India’s tour to South Africa in 2001, their first visit to the country in half a decade, is remembered for all the wrong reasons.
At the centre of all the drama was the Port Elizabeth Test, the second game of the three-match series, which ended in a draw but kickstarted a period of prolonged drama and controversy. It all began when Mike Denness, the match referee for the Test, handed suspensions to six Indian players, including captain Sourav Ganguly and their star batsman, Sachin Tendulkar.
While three of the players received one-Test bans for excessive appealing (Sehwag was booked for dissent and handed an immediate one-Test ban), Ganguly was given a one-Test and two ODI suspension for his “inability to control the behaviour of the team”. The biggest point of debate, though, was Tendulkar’s one-Test suspension over supposed ball-tampering charges.
The punishments, particularly the Tendulkar suspension, caused widespread furore in India. Effigies of Denness were burnt on streets, the incident was discussed in the Indian parliament, and some even went on to brand the referee a ‘racist’.
Subsequently, BCCI sent a written complaint to ICC asking for the removal of Denness for the final Test. The ICC did not concede, following which the India and South Africa boards decided to go ahead with the Test without Denness.
In turn, ICC decided to deem the third Test as ‘unofficial’, since the designated referee did not oversee the match.
The drama stretched on further: Denness, and ICC, later clarified that Tendulkar had, in fact, been punished under Law 42.3 for not informing the umpires of cleaning the seam. “I can’t use the words ball-tampering,” Denness said. “It depends how you interpret the English language, I suppose”.
It did not end there. Sehwag did not feature in the third ‘unofficial’ Test and was named in the squad for the first Test against England in the series that followed. While the Indian chief selector, Chandu Borde, remained non-committal, claiming that there had been no directive from BCCI, the decision put in danger the status of the Test, and in turn, the series.
Sehwag was eventually dropped from the Mohali Test and the series continued. Denness served as referee for only three more ODIs and two Tests, following which he was not reappointed by ICC.
It’s been nearly two decades since the incident, but the India-South Africa Test rivalry cannot be spoken about without mentioning the events of the Port Elizabeth Test, and what followed after.
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