Dalmiya leaves England tour on knife-edge

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The Independent Online

England's participation in an "official" first Test on 3 December was still in doubt last night after Jagmohan Dalmiya, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, gave India's selectors permission to pick Virender Sehwag, the batsman given a one-match ban in South Africa by the match referee, Mike Denness.

Speaking at a press conference in Delhi yesterday, Dalmiya revealed that Sehwag was available because he and his working party considered the third Test between India and South Africa to be official, and that, by not playing in it, the player had served his ban.

"As far as the Board are concerned, we make it our policy never to interfere with selection," Dalmiya said. "The selectors can do whatever they want. As far as we are concerned the Centurion Test is official and therefore Sehwag is eligible."

In a performance that sounded tough and provocative, Dalmiya still left himself room for manoeuvre and conciliation. Passing the problem on to the selectors, who could well leave out Sehwag anyway, is a way out and one that would enable him not to lose too much face.

A debutant in the opening Test, Sehwag only got his chance due to injury and could easily be left out now that the opener Connor Williams has got runs and all the batsmen are fit again. In any case, it could be that the selectors think the past fortnight has brought Sehwag intolerable mental turmoil and he is not yet ready to play again.

To select him, though, would place the series with England in serious doubt, something Dalmiya hinted he would avoid when he spoke of the BCCI abiding with the International Cricket Council, providing it "looked into its problems." Yet, in equal manner, he still managed to be inflammatory, making it clear that he feels the ICC's chief executive, Malcolm Speed, has too much power, something he will no doubt seek to remedy at the ICC's next executive board meeting in March.

"The ICC will never be split, not today, not for 100 years, not even for 1,000 years," Dalmiya said. "It is a democratic body that must be run by democratic principles. So who is in charge of it must also be determined by principles of democracy."

Dalmiya, who is a construction magnate, also revealed that India would not play in any international match where Denness is appointed as match referee. "The Board's working committee found his punishments harsh and biased," he said, a stance that contradicted his claims that he and the Board were "reasonable people in search of an amicable agreement".

The politicking and scheming has left the players frustrated and, earlier in the day, the England captain, Nasser Hussain, had called the whole controversy a "shambles" that the authorities must sort out.

"Over the last week, cricket has been damaged and it's time to get on and play cricket," he said. "There are people in offices all over the world paid to sort out the game."

He added: "If there is an official Test in Mohali in six days' time we'll be part of it."The captain would not, however, be drawn into the players' response should the ICC make it unofficial, a possibility should India pick Sehwag. "It's none of our business who India pick," Hussain added. "We'll be guided by the ICC and our Board. If they tell us to play, then we'll play."

However, Speed, the ICC chief executive, yesterday made it clear that the game's world governing body is in no mood for a rethink.

"The ICC has confirmed the one-match ban served on Virender Sehwag by Mike Denness," he said. "This means that he is ineligible for selection for the first Test against England starting in Mohali next Monday. We have notified this fact to Denis Lindsay, the properly appointed ICC match referee for the series."

Faced with what he sees as the more pressing problems of finalising his team for Mohali, Hussain, along with the coach Duncan Fletcher, has today's three-day match here against India A, to join up the dots.

With only Mark Ramprakash and the captain sparkling consistently in the warm-up matches so far, the problem areas remain the same ­ lack of penetration with the ball and batting frailties born of naïvety over the conditions.

For that reason Hussain will be relieved to welcome back Ashley Giles for his first bowl in four months and Andrew Flintoff, who arrived hotfoot from the Academy side currently in Adelaide. After impressing Fletcher with his new application, Flintoff could find himself opening the bowling, something he did 18 months ago against the West Indies at Edgbaston, the last Test in which he played.

The presence of Giles in the Tests will be crucial and Hussain will have to perform a juggling act over how much to bowl him. Too much and he could inflame his recovering Achilles tendon and be ruled out. Too little and he could be undercooked and a liability.

One marginal place that appears to have been settled is the wicketkeeper and the absence of Warren Hegg means James Foster, despite two low scores, will play in the opening Test in Mohali. Providing he is not struck down with a dicky tummy, Foster will be the first undergraduate to play a Test for England since 1982, a bit of trivia that could end up in limbo should India pick Sehwag in their team next Monday.

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