Michael Clarke in an animated discussion with the umpires
Ryan Pierse / © Getty Images


Crime and punishment

Warnings, fines, bans and let-offs: a short history of penalties and breaches under the ICC's code of conduct

Alok Prasanna Kumar  |  

While teaching jurisprudence and the nature of law, it is not uncommon for lecturers to use the laws of cricket to distinguish law in the real world. Noted jurist HLA Hart refers to the laws of cricket repeatedly to describe and outline the nature of law as government norms to guide human behaviour. Unlike in cricket, where laws apply purely within the context of a game, law in real life has different consequences. For Hart, the distinction was clear - what you did on the field had implications only on the field.

Since the 1991-92 season, however, when the ICC developed a code of conduct and instituted match referees, on-field actions have had consequences beyond the boundary. Match referees have adjudicated and imposed penalties on players who have breached the code. It has been amended over the years, taking many shapes and forms, but at its core it has meant to ensure the "spirit of cricket", as mentioned in the code's preamble, is maintained.

The interpretation and application of the code, though, is not always straightforward. Where, for instance, does a show of disappointment by a player turn into an expression of dissent? Is one match referee's "aggressive appealing" another's "passion for the game"? Match referees take these calls based on their experience as players at the highest level, and there are bound to be disagreements in the approach to and the manner of application of the code. But are there patterns that should worry us? Have some match referees more than others placed an emphasis on playing the game in what they perceive to be the right way? More importantly, should we accept the spirit of cricket so uncritically, especially considering cricket's problematic history with race and class?

This article looks at penalties imposed on players from current Test-playing nations between January 1992 and October 2016 across Tests, ODIs and T20Is, as detailed on the ICC's website. In that period, 291 different players and team officials were found guilty of being in breach of the code of conduct.

Michael Slater gets up in Rahul Dravid's face in the 2001 series in India after a catch he claimed was clean was ruled not out

Michael Slater gets up in Rahul Dravid's face in the 2001 series in India after a catch he claimed was clean was ruled not out Hamish Blair / © Getty Images

There have been 508 breaches for which some sanction has been imposed (not including over-rate penalties imposed on teams). If an incident has resulted in more than one player being sanctioned, it has been counted as a separate incident for each player in this analysis. Where two separate charges have been laid on a player for the same incident, they have been counted as two separate offences. In 30 other instances where a player was hauled up by the match referee for a hearing, players have been found "not guilty" by either the match referee himself or by the appellate authority.

Given how much the code of conduct has changed over the years, there is no common description of the offences. However, for the purposes of this article, I have attempted to classify them into 13 categories:

  • Advertising and equipment breaches
  • Ball-tampering
  • Damaging equipment
  • Dangerous play - where the player unnecessarily puts an opponent in harm's way
  • Dissent
  • Excessive appealing/Intimidating umpire
  • Inappropriate language/gestures (such as send-offs)
  • Obscene language/verbal abuse
  • Physical contact
  • Public criticism - where the player criticises other players/match officials in public
  • Racial vilification
  • Sharp practice - where the player takes an unfair advantage during the game. For example, James Foster was found guilty of having breached the code for disturbing Andy Flower at the crease and was severely reprimanded by the match referee, Col Naushad Ali, in an ODI in 2001.
  • Miscellaneous - anything deemed contrary to the spirit of cricket which doesn't fall strictly within the above categories. Instances of this include Glenn McGrath being fined 30% of his match fee by referee Raman Subba Row in a Test against West Indies, when he was found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute for spitting on the pitch in the direction of West Indian batsman Adrian Griffith.

Here we examine offences by players in all the above categories except public criticism and advertising breaches (both of which don't directly relate to action on the field).

Harbhajan Singh at a court hearing in the wake of the racial abuse scandal involving him and Andrew Symonds in 2008

Harbhajan Singh at a court hearing in the wake of the racial abuse scandal involving him and Andrew Symonds in 2008 © AFP

Penalties have run from official reprimands to bans, and the extent of penalties has also changed over the years, giving a wide range of discretion to the match referees.

