Vaughan and Lloyd's game of victim and villain

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The International Cricket Council are still waiting to hear if they are to be sued by the England captain. Their mood is probably one of bemusement rather than apprehension.

The International Cricket Council are still waiting to hear if they are to be sued by the England captain. Their mood is probably one of bemusement rather than apprehension.

Michael Vaughan was fined his entire match fee, some £3,500, for comments he made about the consistency of the umpiring during the Fourth Test in Johannesburg, which turned out to feature one of the great climaxes. It is the heaviest penalty imposed on an England captain.

However, he has yet to send his cheque for the misdemeanour, since players' union officials are unhappy with the ruling. Richard Bevan, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association and joint head of the Federation of International Cricket Associations, was aggrieved at the size of the punishment and is considering advising Vaughan to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

It is perplexing that such an appeal may be made when Fica and their players subscribe to the regulations. When the new code of offences came into being three years ago, the players were fully consulted. In short, what they didn't want didn't go in. The sentences were also made extremely clear.

Vaughan's comments were measured and eminently sensible. He was concerned that the umpires had made England bat in poor conditions early on the second day of the match, but then later allowed the fielding side to go off for bad light, which was not discernibly worse. "All we are asking for is consistency, and we didn't get that out there today," Vaughan said.

The umpires, Steve Bucknor and Aleem Dar, had unquestionably confused themselves. They fell between one stool marked "try to get as much cricket in as possible" and another marked "be even-handed to both sides".

Clive Lloyd, the match referee, decided that he had to act in support of the officials. The regulations were entirely on his side, and Vaughan was clearly guilty of a breach of a level-two offence under the ICC Code of Conduct. The guideline, issued by the ICC, specifically says: "Without limitation players will breach this rule if they publicly criticise the match officials."

The penalty too is quite clear, a fine of between 50 per cent and all of a player's match fee or a ban of two one-day matches or one Test. Had Lloyd decided to issue the most draconian punishment, Vaughan would not be playing in the decisive final Test at Centurion this weekend.

Those who side with Vaughan suggest he has broken the letter and not the spirit of the law. They also point out that he was right.

But Vaughan as captain has plenty of other ways to criticise the umpires. The Fourth Estate gratefully scribbled down what he said in the knowledge that he was hanging himself.

Had the positions been reversed at the Wanderers and South Africa's batsmen been on top then Vaughan, as the fielding captain, would no doubt have asked for the light at that stage.

The ICC are happy with the present structure of offences, not least because their formulation involved the players' considerable input. They also know that threatening to sue and suing are worlds apart.

Lloyd acted because he was probably tired of the incessant bickering (off the field) of players and coaches. He has turned lately into a stern advocate of umpires' rights and censor of players' tetchiness. He knows something about the subject.

Next month is the 25th anniversary of the Second Test between New Zealand and the West Indies in Christ-church. On the third day the tourists were so irate at the umpiring of Fred Goodall (no "independent" umpires then) that they refused to come out after tea for 11 minutes.

On the fourth day, the fast West Indies bowler Colin Croft knocked off the bails and pushed Goodall in the back. Eventually, Goodall had to speak to the West Indies skipper, who did not intervene. Lloyd the referee would have thrown the book at Lloyd the captain.