Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick
It has emerged that Craig Overton, the Somerset allrounder who was banned for two games at the end of last season after accumulating nine penalty points, allegedly told Sussex's Ashar Zaidi to "go back to your own f***ing country".
Overton denied the claims - made by umpire Alex Wharf and Zaidi's team-mate Michael Yardy - but was charged with a Level One offence for "using language that is obscene, offensive or insulting and/or making an obscene gesture" during Somerset's Championship fixture at Hove in September. He subsequently missed the final game of the season and still has one match left to serve.
The decision by the ECB's Cricket Discipline Commission to pursue the lowest level of offence, reported by the Guardian, contrasts with its handling of the case involving Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale in 2014. Gale was given a further two-match ban after using the term "Kolpak" when arguing with Lancashire's Ashwell Prince; while batting in a Championship match at Old Trafford, Gale told Prince to "f*** off back to your country you Kolpak f***er".
A Level Two charge was initially brought against Gale by the umpires, resulting in a two-match ban, and he was then given a further punishment by the CDC for bringing the game into disrepute. Gale missed the match at Trent Bridge in which Yorkshire clinched the title and was also barred from lifting the trophy.
Overton, who was named in the England Performance Programme the same month, escaped a similar fate. He was spoken to at the time by Wharf and the other standing umpire, Ian Gould, along with ECB cricket liaison officer Graham Cowdrey and Somerset's head coach, Matthew Maynard. Overton subsequently played no further part in the game, with the club saying he had suffered a hand injury.
On Thursday evening, Jason Gillespie, Yorkshire's head coach, indicated the club had questions for the ECB. "There is a strong chance that @YorkshireCCC will be seeking clarification on this," he wrote on Twitter. Gale, meanwhile, tweeted a link to the Guardian, saying: "Interesting article, take a read..."
The ECB has rejected any suggestion of impropriety in the process concerning Overton, stressing that the CDC is "an independent body which operates at arm's length".
The governing body said in a statement: "Following the incident, the on-field umpires sought advice from the ECB's Cricket Department who referred the matter directly to the Chairman of the Cricket Discipline Commission, Mr Gerard Elias, QC.
"After reviewing the umpires' report, the Chairman of the CDC gave clear guidance that this should be reported as a Level One offence and no further action should be taken. The automatic penalty for a Level One offence was subsequently applied and this took Craig Overton to nine points, the threshold for an automatic suspension.
"The Cricket Discipline Commission is an independent body which operates at arm's length from ECB. Craig Overton's selection for the EPP squad would have played no part whatsoever in the CDC's ruling in this matter.
"ECB refutes any suggestion of interference or bias in the proper disciplinary process."
Zaidi, who was born in Pakistan but played for Sussex using a British passport, is understood not to have heard the comment directed towards him. It was included in reports made by Wharf and Yardy, who was standing at the non-striker's end, afterwards.
After submissions were made by all parties, the CDC brought a Level One charge against Overton, which, as his third breach of the season, triggered an automatic ban.
According to the ECB's regulations, a Level Three charge covers "using language or gesture that offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, threatens, disparages or vilifies another person on the basis of that person's race, religion or belief, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation or background".
Overton and his twin brother Jamie have been identified as England stars of the future. Both were called up to the ODI squad during the summer and Jamie is currently involved with the Lions' T20 series with Pakistan A in the UAE.