Here is a breakdown of penalties that looks at the number of violations per match (Test, ODI and T20) between 1992 and 2016.

Number of offences per match per team
Team Offences Matches (all formats) Offences per match
India 78 1019 0.0765
Pakistan 58 971 0.0597
Australia 53 1004 0.0528
Bangladesh 24 466 0.0515
South Africa 43 882 0.0488
England 38 876 0.0434
West Indies 38 835 0.0455
Sri Lanka 41 961 0.0427
New Zealand 33 833 0.0396
Zimbabwe 22 616 0.0357

Here's a look at the number of offences adjudicated per referee and the number of penalties imposed (minimum of 15 penalties imposed).

Number of offences adjudicated per referee
Referee Offences adjudicated Matches (Tests, ODIs, T20Is) Offences adjudicated per match
Hanumant Singh 18 63 0.286
Andy Pycroft 28 217 0.129
Clive Lloyd 23 183 0.126
Jeff Crowe 47 385 0.122
Chris Broad 45 386 0.117
Roshan Mahanama 33 291 0.113
Alan Hurst 15 173 0.087
Mike Procter 17 208 0.082
Ranjan Madugalle 44 550 0.080
Javagal Srinath 16 261 0.061

The presence of Hanumant Singh at the top is an anomaly, given the relatively few matches he officiated. Among those who have officiated in at least 100 matches (and imposed at least 15 penalties), the top three are Andy Pycroft, Clive Lloyd and Jeff Crowe.

Penalties are often seemingly subjectively handed out. For instance, when Azhar Mahmood, Moin Khan and Waqar Younis were found guilty of ball-tampering in 2000 in an ODI against South Africa in Colombo three different penalties were imposed by match referee John Reid, even though the whole Pakistan team had been warned earlier. Waqar copped the heaviest fine: he was suspended for one ODI and fined 50% of his match fee. Moin was only reprimanded, as the captain under whose watch the tampering had occurred. Mahmood was fined 30% of his match fee and warned. This subjectivity is written into the code to some extent - the latest version requires match referees to account for mitigating and aggravating factors while handing out punishments.

Beware: Andy Pycroft leads the list of match referees on punishments doled out

Beware: Andy Pycroft leads the list of match referees on punishments doled out © AFP

Sometimes, different match referees will treat similar acts by players differently. For instance, after an ODI against New Zealand in 2015, Mitchell Starc was hauled up by match referee Roshan Mahanama for hurling the ball in the direction of batsman Mark Craig, and fined 50% of his match fee for dangerous play. It was an act Starc's own captain, Steven Smith, called "pretty disappointing", as there hadn't been an opportunity for a run-out. Yet, in an ODI against Sri Lanka in 2016, when Starc threw the ball towards Dinesh Chandimal at the end of an over, forcing Chandimal to fend it off to prevent injury, match referee Javagal Srinath treated it as a miscellaneous offence and let him off with a reprimand. No two instances are exactly alike, but we see that such inconsistencies are not one-offs.

Number of offences down the years
Year Offences
1992 8
1993 5
1994 15
1995 15
1996 9
1997 12
1998 14
1999 14
2000 16
2001 33
2002 8
2003 17
2004 29
2005 28
2006 18
2007 17
2008 15
2009 22
2010 13
2011 17
2012 5
2013 19
2014 24
2015 27
2016 28

If we plot this on a chart:

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Next, we compare the number of offences against the number of games played every year by the Test-playing nations.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The number of offences per match hasn't gone up significantly over two and a half decades. However, two years show a spike: 2001 and 2005. While no one series or game stands out in 2005, there were two testy series in 2001; India in South Africa and England in Sri Lanka. These two series alone accounted for 16 of the 33 offences that year.

