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I followed the rule book: Vishy
Gundappa Viswanath

Calcutta: With the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) not formally making too big an issue of Shoaib Akhtar’s punishment for ball-tampering, a controversy which could have affected ties with India has been averted.

It’s possible that either a less mature response, from the PCB, or a myopic reaction in the Pakistan Media — highlighting Match Referee Clive Lloyd’s leniency on the issue not very long ago — would have hurt efforts to restore bilateral exchanges. That exercise, in any case, is at a critical stage.

The two ODIs’ ban, after all, was slapped by Gundappa Viswanath, India’s sole representative on the International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) Elite Panel of Match Referees.

Having said that, however, nothing should be read into the PCB’s assertion that it wasn’t “challenging” the punishment. Fact is, a Match Referee’s ruling on Level 1 and 2 offences can’t be appealed. Vishy, it’s to be noted, booked Shoaib for a Level 2 misdemeanour.

[Under the ICC’s Rules of Conduct, only punishments handed out for Level 3 and 4 offences can be challenged. Both, obviously, carry much stiffer penalties: A Level 4 misdemeanour may even result in a life ban.]

Vishy, a former captain, himself remains unfazed. Quite typical that.

“I followed the rule book, that’s it… At no time did I think my decision would spark a controversy. Rather, I did what was expected of me as Match Referee — nothing more, nothing less,” he told The Telegraph Monday, when contacted at his Bangalore residence.

The Rules of Conduct forbid Match Referees from commenting once their pronouncement has been made and, so, Vishy declined to speak at length.

Yet, he did say: “I have, in the past, officiated in a series/tournament featuring Pakistan and will again be Match Referee in England later this month (for the three-match NatWest Challenge)… As with other Match Referees, I’m the ICC’s man-on-the-spot and the question of nationality shouldn’t arise…”

Exactly four years ago, of course, another former India captain — Srinivas Venkatraghavan — had a different view in the context of a slightly different role.

Venkat, it may be recalled, had the chance of standing in the (1999) World Cup final but let it be known that he wouldn’t be interested if Pakistan made the title-round.

He had his reasons: The Kargil War toll had begun to mount and, given the state of Indo-Pak relations, Venkat didn’t wish to risk being dragged into any controversy.

As it turned out, Pakistan did make the final and with Venkat ‘unavailable’, David Shepherd and Steve Bucknor got on-field postings.

Ram Babu Gupta, therefore, remains the only Indian to have officiated in a World Cup final (1987).

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