Saturday, December 1, 2001
M A I N   F E A T U R E

caught at silly point !

Mike Denness became a villain for the punishment he slapped on six Indian cricketers recently. The sentence stays, the man goes. I cannot see any method in Jagmohan Dalmiya’s madness, if there is one, says L. H. Naqvi.

I have been toying with the idea of trying my hand at writing fiction after Sir Vidia won the Nobel for literature. I did not have a plot to peg my story on. I was about to give up when Jagmohan Dalmiya offered me a good subject for writing what I believe to should be an interesting tale.


My story is about a humourless, colourless judge. His legal knowledge is suspect and that makes him an authority on all aspects of law! The local don has a score to settle with a community leader. So he bribes the judge to order the hanging of the community leader by implicating him in a false case of murder. But the community rises in defence of its leader. However, someone who has absolutely no authority either to change the judge or his judgement manages to push himself in the frame. He allows the hanging of the community leader, but has the judge removed from his post! Any resemblance of this self-appointed arbiter to Dalmiya is incidental.

If the story sounds absurd, don't blame me. Blame Dalmiya, the voluble past President of the International Cricket Council and current head of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Ask him whether removing Mike Denness as the match referee was more important or a review of the unfair sentence passed against Saurav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Virendra Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Deep Dasgupta and Shiv Sunder Dass. Official records will show that Tendulkar was found guilty of the despicable offence of ball-tampering. Dalmiya may be happy with the ploy of having the judge removed, but accepting his questionable verdict against more than half the Indian team in a single match. But the nation is certainly not happy with the turn of events.

Mike Denness became a villain for the unfair punishment he slapped on six Indian cricketers. The sentence stays, the man goes. I cannot see any method in Dalmiya's madness, if there is one.

I do not know how Dalmiya's mind works or what he hoped to achieve by forcing the chief of the United Cricket Board of South Africa to play ball with him on the Denness controversy. The immediate upshot of the joint decision taken by the BCCI and the UCBSA is known to all. The Centurion Park Test was declared unofficial by the ICC and Sehwag will have to sit out in the Mohali Test between India and England as part of the one-match suspension slapped on him by the controversial match referee for the India-South Africa series.

What I do know is that I would have acted differently had I been in Dalmiya's shoes. Remember cricket is not just a game for one billion Indians. It has acquired the status of a religion. We worship the ground our cricketers walk on. We were hurt when Mohd Azharuddin was found guilty of betraying our faith. We were equally upset when Ajay Jadeja betrayed ungod-like qualities in his off-field conduct.

Steve Waugh
Steve Waugh

I was not surprised when the nation rose as one in saying that the Indian team should return home without completing play even in the Second Test against South Africa at Port Elizabeth. Denness' effigies were burnt during street protests across the country against the punishment meted out to Tendulkar and five other Indian players. Angry outbursts are not based on sound reason or fair logic. There was a loud whisper about the game of cricket being divided on racist lines by the likes of Denness. The issue was discussed even in Parliament. Not surprisingly the political parties closed ranks in condemning the blatant attack on what was termed as our national honour by the match referee for the India-South Africa series.

If I were at the wicket in place of Dalmiya, I would have deflected the lethal bouncer of collective anger of Indian cricket fans towards the ICC. I would have asked the team to return home and would have damned the consequences. However, I would have called back the team not because I too am angry at the way Denness handled the situation, but because I would have had the advantage of the public and political opinion being solidly behind my action.

If calling back the team would have been too harsh a reaction, there was always the option of turning the final Test at Centurion Park into a farce to show the nation's displeasure. How? Except Sehwag, the other five players were given suspended sentences by Denness. Ganguly could have been instructed to enforce them during the third Test itself. There is no law that prohibits a suspended sentence being applied with immediate effect. Ganguly, Tendulkar and the four other players named by the match referee should have been dropped from the playing XI for the Centurion Park Test. There is no way the ICC could have declared it an unofficial Test. Neither would the UCBSA have had any cause to complain. India should have gone through the motion of playing the third Test with only nine available players. Such a gesture would have had far greater impact than the forced ouster, in defiance of the ICC authority, of Denness as match referee.

