Dalmiya's brinkmanship puts series at risk

England will not play in first Test if Indian Board president fails to meet tomorrow's deadline to withdraw banned player
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Tomorrow is Dalmiya-day, to give this war of brinkmanship its Waterloo. At 6.30am GMT, the Indian Board's president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, will either back down and de-select Virender Sehwag from the 14-man Test squad to keep the opening Test against England alive, or antagonise further the International Cricket Council by ignoring the deadline. Bookmakers, illegal in India anyway, were for some reason not taking bets on the outcome.

If it is not yet a showdown at the OK Corral, following Sehwag's inclusion here yesterday, it is getting that way with the ICC making it clear through its spokesman, Jonathan Hemus, that the deadline was absolute. "We will be seeking a specific undertaking on Friday that India will not play Sehwag," Hemus said.

Dalmiya, from his stronghold in Calcutta, did not seem intent on any kind of compromise. "Malcolm Speed [the ICC's chief executive] is asking for details of the team. I can't tell him that," Dalmiya said. "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."

The deadline, falling at 12 noon in India, is crucial. If Dalmiya misses it, the ICC will make the Test, scheduled to start on Monday in Mohali, unofficial. If that happens, England will simply not play the match, a stance Lord MacLaurin, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, confirmed for the first time yesterday.

"We will not play a friendly Test," MacLaurin said. "We are in India to play real cricket and we support the ICC in that this gentleman has been suspended for one Test and, as such, has a one-match ban to serve. We will not play against a team with a banned player in it."

If England do not play in the first Test, the rest of the series and the one-days are likely to be cancelled as well, a situation that could force India to seek compensation, or at the very least a tit-for-tat boycott of their series in England next year.

MacLaurin, whose relationship with Dalmiya is perhaps best described as strained, once again allowed emotion to get the better of him. By being confrontational, he has broken the first rule of negotiation and later the ECB, realising it was still an ICC matter, somewhat delicately poised, sought to distance itself from his views. He has also probably dragged England into the fray before they need to be involved.

His Lordship may have scented blood, and there were signs that Dalmiya could be losing the plot. A bulletin appearing on local television appeared to confirm this, when it claimed Dalmiya would not be prepared to declare his side early, as this would invite inquiry from the ICC's anti-corruption unit. A slippery customer even when hooked, this appeared to be a red herring too far.

Compos mentis or not, the key to predicting Friday's outcome is to know the subterfuges at play within the Board of Control for Cricket in India, as well as those that make Dalmiya tick.

Talk around India is of little else and a former officer of the Board reckons the affair is all about brinkmanship. He believes, as many do, that Dalmiya will eventually relent – though not necessarily by Friday – spinning the decision New Labour style, so that it looks, at least in his own constituency, as if he has saved world cricket.

With substantial TV revenues at stake should the series be cancelled, this appears the most likely outcome, and Dalmiya has the authority to do it with a stroke of his pen through Sehwag's name.

Other theories are more conspiratorial in tone, with one convinced that the president of BCCI has been backed into a corner by a pincer movement involving the ICC and the anti-Dalmiya elements within the Indian Board. When he came to power two months ago, it was only with a 17 to 13 majority and many cricket lovers are incensed at his bullishness over the current brouhaha.

If it all seems unnecessarily Machiavellian, the irony is that Sehwag, banned by the ICC match referee, Mike Denness in South Africa, will probably not make the final XI for Mohali anyway, unless one of the main batsmen becomes injured. One of seven specialist batsmen in the squad, four of who are set in stone, Sehwag would, in the normal scheme of things, have found out his fate on Sunday after the chairman of selectors, Chandu Borde, had seen the pitch. Now, if it is not Friday, the ramifications could be such that he may never play a Test against England in his life.

INDIA SQUAD (First Test v England, Mohali, starting Monday): S Ganguly (capt), S S Das, C C Williams, R S Dravid, S R Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, V Sehwag, D Dasgupta (wkt), A Kumble, S B Bangar, Harbhajan Singh, I R Siddiqui, T Yohannan, Sarandeep Singh.