Legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has been disciplined for ball tampering in the second test match in South Africa. Other Indian players have also been disciplined for protesting. The controversial ruling has sparked outrage.
Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the best batsman in the world, was fined 75 percent of his match fee and received a one match ban. The ban was suspended until the end of the year, and will only be enforced if he is found guilty of another similar offense before then.
Television cameras caught Tendulkar apparently using his fingernail to lift the seam of the ball Sunday on the third day of play in Port Elizabeth.
Match referee Mike Denness also disciplined four other Indian players for excessive appealing and trying to intimidate the umpires.
The most serious penalty went to young batsman Virender Sehwag, who also lost 75 percent of his match fee and was immediately banned for one match. Unlike Tendulkar, Sehwag's ban was not suspended. That means he will miss the third and final test match in Centurion later this week.
It is reported to be the first time a player has actually been banned from a match for dissent.
Three more players - opening batsman Shiv Sunder Das, wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta and offspinner Harbhajan Singh - all received the same penalty. But their one-match bans are suspended until the end of January. Indian captain Sourav Ganguly was also disciplined, for failing to control his players.
Many commentators have condemned the match referee's action as overly harsh. It has sparked nothing short of outrage in India. There have even been calls for India to pull out of the South African tour, skipping the final test match in Centurion.
Indian cricket authorities have called for the removal of Denness as match referee for the Centurion test. The United Cricket Board of South Africa says it will support that move, if it is the only way to persuade India not to abort the tour and fly home early.
The first four days of the test match were full of aggressive cricket, and there were many loud, forceful appeals from both sides. Many cricket journalists - and former players for both teams - feel the Indians were unfairly singled out for punishment.
In commentary for a South African satellite television channel, SuperSport, former Indian player Navjot Singh Sidhu called for consistency in such decisions. "If you're going to be harsh on players, you've got to be very consistent," he said. "You can't have a different yardstick to judge different players."
23-year-old Sehwag was playing in only his second test match, and it does not appear he received a warning before being slapped with the ban.
As for Tendulkar, his record until now has been unblemished. He is one of the most respected cricketers in the world, both on and off the field. Former players from South Africa, India and England who were watching the match say they do not think he was really tampering with the ball - but simply cleaning dirt off the seam.
It does not appear that any of the Indian players will be able to appeal against the match referee's decision. The Indian cricket board, however, has indicated it will pursue the matter with the International Cricket Council.