Number of code-of-conduct offences by type
Type Number
Dissent 139
Miscellaneous 87
Obscene language 65
Intimidating umpire 40
Inappropriate language 31
Physical contact 25
Damaging equipment 23
Ball-tampering 10
Sharp practice 4
Racial vilification 2
Dangerous play 2

There is no clear pattern in terms of the kinds of transgressions that get penalised under the miscellaneous category. They include claiming obviously illegal catches (Niroshan Dickwella), the infamous "Yeh Viv, talk nah" incident (Ramdin), time-wasting (Sourav Ganguly) and blocking batsmen during a run (Venkatesh Prasad).

Dissent offences by team
Team No. of dissents
India 29
Australia 26
South Africa 13
New Zealand 13
Pakistan 13
Sri Lanka 12
England 11
Zimbabwe 8
West Indies 8
Bangladesh 5

The bulk of the penalties have been fines and reprimands, though the occasional bans have also been handed out. The fines have ranged from 10% to 100% of the match fees, while the bans have ranged from one game to six games, as with Ganguly (reduced to four on appeal).

Penalties by type
Type  Number
Fine 246
Reprimand 96
Ban 31
Fine and suspended ban 20
Fine and reprimand 20
Fine and ban 9
Suspended ban 4
Suspended fine 2

Most-penalised players
Player Offences
Sourav Ganguly 10
Inzamam-ul-Haq 9
Ricky Ponting 7
Shahid Afridi 7
Harbhajan Singh 6
Glenn McGrath 6
Kumar Sangakkara 6
Ishant Sharma 6
Shoaib Akhtar 5
Graeme Smith 5
Tillakaratne Dilshan 5
Shakib Al Hasan 5

The above table applies only for the penalties analysed in this article

The two most penalised players are Ganguly and Inzamam-ul-Haq. The fact that they were captains is only coincidental here, since none of the over-rate related offences (except for deliberate time-wasting) has been included. Most cricket followers are unlikely to raise their eyebrows at the names on this list. Just outside this top ten is Sreesanth - a man well known to match referees around the world. Interestingly, of the 77 penalties imposed on the above, 59 were directed at players from Asian countries.

A Kolkata billboard during the 2005 ODI series in which Sourav Ganguly was banned for six matches. Ganguly and Inzamam lead the list of players with the most code-of-conduct violations (and India and Pakistan lead the corresponding list of teams)

A Kolkata billboard during the 2005 ODI series in which Sourav Ganguly was banned for six matches. Ganguly and Inzamam lead the list of players with the most code-of-conduct violations (and India and Pakistan lead the corresponding list of teams) © AFP

The rate at which an offence is committed per game in this time is revealing:

Frequency of offences
Format Offences Matches Frequency of offences
Tests 216 1049 0.206
ODIs 189 2905 0.065
T20Is 23 450 0.051

Code-of-conduct violations seem to take place far more frequently in Tests than in one-dayers or T20Is. In one way, this is natural, because Test matches are far longer than the other two types. Another explanation: perhaps match referees are less lenient in Tests than in ODIs. A third possible reason: a Test is really a test of mental and physical discipline, and over a prolonged period the stress gets to some players.

In critiquing the way these violations have been applied over the years, cricket's complicated relationship with race cannot be wished away. The allegations of ball-tampering and excessive appealing against Indian players in South Africa, the tempestuous "Monkeygate", Arjuna Ranatunga's threat to walk off when Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled, Inzamam and team forfeiting the Oval Test, Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana, Javed Miandad and Dennis Lillee, Sunil Gavaskar and Lillee, Colin Croft and umpire Fred Goodall - all these force us to consider the complex interplay of race relations between officials and players, and players inter se.

Even the frequent brouhahas over mankading (down to its very name) can possibly be attributed to vastly differing attitudes towards the "right way to play the game". What is it about a perfectly legitimate manoeuvre to get an erring batsman out that incenses public opinion so? And why is it that a majority of the mankading controversies occur in the context of Asian players mankading non-Asian players?

