In a move to ensure strict on-field discipline of its players, the Indian cricket board on Wednesday banned Harbhajan Singh for five one-day internationals for slapping S. Sreesanth after an IPL match last month. In an unprecedented step, the BCCI also warned the off-spinner of a life ban if he is found guilty of another act of misconduct.
The BCCI also issued a “stern warning” in writing to Sreesanth, asking him to mind his on-field behaviour.
According to a board insider, the only reason Sreesanth was let off was “lack of evidence”. “There was no direct proof that Sreesanth had provoked Harbhajan,” said a top board source. “The umpire (Amish Saheba) did not tell us that he had issued a warning to the bowler during the game nor did Harbhajan say that Sreesanth had needled him during the game.”
Interestingly, a Mumbai team source had told HT earlier that Harbhajan steadfastly refused to complain against Sreesanth because he thought it would “be childish”.
“Usne kaha ki kaun chugli karega (He said who'll tell tales)," said the insider. The BCCI's three-member disciplinary committee, in the presence of Harbhajan himself, discussed the 14-page report submitted by commissioner Sudhir Nanavati before announcing the ban.
"The player admitted his guilt in the concerned matter. He prayed for leniency and assured the committee that there would not be any misconduct on his part in the future," a statement issued by BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah, who also attended the meeting, stated.
Interestingly, the HT learnt later in the day that Harbhajan got away without any financial punishment, as was being discussed earlier, since the clause in the BCCI's rules did not have any provision for it. "And once Harbhajan pleaded guilty and requested leniency, the committee softened its stand," a board source said.
But the board hasn't been particularly lenient either. Harbhajan has already been banned for the rest of the IPL, so this is added punishment for the same crime.
The press release says: “The Committee invoked Rule 3.2.1 of the BCCI Regulations for Players, Team officials, Managers, Umpires and Administrators. Under this provision, the maximum punishment that can be meted out to a player is a ban up to a maximum of 5 ODIs and/or three Test matches.”
Harbhajan will miss next month's tri-series in Bangladesh (also involving Pakistan) and the start of the Asia Cup thereafter.
Sreesanth got a severe warning: "The board is constrained to warn you for your behaviour on the field and in the event you do not improve your behaviour, the Board would be constrained to take appropriate decision."
It will be interesting to see how his Indian team-mates interact with him once the tri-series begins.
At the moment everyone is on their best behaviour and not saying anything. But Harbhajan, even if very wrong on this, is a popular figure in the Indian camp.
Finally, it's also a strong message by the BCCI that it will tolerate no indiscipline. It would also be interesting to see how it handles a disciplinary issue in future, when it's an Indian versus a foreigner.