Will colourful cricket revert to black and white?
By Sanjiva Wijesinha and Barney Reid
There is an apocryphal story told about the legendary English cricketer
Dr. W.G. Grace, who captained England from 1888 to 1899.
Playing in a charity match in a little English village, Grace had the
misfortune to mis-time the first ball he faced - which struck him on his
pad plumb in front of the wicket.
The umpire (one of the local dignitaries) promptly and legitimately
gave him 'Out' - whereupon Grace walked up to that worthy, laughingly said
in a loud voice, "My good man, do you think the crowd came all the way
here to see my batting - or your umpiring?" He then majestically returned
to his crease, resumed batting as if nothing had happened, and went on
to score a respectable century to the delight of the gazing rustics gathered
round the green.
Unfortunately the days when players like Grace could get away with treating
umpires in such a manner are long gone. In international cricket matches
these days not only are there two umpires (at least one of whom is from
a neutral country) but there is also a match referee appointed by the International
Cricket Council (ICC) who has the power to fine and even suspend errant
As to how far a match referee should go in disciplining players is still
a moot point - and what happened in the recent Test match in South Africa
reveals just how much an unwise action by a match referee can damage the
The man appointed by the ICC to referee the current Test series between
South Africa and India was 61-year-old Mike Denness, a dour Scotsman who
captained the English team in 1974-75 and now serves on the ICC's international
panel of referees. A man known for his integrity and decency, the unimaginative
Denness is also known for a tendency to apply regulations rigidly and not
see beyond the letter of the law. Last year, when officiating during the
English county championship, he outraged Derbyshire by deciding to penalise
them eight championship points - for maintaining a substandard pitch.
What sparked the current crisis in international cricket was Denness'
decisions to penalise six Indian players for a variety of offences during
their current Test series in South Africa. The common offence with which
all the players were charged was "bringing the game into disrepute".
Sachin Tendulkar, one of the world's best batsmen who enjoys demi-god
status in India, was deemed by Denness to have been tampering with the
seam of the ball - for which he was given a one match suspension and fined
75% of his match fee.
Hardly a crime worthy of such a serious punishment, one might think
- unless one is aware of the physical principles that govern the flight
of a cricket ball.
The sad thing about the Tendulkar episode was that it was not the umpires
(who can inspect the ball from time to time while it is in play) who reported
Tendulkar for wrongdoing. Observed the Chief Executive of the South African
Cricket Board, Gerald Majola, "I found the decision against Tendulkar funny
- considering that neither of the two umpires had made any complaint."
Denness waited until the end of the day's play and judged Tendulkar to
have tampered with the ball on the strength of a television replay which
showed Tendulkar running his fingernail over the ball's seam.
If Denness had penalised anyone other than Tendulkar, the matter may
have ended there - but Tendulkar's demi-god status in his homeland, plus
the fact that five of his team-mates including captain Sourav Ganguly were
also punished - for "excessive appealing" - blew the whole issue out of
Perhaps the television evidence against Tendulkar was sufficient for
Denness to make up his mind that the player was guilty. Perhaps Denness
was taking to heart ICC Chief Executive Malcolm Speed's recent urging that
half measures were no longer adequate to curb cricketers' misdemeanours.
From the Indian point of view, Denness' high handed action was the latest
example of a long suspected racial bias. England's wicket keeper Jamie
Foster, for example, was blatantly rude to Zimbabwe skipper Andy Flower
during last month's Test series but was let off. In the last Australia-India
Test series Australians Adam Gilchrist and Glenn McGrath certainly behaved
on the field "in a mannar that brought the game into disrepute" - but they
too got off scot free.
And in that much publicised event in 1987 when English captain Mike
Gatting pointed his finger and argued with Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana,
the British press lauded him for standing up for his players against a
wily oriental umpire.
But when Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga did a similar thing to
Australian umpire Emerson in 1999 he was wildly castigated in the Australian
and British press for daring to question the umpire. The fact that Emerson
was himself not above board (he was in fact on medical leave from his usual
job for a psychiatric condition at the time he umpired in that game) was
conveniently not mentioned.
Small wonder then that President of the Indian Cricket Board Jagmohan
Dalmiya called for Denness' removal. And when the ICC refused, both the
Indian and South African Boards elected to play the next Test match without
Denness - calling on South African Dennis Lindsay, a member of the ICC
referees' panel, to step in as referee.
The ICC President Malcolm Gray and Chief Executive Malcolm Speed (both
Australians) responded by withdrawing official Test status for the game.
Dalmiya (himself a former President of the ICC) has said he will take the
matter to the next executive board meeting in March
"What is the ICC?" thundered Dalmiya. "It consists of all the Board
members - and in a democratic process, the majority view should prevail.
Individuals cannot decide such issues."
"As far as we are concerned, this is an official Test. We don't want
a confrontation with the ICC - but if it came to that we will not be found
If it comes to a vote, observers feel that Dalmiya will win hands down.
While England, Australia and perhaps New Zealand are expected to support
Gray, the other six members (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa,
West Indies and Zimbabwe) are tipped to side with India.
Says Pakistan Cricket Board President Tauquir Zia, "I think Jagmohan
is within his rights to protest against the inconsistencies of the ICC".
Adds Majola, "The ICC thought they were being strong but they have lost
ground by being unflexible".
In the case of W.G. Grace and that hapless 19th century village umpire,
the umpire gave way in the greater interest of the game and the famous
batsman had his way. Of course, in that case, both the batsman and the
umpire were white.
• Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha is a senior lecturer at Monash University. Barney
Reid is a cricket coach and umpire in Melbourne.