In many cases, the penalty imposed appears to be contingent on the match referees in charge. For instance, in the Indian Oil Cup in Sri Lanka in 2005, Ashish Nehra and Farveez Maharoof were found guilty of excessive appealing (in different matches) by match referee Mike Procter and let off with reprimands. In the same year, Makhaya Ntini and Charles Langeveldt were also found guilty of excessive appealing in an ODI in the West Indies, this time by match referee Jeff Crowe, and were penalised 25% and 20% of their match fees respectively. In all four cases, it was the player's first offence of any kind, which makes it hard to explain why Ntini and Langeveldt had bigger penalties imposed on them.

Even more curious, Ntini and Langeveldt pleaded guilty and still got a higher penalty. Perhaps this had to do with Crowe's pre-series meeting with the management of each team, where he said there would be "no tolerance" for such actions. It is still odd that each referee is allowed to decide the extent of punishment based on his own judgement.

Stuart Broad's way of keeping umpires on-side might account for his having got away with infractions on a few occasions

Stuart Broad's way of keeping umpires on-side might account for his having got away with infractions on a few occasions Stu Forster / © Getty Images

Sometimes the same referee has imposed widely different penalties for similar offences. Virender Sehwag, who was found guilty of intimidating the umpire, was banned by Mike Denness for a Test and fined 75% of his match fee, in Port Elizabeth in 2001. Seven months earlier Denness had found Leon Garrick guilty of the same offence in a Test against South Africa in Jamaica, but had let him off with a reprimand. In both cases, it was the player's first offence.

On occasion, the same sort of incident has had dramatically different penalties imposed in different cases. In Adelaide in 2009, when Sulieman Benn and Brad Haddin got into an altercation, match referee Chris Broad banned Benn for two games, while Haddin and Mitchell Johnson were docked 25% and 10% of their match fees. This was the first offence for all players. Johnson appeared to have first made physical contact, with Haddin aggravating it by pointing his bat at Benn, yet it was Benn who copped the harshest punishment. On the other hand, in an ODI in Lahore in 2003, when Andrew Hall barged into Yousuf Youhana and the latter threatened him with the bat, match referee Clive Lloyd banned Hall for one ODI and two Tests for having instigated the incident and fined Youhana 50% of his match fee.

Scanning through the penalties over the years, there seems to be a difference in the way Asian and non-Asian match referees approach on-field disciplinary problems. The nationality of the players also seems to matter. Seven of the nine players found guilty of ball-tampering have been Asian players, even though players of all nationalities have admitted that using sweets to shine a ball is an open secret known to all teams. It is striking to note that in 2013, Faf du Plessis was only fined for rubbing the ball on his zipper in a Test in Dubai. Neither did James Anderson and Stuart Broad receive bans for reportedly trying to scruff up the ball in the series against South Africa in 2010.

The bigger issue is one of transparency. Often we know nothing about why players get away with what they do and why match referees think no action is needed. Stuart Broad, for instance, has admitted that he has managed to escape sanction from match referees for his on-field behaviour partly because of how he engages with umpires on the field. Talking about the time he celebrated an lbw without waiting for the umpire to give it out, he said, "It had been a frustrating morning for us, I rapped the fella on the pad and I knew it was out straight away. But I get on really well with the umpire and I just said, 'Rod, sorry about my mishap.' He just laughed it off. I made a mistake and I apologised to him, but he was very light-hearted about it. It had been a tough day and he used his common sense."

What cricket needs is an honest re-examination of the code of conduct and its implementation. What this also calls for is much greater scrutiny of the role of match referees. The ICC may need to periodically assess their performance on grounds of fairness, consistency, and application of the code. There will always be some amount of subjectivity in the decision-making process, but it is time the ICC put in place mechanisms to minimise glaring inconsistencies, making sure like-for-like transgressions are met with similar penalties.

Alok Prasanna Kumar is an advocate based in Bengaluru