Herschelle Gibbs, the South African batsman, will miss the remainder of the series against Pakistan after being banned for two Tests by the ICC. Gibbs was charged under Level 3.3 of the ICC's Code of Conduct for making abusive comments about a section of the crowd, and his punishment was meted out at a hearing conducted by the match referee Chris Broad. He will also appear before a Cricket South Africa disciplinary committee on Tuesday .
Gibbs apologised for the remark but pleaded not guilty to the Level 3 charge, but Broad, in explaining his verdict, said: "I took into account the mitigating circumstances that the players were provoked by unruly spectators. However the remark was racially offensive, the player admitted saying it and on that basis I am content that the level of the charge and the resulting punishment is appropriate.
"Cricket has a zero tolerance of racism," added Broad, "as has been illustrated by the introduction last year of an amended ICC Anti-Racism Code, and this decision is an illustration of that fact."
The ICC code prohibits using "...any language or gestures that offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, threatens, disparages or vilifies another person on the basis of that person's race, religion, colour, descent or national or ethic origin". Gibbs's comments, believed to violate the code, were picked up by the stump microphone on the fourth day of the first Test at Centurion.
Pakistan had lodged an official complaint with Broad after Gibbs was heard saying "a bunch of bloody animals" among other offensive comments. The comments were made shortly before lunch, soon after South Africa complained about three spectators near the boundary who allegedly swore at bowler Paul Harris. Ordinarily, a Level 3 offence carries a ban of between two and four Test matches or between four and eight ODIs.
"CSA has investigated the matter, and we have heard the remarks made by Herschelle Gibbs in response to verbal abuse directed by a number of Pakistan supporters at Paul Harris while he was fielding on the boundary," said Gerald Majola, the chief executive officer of CSA. "Herschelle says these remarks were for the ears only of his team-mates in his proximity, and were directed in general terms at that section of the crowd that had verbally abused Paul Harris. He has apologised if he has caused offence to anyone.
"However, CSA regards this whole matter in a most serious light and Herschelle will appear before CSA's disciplinary commissioner at the earliest opportunity. CSA would like to commend the stadium authorities for evicting a number of unruly spectators, including those Pakistan supporters who abused Paul Harris. This action was taken in terms of the regulations flowing from the International Cricket Council's Anti-Racism Policy."
South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, agreed that Gibbs's punishment was merited, but added that his players had been heavily provoked during the match. "Herschelle was down at third man and he was copping a lot of abuse and I think even racial abuse," said Smith. "The worrying thing is that Pakistan always have a large support base around the world. Security needs to be looked at.
"There was an incident where Makhaya [Ntini] was hit on the head by a Pakistan flag going up the stairs," he added. "The guys were provoked and that is why they are angry but we understand that what Herschelle did was wrong." It is the second time that Gibbs has been banned from Test cricket, following his involvement with bookmakers in 2000. Australia's Darren Lehmann was the last player to be punished for racial comments, following his outburst against Sri Lanka in 2002-03.
Saleem Altaf, the Pakistan board's director of cricket, said "Sledging is acceptable but if it is tainted with racist comments it is unacceptable. Anyone making racist taunts is liable to be punished under the International Cricket Council Code of Conduct. We have let the manager proactively handle the issue."
Cricket SA's media spokesman Gordon Templeton, who claimed that he was "not privy" to the precise nature of the Pakistani complaint, said: "They are two separate matters. We are aware of the PCB's complaint but the CSA hearing is in terms of our own code of conduct and policies."
South African coach Mickey Arthur added he was not happy about the stump microphones. "They are a bit intrusive," he said. "What is said on the field should stay on the field."