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January 6, 1998


Lankans cock a snook at ICC

Prem Panicker

Late last week, international couriers delivered two identical packages, one to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, one to the Sri Lankan board.

The package addressed to the BCCI, and signed by BCCI chief executive David Richards, indicated that the International Cricket Council was not happy with the bowling action of off spinner Rajesh Chauhan, and suggested that he should not be picked for the national side until his action was remedied by an ICC-appointed coach (see story).

The Indian board promptly instructed its selection committee to drop the off spinner -- throwing to the winds all norms of justice and fairplay, which dictates that a person cannot be punished until he has been proved to be guilty.

The Sri Lankan board, too, got a package -- again signed by Richards, and this time casting doubt on the action of off spinner Kumara Dharmasena.

Interestingly, on Monday, ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya backed the action of the global cricketing body of which he is president, and said both Dharmasena and Chauhan cannot play until the ICC passes its action.

So what does the Lankan board do? On Monday evening, it announces a 14-member squad to play the first Test against Zimbabwe -- and in it, the selectors include, surprise, surprise, one Mr Kumara Dharmasena!

My reaction, frankly, is to applaud. In Monday's article on the subject, we had argued that Simpson, ICC match referee for the India-Sri Lanka Test series late last year, has no business monitoring bowling actions, that this is the purview of umpires and not of the ICC panel, that the ICC in turn has no business telling individual boards who to pick and who to drop.

It is this thinking the Sri Lankan board has adopted, when it went ahead and picked Dharmasena.

What the Lankan board is doing, effectively, is telling the ICC it has no business meddling in team selection; that it is the umpires, and not some hastily comprised "throwing committee" that should be adjudicating on such matters.

For reference, the members of this committee are as follows: Brian Basson (South Africa), Javed Burki (Pakistan), Doug Insole and Nigel Plews (England), Michael Holding (West Indies), John Reid (New Zealand), Kapil Dev (India), Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka) and Bob Simpson (Australia).

When the committee met to evaluate the Simpson tapes, the Australian, by virtue of being the complainant, was not present. Neither were Dev, nor Madugalle -- because the bowlers under scrutiny come from their respective countries. The other six members of the committee took the decision.

Strange. I don't see the name of a single umpire in that list!

What is an umpire? A person who is expected to first familiarise himself with the laws of the game, then pass a stringent examination before being taken onto the panel, first at the national, then at an international, level.

In other words, the umpire is an adjudicator whose basic qualification is thorough familiarity with the laws he is expected to enforce. What qualification do the members of the "throwing committee" have? YOu tell me.

Meanwhile the Lankan board by picking Dharmasena has openly defied the ICC, challenging it to get its umpires to call the off spinner. The point to note here is to remember that a bowler cannot per se be called just because someone suspects him of being a "chucker" -- in other words, it is the individual ball that is called, not the bowler. So now the umpire has to keep an eye on Dharmasena, and call him if he believes a particular ball has been thrown. And when doing so, the umpire has to keep in mind that these days, every delivery is being filmed from a dozen different angles -- so god help the umpire if he gets his call wrong!

The Lankan board can do so because it has a sense of national pride and prestige, because it believes in backing its players, because it is against injustice in any form. The Indian board, which has neither pride, nor prestige, nor yet a concern for the welfare of its own players, meanwhile reacts with predictable pusillanimity -- never mind that in the process, it endangers the career of a bowler who has given his 100 per cent, and more, to the side.

What is most interesting is the supposedly neutral Dalmiya's haste in justifying the ICC action. First, we were told that Simpson called for the tapes. Now, following the "Who is Simpson?" storm in the media -- backed to the hilt by no less than Kapil Dev, himself a member of the concerned ICC committee -- we see a flip-flop.

Dalmiya informs us on Monday that Simpson was not acting on his own. That the four bowlers concerned had been referred to him by the umpires (Cyril Mitchley, V K Ramaswamy, S Venkatraghavan and Steve Bucknor) who did duty during the series.

I am sorry, but that won't wash. Here is why:

The concerned law very clearly states that either umpire on duty should call any ball delivered with an action that infringes the rules --- it does not say the umpires shall report the concerned bowler to the match referee.

Why is this important? Simple. If a batsman is dismissed off a no-ball, is he out? No -- because a no-ball infringes one of the rules govering the delivery of the ball. Similarly, if a bowler chucks, and a batsman gets out to that ball, he is actually not out.

Both Chauhan and Dharmasena took wickets during the recent Test series. If the umpires now say -- according to Dalmiya -- that those bowlers chucked, then that statement casts doubt on every single dismissal effected by these two bowlers.

This is why the umpire is empowered to call a bowler for chucking. If the umpires in question thought that Dharmasena, Chauhan and, indeed, Muralitharan and Jayanta Silva (for remember, the actions of the last two were also scrutinised by the ICC panel, which then cleared them) were chucking, why did they not call them?

How, in other words, did four umpires of international stature permit illegal deliveries, with some of which, presumably, wickets were taken? This is tantamount to deriliction of duty on the part of the foursome -- and if Dalmiya is stating the truth when he says it is the umpires, and not Simpson, who initiated the action, then Dalmiya as head of the ICC is duty bound to initiate action against the umpires.