My first preference still would have been to call back the team. I do believe that a lot of sorting out needs to be done for restoring to international cricket some of its lost sheen. Denness' action provided us the perfect opening for doing some long overdue plain talking. I am sure I would have received the complete backing of one billion Indians.

Allan Donald
Allan Donald

Which carpet should be lifted first for the sorting out to begin? Why not the one under which the Australian Cricket Board tried to bury its dirty secret? After removing the carpet we should demand action against the ACB itself for trying to hide the acts of accepting bribe-for-information by Shane Warne and Mark Waugh? The fact that the two Australian superstars had accepted money from a bookie surfaced years after the crime was committed. The ACB wanted to keep away from public glare the dirty deeds of Warne and Mark Waugh. Not only should the ACB be rapped on the knuckles for hiding the crimes of its players, Warne and Mark Waugh too should have been punished. They should have been banned from playing international cricket for at least one year for bringing disrepute to the game that has given them honour and fame.

The Warne-Waugh crime should be seen in the larger perspective of the matching-fixing controversy that rocked the very foundations of international cricket last year. The Delhi Police taped the then captain of South Africa Hansie Cronje fixing a deal with a bookie for throwing away a game. Cronje first denied the charge and the UCBSA supported him. But then he crumbled and came clean. Herschelle Gibbs too was named as a player who was in the business of match-fixing with his captain. Cronje's career ended abruptly. But why was Gibbs rehabilitated?

Remember the Delhi Police tapes resulted in special investigations being ordered into charges of match-fixing by Indian players. A player of the stature of Kapil Dev was literally hauled over the coals. Although he was later given a clean chit by the CBI. Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja were among the those banned from playing cricket on the strength of the evidence collected against them.

Pakistan also took the issue seriously and after several enquiries found Salim Malik and Ata-ur-Rahman guilty. Jadeja and Azhar have gone to court against their sentence and the Pakistani players too have taken similar action.

The ICC itself was forced into action following the skeletons that came tumbling from various cupboards after the Delhi Police tapes provided conclusive evidence of international matches being fixed by bookies with the help of players. It set up an anti-corruption cell headed by Sir Paul Condon. Alec Stewart of England and Brian Lara of the West Indies were investigated by their respective boards on the basis of the Condon report.

But what is the final outcome of the exercise undertaken by the ICC's anti-corruption bureau. Gibbs was cleared by South Africa and Stewart and Lara too were given the clean chit by their respective boards. Of course, Warne and Mark Waugh continue to play for Australia. India and Pakistan too could have defended their players rather than acting against them in the hope that other countries would follow their example and ban tainted players from representing their countries. That did not happen. This issue needs to be sorted out for restoring to international cricket some of its lost glory.

There is even more damning evidence of only non-white cricketers being targeted by match referees and umpires in recent years. Muthaiah Muralitharan from Sri Lanka, Rajesh Chauhan and Harbhajan Singh from India and Shoaib Akhtar from Pakistan have all been accused of chucking. They had to undergo correction of their bowling action with the help of white experts, although India has produced the world's first 400-wicket-taker and the best spinners the game has ever seen. It is a coincidence that no white cricketer during the same period was reported for chucking.

The list of Indian players being punished for excessive appealing and general misconduct on the field too is fairly long. Yes, bad conduct by players should never been condoned. But here too I see a disturbing black and white divide. The whites get away with murder while the blacks get hanged for seeing murder being committed. Where should one begin? The obscenities that Allan Donald hurled at Rahul Dravid during an earlier series in South Africa or Mike Slater seen abusing Venkataragavan and Dravid during the Australians' tour of India last year or Andre Nel abusing Ganguly during the one-day series in South Africa or Jacques Kallis abusing V. V. S. Laxman or Shaun Pollock spending nearly a minute in appealing for an LBW decision against Dass, although the batsman had clearly nicked the ball on to his pad?

