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November 20, 2001
International Cricket Council match referee Mike Denness confirmed the punishments handed down to six Indian Test players relating to incidents in the second Test match against South Africa in Port Elizabeth, but refused to elaborate on his decisions at a press conference that rapidly descended into farce at St George's Park on Tuesday.
Amid accusations of bias and conspiracy, Denness sat tight-lipped next to United Cricket Board chief executive Gerald Majola in what amounted to little more than a puppet show as angry Indian and South African journalists sought vainly to establish exactly what Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Shiv Das, Deep Dasgupta, Harbhajan Singh and Sourav Ganguly had done to deserve their punishments.
Five of the players received suspended sentences from Denness, but Sehwag has been banned from playing in the third Test match at SuperSport Park starting on Friday.
Exactly why, however, remains a mystery with Denness claiming that he is not allowed to talk to the media by ICC regulations. Which, of course, begged the question of why he was at the press conference in the first place. There was no answer to this.
To further raise the temperature, it was alleged at the press conference that Indian president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, has threatened to call off the remainder of the tour if Denness was not removed as match referee.
According to a press release issued by Majola, Denness held four separate meetings with the Indian players on Monday relating to incidents during the South African second innings on Sunday.
Majola apologised for the leak of the punishments on Monday night. It emerged that Denness had specifically asked the UCB not to make an official announcement until Tuesday morning, but at least one journalist was informed of the disciplinary by the Indian team management on Monday night.
So reticent was Denness to say anything that at one point Indian commentator Ravi Shastri asked what he was doing there in the first place. "We all know what he looks like," said Shastri.
Majola said that he would talk to Denness after the press conference and try to obtain a more coherent explanation for the sentences. Two things, however, are abundantly clear: in the first place this matter is far from over; secondly, despite attempts to streamline it, the match referee system remains clumsy, inconsistent and, in this instance, incoherent.
It might even be fair to say that Denness has done far more damage to the game than the six players he punished.
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