Denness crisis threatens England Test

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The Independent Online

England's cricketers and the England and Wales Cricket Board could be drawn into the maelstrom of ill will now tarnishing world cricket should India insist on picking Virender Sehwag for the first Test in Mohali, near Chandigarh, on 3 December.

The player, who scored a century on his debut for India, was handed a one-match ban by the match referee Mike Denness after misconduct during India's second Test against South Africa.

Sehwag is not playing in the current match against South Africa at Centurion Park, which has been deemed "unofficial" by the International Cricket Council, following the South African Cricket Board's decision to ban Denness from the ground. For that reason, Sehwag's absence will not count as punishment, which instead will be carried over to the opening Test against England.

India believe differently, something confirmed yesterday by Niranjan Shah, the secretary of the Indian board. "I think Sehwag will be available for the Mohali Test," he said, "but I have to consult our president, Jagmohan Dalmiya."

If taken, and Dalmiya rarely shies away from a chance to lean on the boundary posts, such a stance would be in direct opposition to the will of the ICC, whose new resolve to clean up cricket was so enthusiastically embraced by Denness.

Such a course, would also set Dalmiya and his Board on a collision course with the English board. Yesterday, the ECB voiced its decision to back the ICC in its support of Denness and the punishments he handed down to six Indian players, including Sachin Tendulkar, who was fined 75 per cent of his match fee for illegally picking the seam.

"We are completely supportive of the ICC and the procedures which were agreed by everyone," Tim Lamb, the ECB's chief executive, said. "India agreed to those procedures. If they are not happy with them, they should go through the appropriate channels."

Lamb, who is adamant India will be held to playing all four Tests scheduled for them in England next summer – India have threatened to play only three – said that Malcolm Speed, the ICC's chief executive, had phoned all the member boards (nine in all) and been given "almost unanimous support" over the action taken in South Africa. Of those not playing in the "unofficial" Test, only Sri Lanka were thought to be holding out until they had heard India's side of the story.

Nothing less than anarchy is just around the corner if teams are able to ride roughshod over decisions. "The fundamental issue is the right of the ICC, as the world governing body, to appoint referees and umpires, and for those officials to make decisions which are respected by both players and boards," an ICC spokesman said. "Without this right, the sport could descend into anarchy.

"It is also important to understand that Mike Denness did not make these decisions in isolation. With the exception of Tendulkar and Ganguly, the players were reported by the umpires – one a South African, the other a Zimbabwean.

"It would have been very easy for the ICC to have replaced Mike Denness with an alternative referee and thereby ducked this issue but that would have set a very dangerous precedent. The ICC is determined that the disciplinary action taken by Mike Denness will stand."

If India insist on playing Sehwag in the first Test against England, the ICC would have little choice, but to make it unofficial. The only problem with such a move is that Sehwag's ban would then be deferred to the next Test, where the same rigmarole could apply until the whole series is made unofficial. Apart from the rebel tours to South Africa in the 1980s, the last time that happened was when the Rest of the World played Australia in 1970-71.

To avoid embarrassment the ICC must act decisively and that could include the ECB ordering the England team home.

* Jacques Kallis picked up two quick wickets to leave India on 221 for 8 after the first day's play against South Africa at Centurion Park. He removed Sachin Tendulkar – caught down the leg side by wicketkeeper Mark Boucher for 27 – and Vangipurappu Laxman (14) in the space of three overs to reduce India from 90 for 3 to 107 for 5.

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