The Denness’ Shocker!

Ban on Sachin, Captain and 4 others- Nov 2001

After the epic series win over the mighty Aussie team ever, buoyant India thrashed Bangladesh. Later in November, of the same year, travelled to South Africa. With the dream to win overseas, the team along with its new Skipper didn’t have the desired opening, losing the first match of the 3 match series.

The series meanwhile, lost its competitiveness or at least we can say the fight in the field, on the stage, lost its interest. While the behind the scene episodes soon hovered large mass attention, marking it as one of the most controversial series to have ever played. The controversy was such that within a few days, the controversy turned into Western vs. Sub-continent; lets put in a better way, white vs. Rest.

The affair

Match referee Mike Denness drew some heavy criticism during the series, as he banned six India players, that threatened to fragment the cricket world into two. after what he deemed to be bad behaviour.

The most notable was Sachin Tendulkar, who was charged with ball-tampering and suspended for one game. That accusation was the most controversial, with Denness and the ICC being accused of racism and bias against India.

As Denness was discarded as the match referee for the following game, ICC deemed the match as an unofficial Test in the aftermath.

Let’s dive deep

The second Test match had started between India and South Africa at Port Elizabeth. On the afternoon of the third day, Jacques Kallis defended a ball from Harbhajan Singh. It was taken on the bounce by Virender Sehwag at the forward short-leg. Believing that the ball had come off the bat and boot, the appeal was spontaneous and loud, with Sehwag running towards the umpire in excitement. When the decision was negative, Sehwag uttered that one F-word, that is acknowledged worldwide as the swearword for frustration.

Next, Tendulkar came on to bowl his medium-pace but to everyone’s surprise, it started swinging more than anyone else had done so far. The local television producer instantly instructed his cameramen to zoom in on his hand, he was seen to be moving his thumb and forefinger over the seam. Somehow on two occasions, the replay confused them as he was working on the seam of the ball with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. The commentators went into overdrive as the close-up replays aired on T.V.

Denness who saw this had asked a copy of the recording to be sent to him. What he saw was doubtfull, but lost in the turmoil of the fact that Tendulkar stood accused of not informing the umpires that he was cleaning the ball under Law 42.3 (b), rather than tampering with it.

 The next day, Denness, the match referee, handed down fines and bans on six Indian players:

  • Tendulkar for alleged tampering with the ball — one Test match suspended, ban. On the fourth day, Denness shocked the Indian camp by stating that although he would be banning Tendulkar for one match, he will be suspended for a year, for his actions.
  • Sehwag, for showing dissent at the umpire’s decision and charging at the umpire — one Test match immediate ban.
  • Harbhajan Singh, Deep Dasgupta and SS Das, for excessive appealing — one Test match suspended, ban.
  • Captain Sourav Ganguly, for not being able to control his players one Test match and two ODI matches suspended ban.
  • Additionally, all six were docked 75 per cent of their match fees.

As the fifth day approached, the Test had already drifted towards a draw. The shocked and infuriated Indian players leaked the news to the media. It fell like a nuke, and the allegations of racial discrimination began with a huge public outcry, given that the God of Indian Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar had been accused of cheating. Effigies of Denness were burnt on the Indian streets by the public and the media went berserk.

The situation rapidly escalated. Denness made matters worse as he angered Indian journalists by declining to explain his actions at the end-of-match press conference and refusing to utter a word.

The then ICC Chief Executive Malcolm Speed decided to back Denness, but that only served to shape the ICC as biased. The Indian media went full throttle. BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya demanded the removal of Denness from the final Test. The players were mere spectators as the war was waged on their behalf by Dalmiya.

Predictably, opinions seemed to be polarised on grounds of skin colour. The English, Australian and New Zealand boards supported ICC, while most other boards, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, sided with BCCI. The controversy threatened to split the World of Cricket into two.

BCCI threatened to scrap the third Test match which would lead to possible financial losses. After discussions, the respective boards ignored ICC and decided to replace Denness with former South African wicketkeeper Denis Lindsay. Denness later claimed that he was asked to come inside the stadium.

South Africa then suggested that a replacement match could be organized if the official 3rd Test does not go ahead. If this were to happen it would not be recognised by the ICC as a Test match, neither officiated by an ICC referee or umpire nor the result or statistics would be included in Test match records.

The unofficial third Test was however played out. The players took it as a casual match. Stripped of its status, the third “Test” went ahead in a surreal atmosphere and was easily won by South Africa, with Shaun Pollock, who scored a century, later admitted that it had not felt like a proper international.

Denness served as match referee in only two more Tests and three ODIs and was not reappointed by the ICC the following year. He passed away on April 19, 2013, at the age of 72 after waging a long battle with cancer, but will be forever remembered, to his sad, but for this controversy.


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