were "back to a near-normal service… Passengers boarding at UK airports may carry one laptop-sized case as hand baggage. They cannot take liquids aboard."  In Spain

"the new restrictions apply only to flights to the UK, US or Puerto Rico. Passengers have to check in three hours before departure and have shoes and hand luggage X-rayed at the boarding gate.  They can carry no liquids or gels except for milk and juice for babies, and medicines. … Iberia said those restrictions, and the 45cm by 35cm by 16cm size limit for carry-on bags, applied to flights bound for Argentina as well as the US, UK and Puerto Rico." 

Argentina?  Why Argentina?

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Here is a real gem added as a draft entry last June in the wonderfully authoritative online Oxford English Dictionary (subscription): 

"yada yada, int. and n. DRAFT ENTRY June 2006      
colloq. (chiefly U.S.).  
A. int.    Indicating (usually dismissively) that further details are predictable or evident from what has preceded: ‘and so on’, ‘blah blah blah’.
B. n.    Trivial, meaningless, or uninteresting talk or writing; chatter. Cf. BLAH n.
Example [one of several — BLB]:  2005 Hoosier Times (Bloomington, Indiana) (Herald-Times ed.) 20 Mar. F5/5 The EULA, or ‘End-User License Agreement’, is the yadda yadda yadda that you agree to when you install software on your computer. It's usually pages and pages of stuff that no one reads."

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I'm baffled by the huge fuss over the German novelist and Nobel Literature prize-winner Gunter Grass's admittedly belated revelation that he had been recruited as a teenager, in the final months of the second world war, into the Waffen SS, the élite fighting arm of Hitler's SS.  Grass says, credibly, that he never fired a shot and there's not the slightest suggestion that he personally participated in any of the criminal activity for which the SS was notorious.  What makes the whole thing even more mysterious (to me, anyway) is that Grass has never made any secret of the fact that earlier in his teens he was a keen Gunter GrassNazi and a member of the Hitler Youth.  Since he was later compulsorily drafted into the Waffen SS, that fact doesn't seem to me materially to affect what was already known, nor to make it significantly worse.  Many commentators in Germany are nevertheless saying that the huge moral authority built up by Grass, not only through his novels and other writings but also through his political activism, as the conscience of Germany and the scourge of those who were reluctant to come to terms with the Nazi past, has been ruined by the discovery that he, of all people, has hitherto kept secret the facts about his membership of the SS.  Others have rallied to his defence. 

I can't see that the massive reputation of, especially, The Tin Drum can be affected by the SS revelation.  Nor am I a big fan of the contemporary morality that requires all of us to reveal every dubious detail of our private lives and murky pasts, on pain of being dismissed as frauds and hypocrites if we hold back on anything.  To be on the safe side, I had better come clean now about my brief career, if you can call it that, as a National Service soldier in the 7th Royal Tank Regiment, serving in what was then the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong with the task and duty of defending that territory against the Chinese hordes.  In my own defence I can only plead that I was remarkably successful in carrying out this onerous military task:  it was only after I had left the place that Hong Kong fell into Chinese hands.  I can't think why I didn't get a medal.  Perhaps, though, it explains the lenient view I'm inclined to take of Gunter Grass's similar indiscretion.


4 Responses

  1. Tim Weakley says:


    You deserved well of your country.  Your presence as a young Cornet of Tank so impressed the Chinks, in fact, that they left the place alone for another forty-odd years.

    My contributions also went unsung.  In early 1952 Churchill had the idea that the odds-and-sods in holding companies at depots and training centres should be organised into mobile defensive units to guard installations and communications against the Russian parachutists who the old boy thought would invade the country in large numbers in the event of the balloon going up in Central Europe.   The lasting result of my military proficiency was that not a single Spetznaz trooper dared approach the Exe bridge on the Exeter bypass before the Russian Empire collapsed.

    Brian adds:  Tim, we are both shining examples of the effectiveness of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the power of the ultimate deterrent.   

