Bureaucracy beat out common sense in the ICC’s punishment of Sarfaraz Ahmed. That is the pithy assessment of Ehsan Mani, the PCB chairman, who believes the governing body need not have charged Sarfaraz once apologies had been publicly made and accepted.
On Sunday, Sarfaraz was handed a four-match ban by the ICC on Sunday for a breach of the Anti-Racism code, bringing an end to a saga that began with a taunt of Andile Phehlukwayo during the second ODI in Durban that included a racial element.
To some surprise, the PCB expressed its disappointment with the decision to charge Sarfaraz, but Mani expanded on the circumstances behind the sentiment. Sarfraz had apologised publicly several times in the aftermath, and eventually face-to-face to Phehlukwayo.
Apologies, Mani said, had been conveyed publicly, at board level, at the manager’s level as well as by the player.
“So as far as we were concerned, an apology had been tendered and accepted and the only question was whether Sarfaraz deserved any punishment,” Mani told ESPNcricinfo.
“I had already said we should pull Sarfaraz out for 2-3 games. I felt very strongly that this has to be a strong message for everyone.”
But the ICC, Mani said, offered Phehlukwayo a reconciliation process, as allowed under the anti-racism code as a means to resolve such disputes and which would have involved an ICC mediator. Phehlukwayo refused the offer, wanting instead to move on.
The PCB believed their efforts were a form of reconciliation and took Phehlukwayo’s refusal to imply that everyone could move on, that there was no need for a an official ICC-mandated process of reconciliation. “We had cleared the air,” Mani said. “So common sense should have meant that was the end of the matter.
“We made an apology at all levels and it had been accepted by everyone. We have a good relationship with CSA. For the ICC to jump in because Phehlukwayo was upset and didn’t want a reconciliation process, [and to feel they] have to charge Sarfaraz, that’s where I think a bit of nonsense comes into this. What else can you achieve by sitting them in a room? They’re not school children.”
The ICC believed the seriousness of the breach demanded that the code be followed and that members do not resolve such matters between themselves outside its parameters. They were driven also by the need to send a message that this kind of a breach will not be tolerated.
The PCB were also unhappy about the time it took to charge Sarfaraz, a period in which the issue festered and indeed the two teams – Pakistan still led by Sarfaraz – played the third ODI. The incident took place on Tuesday and Sarfaraz wasn’t charged until Saturday night. His punishment was made public not by the ICC but by Faf du Plessis at the toss for the fourth ODI on Sunday. Part of the reason it took that long, however, is because it is a formal legal process, involving a number of parties taking decisions on a serious matter.
“This is my issue that they sat on it,” Mani said. “Our statements and apologies were public. This is not something you brush under the table, it has to be dealt with openly and transparently. We did all of that. But because ICC couldn’t get the two players in a room together, they said let’s charge him. And that to my mind is utter nonsense.
“Why this bureaucratic process that it didn’t go exactly according to the book in terms of reconciliation with an ICC mediator? We don’t need an ICC mediator. So very seriously, we will push on this because somewhere common sense was overruled by bureaucratic process.”
Mani didn’t play down the seriousness of the incident and is planning to speak to Sarfaraz. The incident has sparked off speculation about the future of Sarfaraz’s captaincy and though the line is – as it has been for a while – that the captain remains a series by series appointment, Mani said it was “too soon” to think about that.
“Unfortunately, somewhere the message to the players has gotten missed, or it hasn’t sunk in, or too much time went by without further refreshing. It is a distasteful comment to make at any level. The sensitivity in South Africa is understandably very high and it was disappointing the captain made that comment – any player but the leader of the team more so.
“Obviously Sarfaraz will be spoken to. The whole team will be told that you have to be very careful. It is also a bit of a cultural issue – the word that he used, in Pakistan it would be ignored. That doesn’t mean the culture is right but the tone wasn’t in any way vicious or vindictive.”