Like I mentioned earlier, therefore, Dalmiya's attempt to put a benevolent spin on Simpson's role just won't wash.

While on Bobby Simpson, another aspect of his performance as match referee during the recent India-Sri Lanka series deserves mention.

The job of match referee, as pointed out in earlier articles, includes ensuring that the ICC code of conduct be scrupulously adhered to. Further, the match referee is empowered to take strict action against any infringement of that code, which supposedly exists in order to prevent the fair name of cricket from being sullied by acts of unsportsmanlike or indecorous behaviour.

Throw your mind back to the the fourth day of the third Test between the two nations, at the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay. India, searching for quick runs in order to make a push for victory, was throwing its bat at everything. Saurav Ganguly was the first victim of the rush, when he drove at an away-swinger from Pramodaya Wickremasinghe without getting his feet to the ball, and wicketkeeper Hashan Tillekeratne (Lanka D'Silva, by virtue of having taken a Srinath lifter on his mouth, was out of action) took the edge.

Wickremasinghe came racing down the pitch to flash an upraised forefinger in Ganguly's face -- a gesture specifically forbidden by the code of conduct Simpson is meant to enforce. Then he adds insult to injury by mouthing, very audibly and clearly, an obscenity -- in this case, "F*** off, man!"

There is no doubt whatsoever about what the bowler said -- it came through clear, on both audio and video, thanks to the stump mike. In fact, at the end of the day, Simpson said he had "taken note of the incident".

And then, what? Was the errant bowler summoned by the match referee? No. Fined? No. Disciplined? No. Was the Lankan team management, at the least, cautioned that they should warn their bowler? No. Was any action at all taken, on a very clear violation of the code? No!

So much for the ICC code of conduct, put in place with much fanfare. Interestingly, the code also warns about excessive appealing, and poor Saurav Ganguly and Saba Karim were hauled up during the ODI series in South Africa for supposedly violating that rule, and fined heavily. But when South African fast bowler Allan Donald, slammed out of the park by Rahul Dravid at Durban, came charging down the pitch and, again audibly and clearly, warned Dravid, with upraised finger: "Don't f*** with me, you *&*#&*&#", was any action taken? Uh, sorry, no. Barry Jarman was the ICC watchdog on that occasion.

Funny world this, where match referees do everything except what they are actually supposed to do. And where the president of the ICC, no less, comes to their defense.

Meanwhile, back to Dalmiya. In an incredible flip-flop, the ICC boss announces that the upcoming mini World Cup, featuring all nine Test playing nations and slated for October 26-November 4, has been taken away from Sharjah and awarded instead to Dhaka.

Very, very interesting. And again, indicative of the internal politics, this time within the ICC. All along, Dalmiya wanted to give the tournament to Dhaka, which had backed his candidature for the ICC presidentship. In opposition to the move was Dr Ali Bacher of South Africa, who wanted it to be played at Disneyland. Sharjah was picked as a compromise.

But hey, when announcing the decision, Dalmiya couldn't say all this, could he? So instead, he gave "explanations" for the venue. Apparently Dhaka was considered, but dropped because the period of the tournament is also the period of monsoons in Bangladesh.(Original story).

Suddenly, the tournament is taken away from Sharjah, and awarded to Bangladesh. Did the meterologists, perhaps, indicate to the august president of the ICC that it would not rain in Bangladesh this year?

Further, the original schedule, to play the tournament between late September-early October has now been modified, and the tournament will now be held from October 26 to November 4.

Thanks to this, Australia's tour of Pakistan has been affected. As it stands, Australia will fulfill half its tour engagements, then both teams will fly to Bangladesh to take part in the mini-World Cup, and then fly back to Pakistan to complete the remainder of the tour.

As a result of the above, the England tour of Australia has been rescheduled.

And the West Indies tour of Zimbabwe has been cancelled altogether.

The last, however, is not a problem. In order to compensate Zimbabwe for the disappointment, Dalmiya has generously agreed to send the Indian team there, as replacement for the West Indies. "Cricket can be replaced only by cricket," says Dalmiya, explaining why the Indian team is being used as his personal handmaiden, to perform where he wills.

And what is Dalmiya's stated reason for all these actions? "The further popularisation, and globalisation, of cricket."

Playing in Sharjah, apparently, isn't popularisation. Playing in Dhaka is.

It is not that I am against the propagation of cricket. The reverse, in fact -- I frankly find it ridiculous that a game with such a following is restricted, at the highest level, to a mere handful of countries once part of the British commonwealth.

However, I find it even more ridiculous that a tournament that, thanks to the participation of all nine-Test playing countries, ranks just a half rung below the World Cup (some would say that the participation of associate nations actually weakens the World Cup whereas here, only the nine-Test playing nations are taking part and this actually tightens up the tournament and makes it even more fiercely competitive, with no easy points to be gained) can be given to a country with just one stadium, and no real cricketing infrastructure worth speaking of.

Could this be because the CBFS, governing body of cricket in Sharjah, is not affiliated to the ICC, and therefore has no votes (the Emirates does)? Whereas Bangladesh, an associate member of the ICC, does have a vote -- which it used very firmly in Dalmiya's behalf during the ICC elections?

Your guess, as the cliche goes, is as good as mine.

Prem Panicker

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