  2. Michael Hornsby says:

               As the media post mortem you feared on the latest cricketing brouhaha is now well underway, I hope you won't mind, Brian, if I add my mite to the controversy. It seems to me that Darrell Hair, the umpire at the centre of the rumpus, though plainly a truculent fellow of a recognisably Australian type, has been grieviouslyy traduced in much of the punditry. On all the evidence, he acted in good faith and entirely (if inflexibly) in accordance with the rule book, and the Pakistanis, whether or not they were guilty of any wrongdoing,  no less clearly put themselves in the wrong by refusing to come out to play, even after they had been warned of the consequences of such a refusal. There may be a case for taking a fresh look at the rule book as regards ball tampering. It does seem rather extreme that an umpire can accuse and convict an entire side of cheating simply on the basis of his opinion, without having to produce any further evidence, that the wear and tear on the ball after 56 overs of play is more than would normally have occurred and must have been caused by illegal tampering. The principle that the umpire is always right, even when he is wrong, is an indispensable and well-established one when it comes to applying the basic rules of  play – deciding on appeals for LBW or caught behind, for example. But when it comes to an umpire's deciding that a player, or entire side, has cheated (in other words, has deliberately broken the laws of cricket), natural justice suggests that the accused should have a right of appeal against the ruling to a third party or body. However, the rule book does not provide for that as things stand, an omission for which Hair can hardly be blamed.

  3. Brian says:

    Michael, I bow to your (and just about everybody else's) greatly superior familiarity with the mysteries of cricket.  Nevertheless, as a recent visitor from Mars, I can't help wondering why Mr Hair didn't exercise the discretion that he logically must have had in order to avert instant protests and thus to enable the match to continue.  Since his judgement that the damage to the ball was the result of Pakistani tampering can only have been that — a judgement — he could (and should?) surely have told the Pakistani and England captains of his suspicion, warned that he would commission an investigation after the end of the match, acknowledge that he could turn out to be mistaken, and order the match to continue.  He could perhaps have spoken similarly to both teams during the tea interval and answered any complaints in order to head off any potentially damaging protests. 

    Even after failing to do these things and finding that the Pakistanis were refusing to come out onto the ground after tea for the statutory two minutes, could he not have used his imagination, if any, and suspended instead of terminating play while he talked to the two captains in an effort to postpone protests until after the end of the match?  Even if the so-called Laws of Cricket don't expressly provide for such a procedure, it seems unlikely in the extreme that anyone would have been stupid enough to challenge it, given that all concerned, from the paying spectators down to the humblest members of both teams, evidently wanted the match to continue — except for the umpire, surely a crazy situation.  If the Law is manifestly 'a ass',  the intelligent thing is surely to apply a liberal dose of common sense to it.

    The new revelation that Mr Hair has offered his resignation from umpiring in exchange for a rather handsome dollop of compensation only seems to confirm any pre-existing doubts about his judgement, although in other walks of life demands for massive compensation by persons claiming to have suffered some kind of imperceptible disadvantage or minor injustice are commonplace, and don't produce the buckets of horrified excoriation currently being tipped over Mr Hair's head.  A bad hair day indeed.

    But since I can't see much sense in spending five entire days watching 22 grown men (or women, come to that) hitting a ball about in a field, a moderately enjoyable activity for children with which to while away an idle hour or two after lunch, I recognise that I'm not well equipped to comment, or to "let daylight in upon the magic", something Bagehot famously warned against (in a rather different context).

  4. Michael Hornsby says:

           I wouldn’t dissent from most of that. Certainly, anyone possessed of a normal quota of tact and imagination would have exercised the sort of common-sense discretion you describe and Mr Hair so signally failed to show. His subsequent bizarre behaviour can only have cast doubt on the soundness of his judgement in general, and by association on the reasonableness of his summary conviction of the Pakistanis for ball-tampering in particular. The Pakistanis are already claiming to have been vindicated  and may now well escape the punishment that their unacceptable conduct – whether or not they were guilty of ball-tampering – merits. They are also likely to be emboldened to press even more strongly their demand that Mr Hair should never be allowed to officiate again in any match in which they are involved. If the ICC were to yield to that pressure, it  would set a dreadful precedent. What a mess – at least for those of us who care about these things and resent having daylight let in upon our childish magic! Still, cricket has survived much bigger controversies, as some commentators have pointed out. Australia is said to have considered withdrawing from the Empire over the body-line bowling rumpus in the 1930s.



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