At long last the game gets a governor

Cricket at the crossroads: Dalmiya's enforced climbdown sends a clear signal that dogged Speed has taken control
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The name of Virender Sehwag was unknown a month ago. It will never be forgotten. Never mind the century he scored on his Test debut which allotted him a permanent place in the batting records. His part in subsequent events has changed cricket and the way it is run. At last the game has a governing body which might be allowed to govern.

This is alien territory for the International Cricket Council, and although it is a long way from suggesting that they now rule all they survey, their resolute stance of recent days confirmed that they will no longer run for cover every time they need to impose their authority. Jagmohan Dalmiya, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, uttered hard-line threats but in Malcolm Speed, the chief executive of the ICC, he found an opponent who stuck to his brief and refused to be cajoled.

Dalmiya backed down – "to save cricket", he said. The dispute was eventually settled via the telephone, and a planned climactic meeting in Kuala Lumpur was cancelled, partly, it is understood, because Dalmiya could not get a visa. In return for his agreement he has apparently been awarded a referees' commission which will examine the role of the office.

If that seems a big concession it is not: the entire system of referees (as well as a new élite list of umpires) was already being overhauled in time for April. True, there is one extremely delicate issue involving a right of appeal against referees' decisions. At present, there is none, for a simple reason.

If one is instituted, all concerned will hope it can be done without giving those penalised open season for resorting to the law. Games would never get played.

The commission apart, Dalmiya has been granted nothing. All the penalties which Mike Denness handed out after the Second Test against South Africa at Port Elizabeth will stand.

Nobody should underestimate the crisis which threatened the sport at international level and therefore its future at the grass roots. When India selected Sehwag for the First Test against England they were attempting to cock a snook, yet another snook that is, at the ICC. Officially, as they well knew, Sehwag was banned. His immediate suspension was originally imposed after he charged the umpire in Port Elizabeth (the match after he became the 67th player to make a hundred on debut). Denness, the match referee, also penalised five of Sehwag's team-mates, including Sachin Tendulkar, who all received fines and suspended bans for mis-behaviour in the field.

India's board objected, with the unseemly co-operation of South Africa's board. Denness was disgracefully prevented from taking up his duties for the Third Test and the ICC withdrew its Test status. Then came the brinkmanship.

India, with Dalmiya shooting from the lip, claimed the match was still a Test, and since Sehwag had not played he had served his ban. Thus, they picked him for the opening match against England.

For most of the week, it seemed as though India and Dalmiya would not budge. They had a grievance and they wanted to air it. A schism was opening up. There was a grim prospect of Asia and the rest of the cricket world dividing, and the World Cup in South Africa in 2003 was under definite threat.

The turning point was a detailed letter from Speed to Dalmiya. It was meticulous and left Dalmiya, whatever his immediate blunt response, in no doubt that Speed had acted exactly as his role permitted.

It is almost certain that Speed had majority backing from the ICC's 13-man executive board. If Dalmiya had thought he had their support he would have pushed them to get his way. When it was clear that he might not win the argument he made the necessary climbdown.

Whatever his motives – and it should not be forgotten that his general broadside about Asian teams being discriminated against is not without merit – he could not afford the cancellation of the series against England. If India is now the financial hub of the world game because of cricket's huge following there, the millions of dollars that the England Test and one-day series are worth in television rights depended on their taking place.

As Dalmiya was aware, England would have pulled out if he had continued with his stand-off. His reputation has not been enhanced by the way he has played politics these past few days, but perhaps it is to his credit that he changed his mind at the last moment.

He did not do so without a dig at Lord MacLaurin, his opposite number at the England and Wales Cricket Board. MacLaurin had said that if Sehwag played, England would not. This was all noble stuff, but MacLaurin might have realised that his comments could only be seen as antagonistic. At that stage, it was a matter for the ICC and the BCCI. It is said that no love is lost between Dalmiya and MacLaurin, and the Indian president said of the English chairman: "Sometimes some people like to butt in and speak out of turn, it creates more problems."

The so-called referees' commission will be established in the next few days. Its likely composition is two former international cricketers and a high-ranking lawyer. One of its chief topics of discussion – and recommendation by the end of January – is that vexed one of rights of appeal against the match referees' decisions.

It was the lack of such a right that annoyed Dalmiya after Port Elizabeth. If it would seem to deny natural justice there is a reason for that, and it is embraced in discussion topic No 2 of the commission's agenda: the best way to structure an appeals system so that unfair advantage is not taken. This is crucial. Like all sporting governing bodies, the ICC are concerned to ensure that players do not resort to the lawyers when they are punished.

The case of Arjuna Rana-tunga taught cricket that harsh lesson. Ranatunga infamously led his players to the edge of the pitch after Muttiah Mura-litharan was called (wrongly) for throwing in a one-day international between Sri Lanka and England in Adelaide in 1999. The match was eventually restarted but was played in a spirit of outright acrimony. When the match referee, Peter van der Merwe, tried to impose punishments the Sri Lankans brought in the lawyers. The upshot was that only superficial penalties were imposed.That was a bad day for the game.

But this, eventually, has been a good week. The views should not be expressed either that Jagmohan Dalmiya has got his comeuppance or that Malcolm Speed has won. The ICC, through common sense and firm leadership, have achieved self-respect. Cricket should be the healthier for it. Virender Sehwag cannot begin to be aware yet of what he has done.

Jagmohan's edge The sayings of Dalmiya

Controversies will not help cricket. We will work out the issue with the ICC. We are a family. 23 November

As far as the board is concerned, the board believes it is not to interfere with the selection committee's work. They are directed to do whatever they want. In my mind the match against South Africa is an official Test which will make Sehwag eligible to play against England. However, we have an open mind and if someone can explain to us that we are wrong we are prepared to listen. 27 Nov

We are absolutely conceding that the ICC is the parent body and always what the ICC says, the BCCI will respect it. The ICC will never be split, not today, not after a hundred years, not after a thousand years. But the ICC has to look into what are its problems. One just cannot turn the Nelson's eye. 27 Nov

It's strange, but only the referees don't come under the purview of the ICC's code of conduct. 27 Nov

I do not know where this deadline has come from. Who can dictate a deadline to anyone? The team will only be named on the morning of the match. One thing I know is that to give information about the pitch or team composition is absolutely against the code of conduct. 28 Nov

This is not the time when personal egos should take centre stage, especially when the great game is facing a crisis. 29 Nov

The ICC actions are provoking a conflict rather than making effort for co-operation. 29 Nov

Sometimes some people like to butt in and speak out of turn...it creates problems. 30 Nov

The entire system [of referees] that is prevailing should be overhauled, possibly overturned. We will take the issue of making official the Third Test against South Africa to the ICC executive board to review. 30 Nov

The BCCI has agreed that it will instruct its selection panel not to include Sehwag in the final 12 for the First Test. 30 Nov

We realised that this was not a boxing match, and so it was necessary for us to come to a compromise which we decided to do in the better interests of the game. 30 Nov

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