Ultimatum for India over banned player

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The Independent Online

The fate of England's tour and the future of the game worldwide could be decided this morning when India name their squad for the first Test.

If Virender Sehwag, who has been banned for one match by the International Cricket Council, appears in the 14-man India squad for the first Test against England, which begins in Mohali, near Chandigarh, next Monday, the match is almost certain to be called off by the ICC. The entire tour might follow, causing a huge rift in the game.

India's chief selector, Chandu Borde, yesterday refused to rule Sehwag out of contention and said he had been given a free hand by the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Jagmohan Dalmiya.

"We will be selecting the team on merit," Borde, a former Test captain and head of India's five-man selection committee, said in Jaipur. "As far as I am concerned he is available. There is no directive from the board. There is no pressure on me or the selection committee."

The 23-year-old Sehwag was given an immediate one-Test ban by the ICC match referee, Mike Denness, after showing dissent during India's second Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth.

This decision, along with five others – including a suspended one-match ban for Sachin Tendulkar – made by Denness, sparked Indian outrage and the third and final match of the series at Centurion was stripped of its Test status by the ICC after home officials banned Denness from the ground.

However, Dalmiya said the match, which ended yesterday in an innings defeat for India, was official and therefore Sehwag, who did not play, has served his ban.

India were given an ultimatum yesterday by the ICC, the sport's world governing body. Malcolm Speed, the ICC's chief executive, wrote a letter to Dalmiya, giving him until 6:30am (GMT) – midday in Calcutta – on Friday to resolve the issue.

"I have noted a number of troubling media comments attributed to you [Dalmiya] in recent days and it is important that the ICC's position is made very clear," Speed said.

"You will appreciate that BCCI and ICC are on a collision course and that the consequences for world cricket are of great significance. I will ask you to advise me by midday Friday of your board's decision in respect of Virender Sehwag."

Speed also warned of the possibility of violence if the ICC-appointed referee prevented Sehwag from playing in Mohali.

"It is vitally important that we avoid any risk of injury to the public, players or officials," he said. "If this issue is not resolved well ahead of the match, it is possible that it will take place at the start of the match in a highly charged and volatile environment that will exacerbate the risk of injury."

The ICC is adamant that Sehwag remains ineligible for selection and England have indicated they would support any decision by the ICC.

In contrast to Speed's firm approach, Malcolm Gray, the ICC president, was conciliatory, hoping that "common sense will prevail" and that there would be no need for sanctions against India.

"I don't think it's time for threats or a quick fix," Gray said. "We just hope that common sense will prevail and India will understand the position of the ICC and where the ruling is coming from.

"I just hope that they will make the best of things and see that the issue is rather silly. It's bad enough that the Test series in South Africa has been affected by this without the series against England being affected as well and we hope they will see the consequences of their actions.

"As far as the players are concerned I should be apologising to them. They are getting on with their job and we are trying to get on with ours. It's not a question of what action can or cannot be taken [against India]. I hope it's just a temporary blip and we can get on with life."

One way out for India, while saving face, would be to pick Sehwag in today's initial squad but omit him from the team by Friday's deadline. Sadagoppan Ramesh is fit again and Sehwag was only in the side due to injuries. Saurav Ganguly will captain the team after recovering from neck and back spasms, but the paceman Javagal Srinath is still out with a broken finger.