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It was the final day of the second Test between South Africa and India in Port Elizabeth in November 2001. Chasing 395, India resumed at 28 for one against a quality South African bowling attack. Rahul Dravid batted for over four hours and, with wicket-keeper Deep Dasgupta, to help India save the Test. But like so many times in Dravid’s career, something else stole the headlines. It was a row that threatened to damage the sport on ‘racial’ lines and it involved Sachin Tendulkar.

Thirteen years on, Tendulkar openly wrote about the incident in his autobiography ‘Playing It My Way’.

The incident 

Match referee Mike Denness, a former England captain, pulled up more than half of the Indian team for various transgressions. Tendulkar, who is widely acknowledged for playing the game fairly, was accused of ball-tampering and handed a Test ban.

Four others — Virender Sehwag, Deep Dasgupta, Harbhajan Singh and Shiv Sunder Das — were also handed a Test ban for excessive appealing. Captain Sourav Ganguly was banned for a Test and two One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for failing to controlling his team. All six were also fined 75% of their match fee.
Sehwag, playing in his first Test series, was charged with unfairly claiming a catch of Jacques Kallis that had clearly bounced, and for attempting to intimidate the umpire by charging at him, and using “abusive language”.

The aftermath

There was a huge outrage in India and effigies of Denness were burnt. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) appealed against the decision and the matter was raised in the Indian parliament as well. The Indian press had termed Denness a ‘racist’. Things got worse when at the post-match press conference, Denness refused to explain his actions that were already mentioned in the press release.

The Indian media were firmly behind the team. Commentator Ravi Shastri asked: “If Mike Denness cannot answer questions, why is he here? We know what he looks like!”

The International Cricket council (ICC) supported Denness, but the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) sided with the BCCI, who had threatened to call off the tour unless Denness was replaced as the match referee for the third Test. Cricket boards around the world stood divided in their support. Denness wasn’t allowed to officiate in the next match and therefore, ICC declared the match to be ‘unofficial’.

While the ban on Tendulkar and Ganguly were overturned, the ICC upheld the ban on Sehwag, but he was still picked for the following home Test series against England. The ICC issued a warning that if Sehwag was included in the first Test, then that game too would be deemed ‘unofficial’. Sehwag was dropped from the first Test in the larger interest of the game.

Jagmohan Dalmiya, the then BCCI President, had personally consoled Sehwag, who was also compensated financially and received match fee and other allowances like rest of the team.

Reactions 

The then Australian skipper Steve Waugh said, “There should not be any favours because of your reputation or the way you play the game. If you do something wrong, you have to get pulled up for it.”

Ganguly reacted strongly by saying, “He should shut up and think about Australian cricket.”

The Indian captain expressed surprise over the fact that affected players and the team are not supposed to talk about the match- referee’s decision, everyone else had the freedom to comment on the subject.

The likes of Tony Greig also supported Waugh’s views, but after a lot of raging drama, ICC clarified, “Sachin Tendulkar has not been found guilty of ball tampering. The punishment was for removing grass from the ball and not having informed the umpires, which is very different from ball tampering.”

Tendulkar on this controversy

In ‘Playing It My Way’, Tendulkar has revealed that he felt humiliated then and the team was prepared to ‘abandon the tour’.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

On the charge – “I was shocked, because I had always played cricket with integrity and honesty and would never do such a thing.”

On ‘not accepting it’ – “None of the umpires had lodged a complaint against me and it was humiliating to be labelled a cheat. I wasn’t prepared to let it pass. I informed Mike Denness that I would complain about the allegation and would not keep quiet about it.

“We informed the BCCI that the allegations were unsubstantiated and unfair. We were delighted when the BCCI, led by Jagmohan Dalmiya, stood steadfastly behind us and informed the ICC that the team had lost faith in the match referee.

“We were prepared to abandon the tour if need be but we weren’t ready to be labelled cheats. It was about honour and there was no way we would allow a match referee to cast aspersions on our credibility.”

On ‘lessons learnt’ – “My mistake, which I have no hesitation in owning up to, was that I should have informed the on-field umpires under Law 42.3 when I was cleaning the seam, but I’m afraid it did not enter my mind in the intensity of the moment.”

On the crisis – “Mike Denness’ decisions had led to a crisis that ended up dividing the cricket world down the middle. It was an avoidable incident and one that left everyone bitter in the end.”

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he find solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)