Sourav Ganguly's brushes with the law of cricket are getting rather frequent. It all started after the one-day international between Australia and India in Sydney on January 22, 2004. International Cricket Council match referee Clive Lloyd fined the Indian team for a slow over-rate. Lloyd told the Indian players and team management that the side finished the game three overs short of the required rate. Under the sanctions outlined in the ICC's code of conduct, each player paid a fine of five per cent of his match fee for each of the first five overs that the side was behind, whilst the captain paid a 10 per cent fine for each over that his team was down. So each Indian player was fined 15 per cent of his match fee, and captain Sourav paid a 30 per cent fine. Sourav was also charged with a Level Two breach of the ICC's code of conduct which states: 'If the over rate is more than 5 overs short of the minimum overs in a Test match or more than 2 overs in an ODI match, the captain in addition to sanctions imposed in accordance with (i) and (ii) will be charged under C1 of the Code of Conduct, conduct contrary to the spirit of the game, on the basis of time wasting (Level 2 offence).' As a result, Ganguly received an additional fine of 50 per cent of his match fee. So he was charged 80 per cent of his match fee in all.
Then on November 13, 2004, the same Clive Lloyd pulled up Sourav for the same offence after the ODI with Pakistan in Calcutta. The Indian team had taken almost an hour longer than allowed to finish its 50 overs. Since this was a repeat offence within 12 months, it was treated as a Level Two crime. Sourav was suspended from two test matches. This time, his own crime was Level Three, so Sourav had a right to an appeal, which he used; the International Cricket Council appointed Tim Castle as appeals commissioner. Castle observed that there were extenuating circumstances. The ground had been wet; so the ball needed much drying and rubbing, which took bowlers' time. And a Pakistani cricketer was hurt and had to be treated.
Then again on April 12 this year, at the end of an ODI between India and Pakistan in Ahmedabad, Chris Broad, the match referee, charged Sourav with an unduly slow over-rate. This time it was called a Level Three crime, and after hearing Sourav in the umpires' room, Broad banned him from playing in six ODIs. Sourav, backed by the BCCI, appealed. As it happens, the ICC employs an in-house lawyer, Urvasi Naidoo. She referred the appeal to Michael Beloff, QC, who is chairman of the ICC's Code of Conduct Commission. He summarily dismissed the appeal.
That should have been the end of the matter, but Beloff's brusque dismissal of Sourav's appeal put up BCCI's back. It said that Beloff had convicted Sourav on the basis of an amendment that the ICC Board had not yet approved. Beloff said that Sourav was guilty in terms of another rule, irrespective of whether the contested amendment held or not.
Now Jagmohan Dalmia was really roused. He sent off a legal brief to the president of the ICC, saying amongst other things that Beloff should never have been appointed; that he should not have reviewed his decision on being asked to do so; that he should have given Sourav a hearing; and that since Tim Castle overturned Clive Lloyd's decision, so should Beloff have Broad's. Dalmia's word matters whether right or wrong, for India is the feeding trough of world cricket. Ehsan Mani, president, and Malcolm Speed, vice-president of ICC, got into a huddle, and appointed a one-man Dispute Resolution Committee consisting of Justice Albie Sachs, judge of South Africa's Constitutional Court. The ICC does not generally put out the reports of its judges; it has Sachs's, and it makes fascinating reading.
For instance, the rules say that if someone appeals, the in-house counsel would nominate someone to hear the appeal who was a member of the ICC Code of Conduct Commission but not from either of the countries that were playing. The BCCI argued that Beloff's appointment was invalid because he was the CCC's chairman, and not a member from any country. That was clever, was it not' Let no one say Indians do not have brains. Sachs dismissed this nugget of sophistry.
Then the BCCI said that since Tim Castle heard Sourav on telephone, so should have Beloff for the sake of 'natural justice'. The rules say that the appeals commissioner would decide what procedure to follow, including whether to give the appellant a hearing ' which he did. But it is the practice of Indian lawyers to throw in arguments into a brief, good, bad and atrocious; and Indian judges are forgiving enough to accept trashy briefs.
Or, if you prefer Justice Sachs's urbane prose, 'Distressed by what it regarded as unduly harsh treatment of Saurav Ganguly compared to the way he had been treated in the earlier case, the BCCI sought to rely on technical points with a view to achieving what it saw a substantially fair result. Its loyalty to Saurav Ganguly was understandable, some would say commendable, though others might have thought it a little over-enthusiastic.' As he says, 'He who lives by the law risks dying by the law.'
The fact is that ICC rules define the minimum over rate and its breach very precisely. A side has to complete 50 overs in 3' hours ' it gets just over 4 minutes for each over. To this is added the time taken by events beyond players' control. On facts, Sourav Ganguly never had any grounds for appeal.
The penalties are also very clearly laid down; here too, Sourav had no ground to stand on. The only variable where judgment enters is time taken by events beyond players' control. To argue on this, the captain invariably gets a hearing from the match referee, and can always submit written submissions. So I see no merit in the BCCI's hullabaloo about natural justice and fair hearing.
But players are paid so much per match that the cost of an appeal is a fraction of the lost earnings. So there is a huge pecuniary incentive to appeal; and since there are never any good arguments for an appeal, the BCCI will continue to make junky appeals.
What then is the remedy' It is unrealistic to expect a change in the quality of Indian cricket administrators. But it is the bowlers who take more time than allowed, not the captain; I do not see why the bowlers cannot be penalized directly. And every over has a certain duration; one does not have to wait till the end of the match to find out that the over rate was slow.
As every bowler bowls, he can be told, minute by minute, how long he has taken over each over; perhaps even a watch can be designed that would tell him. What is wrong with the ICC is that it makes crimes out of perfectly avoidable mistakes.