Look at the long list of of Indian players being at the receiving end for no fault at all. Harbhajan Singh was fined 50 per cent of match fee in 1997-98 and Venkatesh Prasad 35 percent during 1999-00 for making gestures at dismissed batsmen; S. Ramesh, Nayan Mongia, Ganguly and Azharuddin have been penalised for showing dissent when given out; wicket-keeper M. S. K. Prasad was cautioned for allegedly obstructing a batsman; Navjot Sidhu and Laxman were fined for wearing commercial logos on their pads; P. Dharmani, Ganguly, Mongia, Sehwag, Dass, Dasgupta and Harbhajan Singh for excessive appealing.

Dalmiya has missed out on the Denness-given opportunity for doing the long-overdue sorting out in international cricket. He has acted with his eyes firmly on the ledger and not on the public expression of anger over the ill-treatment of Indian cricketers by a gentleman called Denness.

Had the team been called back Dalmiya would have become a hero. The onus of helping the BCCI tide over the crisis would have had to be shared by the government. Trying to pass the buck would have made Union Sports Minister Uma Bharati an instant target of public ire.

The BCCI President has acted much in the manner of a soldier who keeps moving back while appearing to be bravely fighting the enemy. The loud noises he is making about Denness not being ever acceptable as match referee do not add up to much. Neither does his stand that the Centurion Park Test was official. I doubt whether he is now going to press for it to be treated as an official Test after the pathetic performance of the team.

My only worry is that Dalmiya is using Sehwag as a cat's paw for settling scores with the ICC. I have an uneasy feeling that Sehwag is another Parveen Amre in the making. Amre too had come into the spotlight by hitting a Test century during an earlier tour of South Africa by India. What became of his promising career?

I hope the same fate does not befall Sehwag. Because as of today if India were to play two regular openers at Mohali — namely Connor William and Dass — Sehwag would have to be played at the expense of either Tendulkar or Ganguly or Dravid or Laxman. He could not have replaced the wicket-keeper or walked into the team as a bowler.

The only point that continues to baffle me is Denness' unprecedented and unfair action against more than half the Indian team. I can understand why Robin Jackman jumped up with joy when the South African television network caught Tendulkar in the so-called act of tampering with the ball. I can understand why the South African cameraman helpfully provided the footage of Tendulkar "working on the ball".

Why did Denness act the way he did? Several theories have been floated. One traces the history of the souring of India-England relations to the 1983 World Cup. N. K. P. Salve was the BCCI President at that point of time. Siddharth Shankar Ray and his wife happened to be in England when Kapil's Devils upset the calculations and entered the final that the West Indies was expected to win. Ray reportedly requested Salve to arrange for two tickets (not complimentary passes) for the final. Salve was reportedly snubbed by his English counterpart. Since Dalmiya belongs to the old Salve-camp a vow was taken to fix "them damn Britishers". The stink that was created during Dalmiya's election as ICC President further strengthened his resolve to make the British turn black with fury.

Now England want India to play four Tests when it visits the Blighty next year. It has even sold tickets for the additional Test. But Dalmiya is adamant. He says if England are playing only three Tests in India there is no reason why India should play four Tests in England next year. Somehow Denness' action has been linked to this stand-off between India and England. However, it still doesn't make sense.

It may not be out of place to take note of the developments in England and South Africa while discussing the emerging black and white divide in international cricket. In England the administration of the game is still in the hands of Englishmen, but the game itself has become more popular among the members of the Asian communities. Captain of the current English team Nasser Hussain migrated from India to England the year Tendulkar was born. Mark Ramprakash and Usman Afzaal, members of the touring party, too are of Asian stock. And there are many more Asians waiting in the wings to play for England.

In South Africa the situation is different. Here the game is still being dominated by white players. But after the abolition of apartheid the administration of the game has slipped into the hands of the natives and those of Indian origin. That is why there is an under-current of racism among the players while the UCBSA is more receptive to the stand of non-white countries.

All these factors have to be kept in mind while starting what can be called the process of samudra manthan for bridging the unhappy black and white divide in international cricket. The sooner it is done the better for both players and the administrators of the game.