India in West Indies 2006

Sehwag - a victim of double standards?

Virender Sehwag must be wondering what he has done to be subjected to such blatant double standards

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

June 8, 2006

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'What sort of spirit allows the captain of a side to snatch the ball from an umpire's hand?' © Getty Images
Virender Sehwag must be wondering what he has done wrong. Before arriving in the West Indies, he was the victim of an absurd "warning" by the Indian board; at the end of the first Test here, he's been fined 20% of his match fee for carrying on with an appeal without looking back at the umpire. The problem with both these instances was not that Sehwag was in the wrong - he may well have been - but the fact that no action was taken with respect to others, culpable of similar, if not far worse, crimes.

All arbitrators, unless they are blatantly biased, are ultimately judged on their consistency. Jeff Crowe might have been bang on in imposing a fine on Sehwag, but the issue cannot be viewed in isolation. Less than 24 hours earlier, Brian Lara, with the entire public gaze on him, had waggled his agitated fingers at Asad Rauf, the umpire, and gone on to angrily snatch the ball from him. While Sehwag's case can, from one angle at least, be construed as a natural reaction by a bowler (to run towards his team mates after claiming a wicket), Lara was quite obviously guilty. As Michael Holding, the legendary West Indian fast bowler, said in his syndicated column with Press Trust of India: "He might have had his reasons to get agitated but you can't show disrespect to the umpires in the middle."

There have been some suggestions that Rahul Dravid's declaration of the innings, when Daren Ganga completed the catch of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, should have brought the innings to a close and prompted the two batsmen to walk off. But, as Law 14.1 of the cricket rule book clearly states: "The captain of the batting side may declare an innings closed, when the ball is dead, at any time during a match." The fact of the matter is that when Dravid signaled his two batsman to come in, the ball was, in fact, not dead. So that doesn't constitute a declaration in the first place. So Dhoni and Kaif were well entitled to wait and watch the umpires wrack their brains over the decision.

Also, Lara, as he mentioned in the press conference after the match, was concerned with the "spirit of the game" being upheld. "At the end of the day, it's a sport you're playing and you got to trust the guy who you're playing against," he said. "There are situations where we can't come to decision. Of course, it's left to the umpires. But if we can't back each other as a team, it doesn't say much for the sport. I just felt that the spirit of the game was being tested. As human beings, we all make mistakes but we all want to see the betterment of the game. It took so long - 15 minutes for 24 big men to come to a decision. I thought it was ridiculous."

There are two loopholes here. Firstly, if one were to take Dhoni's word, Ganga himself wasn't initially sure if the catch had been legitimately completed. "He [Brian] came late to me. Daren came first and it was tough for him because it [the boundary rope] was on his back side. And it's hard to feel a piece of paper when it's behind you. So he was not entirely sure about it, he said, 'I'm not really sure if I stepped on it'." No problems with the game's spirit there.

Secondly, and this is vital, what sort of spirit allows the captain of a side to snatch the ball from an umpire's hand? What sort of spirit allows him to wag a finger at the umpire? The irony is that the ICC penalises the captain twice as much as the players in cases of slow over-rate, but has allowed Lara to get away with this. Had the match been more delicately poised, Dhoni would probably not have walked at all. But again, one can only analyse events that happened. It is reliably learnt that Dhoni eventually walked off the field, not because he agreed with the decision, but because he felt that he shouldn't create a fuss when a great player like Lara is taking such a strong stand. Here is a batsman, who might not have been out, who might well have deserved the benefit of the doubt, deciding to go off because of the stature of the opponent. Now you decide which part of the whole issue was ridiculous.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo

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