OUTSPOKEN Australian umpire Darrell Hair has been charged with bringing cricket into disrepute by criticising Sri Lankan spinner Murali Muralidaran's controversial bowling action.
The International Cricket Council decided in Christchurch yesterday that the Australian Cricket Board should convene a tribunal to hear the case as soon as possible.
Hair was surprised to learn of his citing from a journalist.
"The ACB won't allow me to comment but I was surprised to hear the news from you rather than from the ACB," he said in Sydney.
If found guilty under clause eight of the International Code of Conduct, which forbids comments detrimental to the game, Hair could be fined, reprimanded or suspended.
Hair is the first umpire to be cited under the code, stemming from his recently released autobiography.
He is Australia's leading umpire but under pressure has already stood down from all Sri Lanka's matches in the one-day tournament against Australia and England now in progress.
Muralidaran played in Sri Lanka's opening Carlton and United Series match against England at the Gabba last night and would have been told of Hair's fate during the tea break. He was not available for comment.
Hair outraged the Sri Lankans when he no-balled Muralidaran seven times for throwing during the Melbourne Test in 1995 and again when he said in his autobiography that he could have called him many more times.
Hair described the spinner's action as diabolical, prompting the Sri Lankans to complain to the ICC that he had brought the game into disrepute.
ICC chief executive David Richards said it was unprecedented and uncontemplated that a serving umpire would make public comments on current players.
"But in fairness to Darrell, we have to have a proper hearing," he said. "We have never had a set of circumstances like that applied to an umpire. The penalties that are set down in the code for a player are the limit to which one can go in terms of an umpire. If a player is banned for three Test matches, our approach has always been it's the next three Test matches whether he's injured, in form or not. But no umpire umpires three consecutive test matches so the ACB will have to grapple with that issue if he is found guilty."
Richards, who hoped the matter would be resolved by late this month or early next month, said other possible scenarios included a fine, reprimand or not guilty verdict.