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This tour made history of a thoroughly undesirable sort. The final Test, to be played at Centurion from November 23 to 27, was stripped of its official status by the International Cricket Council when India refused to play under the supervision of Mike Denness, the appointed referee. Denness, an England captain of the 1970s, had imposed penalties on six Indian players he had found in breach of the ICC Code of Conduct during the Second Test, which ended in Port Elizabeth on November 20. The list included the captain, Sourav Ganguly, and the people's favourite, Sachin Tendulkar.
When the ICC rejected India's demand for Denness to be replaced, the Indian board threatened to cut short the tour, a drastic action which could have left their South African counterparts facing swingeing financial penalties for not fulfilling commitments to sponsors and broadcasters. This factor, as much as government pressure, persuaded the South African board to agree that the teams should go ahead with an unofficial Test. They also intimated that Denness would not be allowed in the referee's box, whereupon the ICC instructed him to return home, along with the independent umpire from England, George Sharp.
The tourists were mere bystanders while war was waged on their behalf by Jagmohan Dalmiya, newly elected president of the Indian board and also a former president of the ICC. Dalmiya said that, at the ICC executive's next meeting in March, he would press for the Centurion match to be retrospectively recognised as a Test (it was not) and demand a review of the penalties imposed by Denness.
He also ordered the team management to stand down Virender Sehwag, whom Denness had suspended for one Test, from the game at Centurion, stating that he should thus be considered to have served his suspension. The ICC countered that, with the match downgraded, the Test Sehwag had to sit out would be the first between India and England, due to begin on December 3 at Mohali. Clearly, Dalmiya was looking to open another battlefront. Three days before the Mohali Test, he backed down on this issue, but went above the heads of India's selectors by giving Sehwag his personal assurance that he would play the Second Test against England.
Of the six Indians who allegedly breached the Code of Conduct, Sehwag was the most severely penalised, because he was deemed to have committed two offences. In common with Harbhajan Singh, who was bowling, the wicket-keeper Deep Dasgupta and Shiv Sunder Das who, like Sehwag, was fielding close in, he was found guilty of expressing dissent and attempting to intimidate the umpire by charging at him. Sehwag's other transgression was the use of "crude or abusive language". Besides being sus-pended for one Test - a punishment which had been meted out only once previously, to West Indies' Ridley Jacobs, for an incident in which Sehwag was the victim - he was fined 75 per cent of his match fee. The other three all received the same fine, but their bans, for one Test, were suspended.
Considering that Ganguly had been suspended and/or fined three times in the previous 12 months, he was fortunate to get away with only a suspended ban for not upholding the spirit of the game and failing to control his players' conduct on the field, as required of the captain by the Code, so bringing the game into disrepute.
At the eye of the storm, however, was the allegation against Tendulkar that he too had brought the game into disrepute through "interference with the match ball, thus changing its condition". This statement could only mean that Tendulkar had tampered with the ball and, by implication, he was a cheat. At first, Denness refused to comment on his verdicts or penalties, but he later issued a vague explanation of the Tendulkar case: it suggested he had not tampered with the ball, but had failed to observe the technicality of asking the umpires to supervise removal of mud from the ball. Denness added that there had been no complaint from the umpires; he had acted on his own initiative after scrutiny of video footage. Tendulkar, who hitherto had an unblemished disciplinary record, was fined 75 per cent of his match fee, with a suspended ban for one Test.
The Indian public were outraged at the slight against the character of their idol. There were street protests in towns and cities throughout the country, and scenes of uproar even in parliament. It did not escape notice that Denness had overlooked a highly aggressive appeal by the South African captain, Shaun Pollock; the omission reinforced the general view held in the subcontinent that ICC referees are racially biased. Therefore, Dalmiya had to take a stand - not that he needed much provocation to adopt a bellicose posture. He was presented with an ideal opportunity to settle scores with his old ICC adversaries.
But the new ICC chief executive, Australia's Malcolm Speed, stood his ground against the threat of schism. He offered a "referees commission" which would review Denness's actions and the broader role of referees. That was enough to end the impasse over Sehwag's ban, although, given that the ICC was already planning to reform the referee system, it looked like a face-saver. By March, it had become a "disputes resolution committee", but the Port Elizabeth case was postponed for several more months because Denness was undergoing heart surgery.
