David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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Yorkshire have essentially been given a free pass into the quarter-finals of the Vitality Blast after Leicestershire were docked two points for ill discipline during their home match against Northamptonshire Steelbacks on Friday.
The sanction makes what was a winner-takes-all tie between Leicestershire and Yorkshire at Grace Road on Sunday meaningless in terms of the North Group table. Leicestershire had previously been only a point behind Yorkshire and had the chance to overhaul them with a victory.
Leicestershire were on a final warning with the ECB disciplinary panel following an avalanche of fixed penalty notices and had been informed on August 2 last year that any further fixed penalty in the next 12 months could lead to a two-point penalty in whichever competition the incident took place.
They incurred two fixed penalty notices against Northants - both of the incidents occurring in an impassioned finale.
As Neesham walked off, Arron Lilley ran up from the leg-side to remonstrate with him and had to be pushed away by Taylor with the umpire, Russell Warren, also intervening. The umpires, Warren and Richard Illingworth, then had further words with Leicestershire's captain, Colin Ackermann. Leicestershire won the match by one run.
Naveen-ul-Haq, the Afghanistan fast bowler, also fell foul of the disciplinary board. He was removed from the attack with one ball of his spell remaining after bowling full-tosses above waist high in the penultimate over.
The playing conditions in the Blast rule that two beamers in a spell must not just bring automatic removal from the attack, but also an automatic disciplinary offence with the umpires having no discretion as to whether they are either dangerous or deliberate. There was no show of dissent after the decision. Footage of the match suggests that Leicestershire accepted the decision with good grace. With bowlers heavily reliant upon slower balls of various types to combat a batter-dominated game, the double punishment is far from universally poular.
A Foxes statement said: "Leicestershire has worked tirelessly to improve on-field discipline following two previous hearings in 2021 and did not incur any fixed penalties during the first half of the current season.
"It was therefore requested for the improvement in behaviour to be considered in mitigation, but based on previous stipulations the CDC has decided to apply the sanction immediately, with no right to appeal the decision."
Leicestershire appealed for the ECB to impose the points penalty deduction next season, but the ECB disciplinary committee felt that previous decisions did not allow such a leeway. Sean Jarvis, Leicestershire's chief executive, who has worked unflaggingly to attract crowds back to the Uptonsteel ground this summer, now finds what was the most significant match of the season rendered meaningless.
For Yorkshire, a place in the quarter-finals is a relief. A reconstituted club, still seriously understaffed in places, must contend with the fallout of racism allegations by Azeem Rafiq, a former player, against the previous regime. Yorkshire have been charged by an ECB investigatory panel, and are expected to accept most of the charges, and also face action by their former coach, Andrew Gale, which is due to come before an employment tribunal in Leeds at the end of October.
Although the bigger picture is a long-term commitment to diversity, Yorkshire's chances of pushing through long-term changes will be helped if they can find success on the field - and that will not be easy with several players still mulling over their future and contractual negotiations at a delicate stage.
Yorkshire will also be severely weakened in their last-eight tie. David Willey, Dawid Malan and Harry Brook have all been called up for white-ball duties by England and Finn Allen is expected to join New Zealand in Ireland. It would be quite a surprise - although, in theory perfectly possible - if Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow made themselves available after the India Test.
Other counties will also face a similar draining of resources, if not to Yorkshire's extent, and with England's T20Is against India scheduled for Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and the Blast last-eight ties taking place on Wednesday, Thursday (probably) and Friday, it remains to be seen if the ECB will show any flexibility on player availability. That representations will be happening behind the scenes can be taken for granted.
Leicestershire had received six fixed penalties for breaches of ECB Directive 3.6 from the period August 2, 2020 and to July 1, 2021 and, after the August 2 warning, they had been called to a subsequent hearing a month later after incurring a further fixed penalty point.
The disciplinary committee reiterated the warnings that had been made. "On 2 August 2021 the CDC imposed the sanction on the club as follows: Subject to the over-riding discretion of the panel, should there be one or more fixed penalty issued to a Leicestershire player within 12 months of this hearing, the Club will be deducted either 12 LV= County Championship points (or equivalent), 2 Royal London Cup points (or equivalent) or 2 Vitality Blast points (or equivalent). The more serious the breach or breaches, the more likely it is that points will be deducted.
"On 3 September following the further fixed penalty the CDC decision stated 'if there are any further breaches at any Level on or before 1 August 2022, a points deduction will almost certainly be an inevitable consequence'."