You have to love him even when you don't wanna. Take a bow, Martin Johnson from today's Bellylaugh.
This guy is sometimes so good he makes me want to hang myself- such technical assurance. Over tio you, MJ.
It would be no great surprise to discover that the one man who has ended up carrying the can for the Pakistani ball-tampering affair had no greater influence on his team's behaviour than an enthusiastic endorsement of prolonging the tea interval. Inzamam-ul-Haq has a long history of tampering, but only with the food supplies, and a rigorous forensic examination would probably find nothing more suspicious underneath his fingernails than traces of jam roly-poly.
The Pakistan captain faces a lengthy ban when the International Cricket Council convene to try his case on Friday, even though his non-confrontational nature suggests that the dressing-room sit-in was orchestrated by higher ranking officials from his own cricket board. Inzi did once wade into a crowd in Toronto when a spectator called him a "potato", but his general deportment is such that you could replace him at first slip with an exhibit from Madame Tussauds without being able to tell the difference.
And so it was on Sunday. His only reaction to the ball change was to look vaguely puzzled, and it was only when the players came off for bad light, and tea, that events took a more serious turn. Had it been Javed Miandad in charge, who seldom spotted a potential fire without wading in with a can of petrol, they'd probably have had to use the waste pipe on the motorised water mop as a riot cannon.
It is not too fanciful to suggest that if this business had involved a non-white umpire there would not have been quite such a volatile reaction. Darrell Hair is perceived in Pakistan as a symbol of old-style colonial arrogance, with a previous history of picking on players (Muttiah Muralitharan being the best known example) from the sub-continent. In other parts of the world, however, the only real criticism of Hair is that, in terms of considering the wider implications of a decision, he shoots first and asks questions later.
On the other hand, Hair can justifiably point to the fact that he was merely implementing prescribed procedure, and that cricket's law makers rarely allow much scope for individual discretion. The England and Wales Cricket Board once issued an edict that all pitches in county cricket must start "straw coloured", which was almost as barmy as the ICC's present rule book on umpires' dress code. During the last World Cup, Neil Mallender was given top marks for his decision-making, but docked five points for having two sun hats (one belonging to the bowler) on the top of his head. There is, for those who don't know it, an official ICC belt clip for the hanging of extra sun hats.
If the ICC have led by example in wearing only one hat down the years, it has largely been of the circus clown's variety. During the 1992 Pakistani ball-tampering affair, the one statement they issued not containing the words "no comment" was that they were refusing to produce in evidence a ball that had been confiscated by the umpires on the grounds that it would be "prejudicial". In truth, they had no idea where it was. It had, in fact, been pocketed by the third umpire, Don Oslear, and the offending projectile now resides in a bungalow in Cleethorpes.
The hardest thing of all to fathom, though, is quite why cricket should continually be getting embroiled in controversy over an offence that many would view as the equivalent of bringing back the death penalty for parking on a double yellow line. Bowlers have been fiddling with the ball since the days of top hats and curved bats, and one England seamer of Sixties vintage, who had fingernails like an electric can opener, could sharpen a seam, with a single one-handed twirl, to the point where he could have shaved with it.
During Sky TV's Sunday afternoon broadcast, they bravely refrained from introducing one of their panellists as an expert on ball interference, though the Michael Atherton dirt-in-the-pocket business once again generated a hue and cry beyond all balance of proportion. The lightest note came when Graham Gooch first discovered the match referee was investigating some kind of suspicious activity, and said to his team-mates: "Well, it can't be us doing anything because their batsmen are smashing it all over the park."
The answer to all this would be for the ICC to downgrade ball-tampering from its hanging offence category, but you have to wonder about common sense being embraced by any ruling body that can clamp down on an umpire for wearing two sun hats. In the meantime, Hair resumes his umpiring in a second XI game at Chesterfield next Wednesday, and Derbyshire's bowlers will doubtless be preparing for the game - behind locked bathroom doors - with a pair of nail clippers.
Now that's what I call journalism