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THE storm created in India by the decision of match referee Mike Denness to penalise more than half the Indian Test team is a result of several factors: a directive from the International Cricket Council for match referees to get tough on players’ misbehaviour, the controversial personality of Indian board president Jagmohan Dalmiya, the growing feeling in India that the cricket world does not give them their due and the enormous cultural differences between Asian and white cricketers.

The Indian reaction has been extraordinary, with wild claims of racism. One journalist said: “A majority of former players and administrators are seriously speculating on whether India should continue playing in white majority countries partial to the colour of one’s skin.”

Yesterday, Asian Age even ran a front page story suggesting this was some form of bizarre South African revenge on India for the Delhi police unmasking Hansie Cronje. It accompanied the story with a photograph of Marlon Aronstam, the South African bookmaker who persuaded Cronje, with gift of a leather jacket and 5,000 rand, to declare the Pretoria Test against England last year. Aronstam was at the match on Monday and the headline on the piece read: Did Hansie bookie take his revenge?

But more thoughtful Asians reject such a ridiculous charge. Eshan Mani, the Pakistan-born businessman who will take over from Malcolm Gray as the next president of the ICC, told me: “I do not think there is any racism here. However, what we have is an enormous communication problem. There is also a big cultural gap between Asian culture and the white culture.

“There is a lot of sledging by white players, they will say something often very uncomplimentary when a batsman plays and misses, and the Asian players do not. They may mutter in their own language but their body language is not that aggressive. However, they appeal very vociferously and we clearly cannot have in cricket people charging umpires. Asians feel sledging goes unpunished and in the ICC we will need to look at sledging. Abuse of umpires or players cannot be acceptable.”

In the past two days, there have been endless television replays in India of South Africans sledging Indian batsman, with Sourav Ganguly, the India captain, being abused by Andre Nell after he played and missed.

In a sense, this is cricket’s equivalent of Latins in football diving, which so angers English players.

Had Denness not penalised Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian reaction might not have been so extreme. He is the India icon and the one cricketer whose deeds have helped Indians keep their faith in the game through the traumatic match-fixing crisis. Now he is touched by scandal and this is too much to bear.

As for the ICC, two months ago, shortly after he had taken office, Malcolm Speed, chief executive of the ICC, wrote to match referees and umpires saying they should be tougher on players’ misbehaviour.

But, while the ICC decision to get tough can only be welcomed, the organisation have left loopholes that have fuelled this controversy. Match referees are not only given total discretion to dish out punishment, the various categories of offences and the punishments are not properly defined. At the last ICC executive board meeting in Kuala Lumpur, it was decided to make the definitions more stringent although, unlike other sports, the ICC do not want to allow appeals against referees’ decisions, because they fear law suits.

Worse, the ICC do not allow match referees to talk to the media. This led to the ridiculous situation in Port Elizabeth where Denness attended a press conference but, like the proverbial wise monkey, was dumb, further inflaming Indian journalists.

Dalmiya’s takeover of Indian cricket has added a further, explosive, twist. Dalmiya is acutely resentful because, when he was ICC president, he made enormous amounts of money for them through lucrative television contracts, funding the match referee programme, but the ICC did not defend him against allegations of corruption regarding his role in those contracts. Friends of Dalmiya see this as racism, although the allegations were first made by his colleagues in Indian cricket and the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation is carrying out the probe.

Dalmiya, a tough businessman, knows how to play the money game and was well aware that, if the third Test was not played, South Africa would lose 10 million rand (£770,000), and they could not afford to. India is now the economic powerhouse of cricket and Dalmiya is using that power ruthlessly.

Yet Dalmiya’s ultimatum to the ICC pushed the Indian board into a corner and sources said that, on this issue, he was being pushed by enraged public opinion, with many wanting the team to be called back. If he did not do that, his house could be burnt down.

Amrit Mathur, secretary of the Sports Authority of India, told me: “The board has got itself into a difficult position. Having given an ultimatum, it cannot back off. The public mood is very angry. They feel the country’s honour is at stake.

“I do not think the Test should be cancelled but the feeling is the offence of Tendulkar and the others was technical and the punishment does not fit the offence.”

© Mihir Bose

      

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