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November 23, 2001
The cricket world is in danger of being split into two as a result of the ICC backing the decisions of the match referee Mike Denness at Port Elizabeth. There are a lot of issues in this episode, which would give birth to all sorts of arguments and in a way every argument would have its justification. What has happened over the last three days is something, which will alter the functioning of the apex body in international cricket if not the history of the game.
Mike Denness has gone by the book in meting out sentences to the Indian cricketers. There is nothing wrong with that but the main bone of contention is that he has not been consistent in punishing anyone and everyone guilty of going against the ICC code of conduct for the players. There has been mixed opinions from across the world about the BCCI and the Indians over-reacting because Tendulkar has been suspended and fined for allegedly "tampering with the ball". That's sheer nonsense. The point here is that six players have been brought to book.
Tendulkar, at worst, can be deemed guilty of cleaning the seam without informing the umpire. Yes, there is some logic in that ruling. But to accuse him of ball-tampering and imposing such severe fines was going over the top. There have been instances when past conduct (good or bad) has been taken into account before fining or banning a player. Some referees have even taken the inexperience of a player into account. In the case of Tendulkar, it is a fact known the world over that he would be the last person to resort to cheap tactics. A fine would have been more than adequate if the referee wanted to get into the limelight. Sehwag, meanwhile, has just got into international cricket and to ban him almost straightaway is being far too ridiculous.
The final straw was the sentence given to the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly. There was no word from the umpires on the field that his boys were appealing either excessively or menacingly. That being the case there was no way Ganguly could have been fined and suspended for not controlling his team. Thank God that Denness did not fine Dravid and Dasgupta for playing too sedately on the final day! The one thing to be considered is that going by the book is alright but when the players have no right to even fend for themselves, it would be prudent to bring common sense into play and also go by the spirit of the laws. Going by the way Denness has gone about things, it seems that common sense was something he chose to ignore completely.
The ICC as always has shown how reluctant it is to take any kind of action based on reason or fair play. It was not a surprise that ICC supported Denness to the hilt, for if at all any organizing body is full of double standards, then it is the ICC. If the ICC's investigating authorities can take a single word "NO" to absolve certain players regarding their alleged involvement in match fixing, then what prevented the ICC taking Tendulkar's word when he said he merely cleaned the ball, not altered its condition. Then, of course, the English authorities have always adopted the "holier than thou" attitude towards the rest of the world and even more so in the case of the sub-continent.
The BCCI should be appreciated for the stand it took and it was time the bubble burst. There has always been a general feeling backed by enough evidence that the Indian cricketers were hard done by on several occasions by the match referees. That the UCBSA has asked Denness to step down is almost a fierce slap on the face of the ICC, which goes to show how strong the international cricket body is. The "Denness Drama" will continue for a fair period of time and it will interesting to see how the plot unfolds in the next few weeks. At the moment the ICC's power and its very existence is in question and it is a case of acting now to restore some sense back into this game and avoid further embarrassment in the future.
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