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Sentence was delivered before the verdict.
Jan 29, 2008
By Rahul Namjoshi - Dreamcricket Special Columnist

“It’s a pun!” the King added in an angry tone, and everybody laughed. "Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterward.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”

“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.

“I won’t!” said Alice.

“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

“Who cares for you?” said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”

The Harbhajan Singh episode has such a dreamlike unreal feel to it, that one can’t resist drawing comparisons with the above mentioned Alice.

The initial sentence was based on hearsay. And one always thought that it was the prosecution’s responsibility to prove its allegations. But somehow it went into the Alice scenario and Bhajji was punished for making a racial slur. A lot has been written about the incident and this piece is not going to dwell on it. But it surely reminded the Indians of the sentence being delivered before the verdict.

What does the current verdict of ‘not guilty’ bring forth?

It puts Mike Procter in an unenviable position. The ICC is saying that his verdict was wrong. His position as a match referee was already made redundant by asking Ranjan Madugalle to come in before the Perth test. Will Mike Procter continue in his role as a match referee in the future? Steve Bucknor was eased out of the series for making mistakes in making decisions at the spur of the moment. That was not cricket’s golden moment for sure. But that Mike Procter with so much time and facts on his side, erred, is a more serious mistake. Given his record as a match referee at the infamous Oval test in 2007, then at Sydney, his continuance as a match referee has to be seriously questioned.

Secondly, as ‘sufficient evidence’ was not found to return a ‘guilty’ verdict, will the Australian players be asked to apologize to Harbhajan by CA? If there is no rap on the knuckles for making such allegations, the situation can become a ‘free for all’ with every team trying its luck with a key opposition player.

Before the start of the ‘rehearing’, a transcript of the stump microphone recordings was provided by Channel Nine. One reads that it was inconclusive since what Harbhajan said was indecipherable. But at the same time, there might have been more circumstantial evidence in the transcripts. Obviously Justice Hansen chose to ignore it. With the unyielding posture taken by the BCCI on this issue and threats of the team pulling out of the triangular series, it will always be questioned if the ICC succumbed to pressure.

If the current verdict is correct, then the Australians owe Bhajji an apology. If it is taken under pressure then the ICC needs to be questioned. Both the decisions (by the Match referee and the Appeals Commissioner) can be made out to be ‘sentence before verdict’ variety by the two sides.

Alice woke by the end of the story. When do we wake up?
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