Before cricket gave way to controversy, the Test series was predictably one-sided. South Africa won comfortably, thanks to a nine-wicket victory in the First Test at Bloemfontein, even though their pace attack was below full strength and their middle order less sound than when they last met India in March 2000 (the tour which led to Hansie Cronje's downfall). With Allan Donald and the new find, Mfuneko Ngam, ruled out by long-term injuries, Pollock's fast-bowling support came from Nantie Hayward, in his first Test for 15 months, and Makhaya Ntini. Hayward had his moments, but Ntini had an unrewarding series. The extra burden was valiantly borne by Pollock, who scaled the heights with 16 wickets in the two Tests, including ten in the First.
The lack of class in the batting after No. 3 was camouflaged by the dominance of Herschelle Gibbs, voted the Man of the Series for the purpose and flair which brought him a century in each of the two Tests, and the consistency of Jacques Kallis, who collected 202 in four innings, two unbeaten. On the one occasion when South Africa seemed to be losing the initiative, at Bloemfontein, Lance Klusener came up trumps with 108 at No. 6. Pollock reserved his highest score (113 not out) for the unofficial Test, but scored an unbeaten 55 at a crucial stage at Port Elizabeth.
The Indians entered the series in low spirits after their poor performance in the limited-overs triangular that preceded it - hitting rock bottom in a 70-run defeat by Kenya - and some seemed to lack the management's confidence. They were without a second specialist opening batsman; Connor Williams, an uncapped left-hander from Baroda, was called up on the eve of the First Test, but not considered for selection even for the Second, because the intervening first-class game was washed out, leaving him without an innings. His only outing came in the unofficial Test, when Sehwag was omitted and Ganguly was unfit; Williams made the most of it with a gritty 42.
The conundrum of who should go in first with Das severely tested team spirit. Rahul Dravid was persuaded to do so in the First Test, without success. Neither Dravid nor Laxman would accept the role for the Second Test; the night before, Ganguly said he would do it, but this proved no more than a PR exercise. Next day, Deep Dasgupta, who as wicket-keeper was considered the one expendable batsman, was handed the poisoned chalice. He stayed in for 78 minutes in the first innings and, gaining in confidence, scored 63 in the second, batting for 335 minutes to help save the match. Dasgupta was not even supposed to be in the running for a Test place, after keeping indifferently in the one-day games, but his replacement, Samir Dighe, dropped out with a back injury just before the First Test.
There were a couple of glimpses of the Indian batting in all its glory. At Bloemfontein, Tendulkar and Sehwag, making his debut, scored a century apiece and together put on 220 for the fifth wicket in a blazing counter-attack, while V. V. S. Laxman made a
dazzling 89 at Port Elizabeth. Ganguly had scored plentifully in the triangular, but found runs hard to come by in the longer game, where his dislike of the short ball outside the off stump was ruthlessly exploited.
Although just back from injury, Javagal Srinath was India's most penetrative bowler, with 13 wickets in two Tests and two five-fors. Despite helpful conditions, the three other pace bowlers - Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar - did not advance their reputations and were dropped for the home series against England. The pitches denied the spinners help, though Harbhajan Singh might have harnessed the bounce available at Bloemfontein, had he not missed the match through illness. Anil Kumble was at least accurate, if not deadly, on his comeback - he had not played a Test since these teams last met, 20 months earlier, following surgery on his shoulder.
If the tourists were due sympathy on any count, it was for being denied a fair opportunity for preparation. Only two first-class matches were scheduled outside the Tests, and both were washed out without a ball bowled.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Nicky Oppenheimer XI v Indians at Randjesfontein, Oct 1, 2001
Tour Match: South Africa A v Indians at Benoni, Oct 3, 2001
Tour Match: South African Board President's XI v Indians at Durban, Oct 29-31, 2001
South Africa A v Indians at East London, Nov 10-13, 2001
Unofficial 3rd Test: South Africa v India at Centurion, Nov 23-27, 2001