Harbhajan faces minimum ten-match ban
Harbhajan Singh faces a minimum ten-match ban from the Indian Premier League if an official hearing, in New Delhi on Monday afternoon, finds him guilty of having hit Sreesanth, his India team-mate.
Harbhajan also faces separate action from the BCCI, which has asked him to explain, "as a contracted player", his role in the incident after the IPL match between the offspinner's Mumbai Indians and Sreesanth's King XI Punjab on Friday. Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, said on Monday that Sudhir Nanavati, a lawyer, has been appointed to conduct a "preliminary inquiry" and submit a report "within 15 days" to Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, who will refer the findings to the board's disciplinary committee for possible action.
Sreesanth, meanwhile, faces either an official reprimand or a strong unofficial warning for his "provocative" actions leading up to the incident, which was captured on one of the host broadcaster's on-field cameras.
"I understand the BCCI is looking into the [Harbhajan] matter separately," IS Bindra, a member of the IPL governing council, told Cricinfo. When asked about the possible penalty involved, Bindra, who is also president of the Punjab Cricket Association which hosted Friday's match at Mohali, confirmed that Harbhajan faced a minimum ban of 10 IPL games.
If the minimum ban is applied by Farokh Engineer, the match referee, it would still seriously affect Harbhajan's chances of playing any further role in this edition of the IPL. Mumbai Indians, who lost their first four games, have 10 more to play in the home-and-away league format till the semi-finals.
However, hectic efforts are on by some officials within the BCCI and IPL, run by the Indian board, to ensure that the "judicial principle of double jeopardy" is applied in this case, and Harbhajan is not "punished for the same offence twice". This would mean that the offspinner could be punished by the IPL, which is officially a domestic event, but may not face any separate sanctions from the BCCI on playing for India.
"Any action from the BCCI's side could result in a further ban from playing in a specified number of Tests and ODIs. But that would run contrary to the basic judicial principle of double jeopardy. Normally, any person shouldn't be punished for the same offence twice," a senior official told Cricinfo.
But another section within the Indian establishment, which has had its eye on Harbhajan ever since allegations of indiscipline were reported against him by the team management during the Greg Chappell era, is keen to see that "strong action" is taken to send out a "serious message" in the "larger interests of the game".
Officials from this hardline group were also not entirely convinced of Harbhajan's version of events during the subsequent race row last year involving Andrew Symonds in Australia. "Once Sachin Tendulkar backed Harbhajan's version of the race crisis in Australia, the BCCI had no option but to support him all the way," said another BCCI official, who said he was strongly pushing for a strict penalty.
However, officials on both sides of the Harbhajan debate agree it is time Sreesanth, the temperamental fast bowler who has crossed the line of accepted on-field behaviour often in his two-year career, is pulled up as well, either in the form of an official reprimand or a private warning. "The fresh video evidence might prove Harbhajan is guilty, but nobody should ignore Sreesanth's history of on-field problems and provocative actions leading up to the incident," an IPL official, who was present in Mohali, said on Friday.
Interestingly, Harbhajan and Sreesanth told reporters on Saturday they had "sorted out the issue" and were now like "brothers of one family". But Engineer, the adjudicator on Monday, said: "We are not going to sweep things under the carpet."
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo in Bangalore