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08 Dec 2020

The Concussion Conundrum

The first T20 International Cricket match between Australia Vs. India played on December 4, 2020, at Manuka Oval, Canberra witnessed an unusual controversy. During the inning break, on-field cameras captured the animated discussion between the match referee David Boon and the Australian head coach Justin Langer. The issue was centered on the decision of the match referee about concussion replacement player Yuzvendra Chahal for concussed player Ravindra Jadeja.

 

The Controversy:

During the last over of India’s inning, a beaming delivery of Mitchell Starc hit Ravindra Jadeja on his helmet. Though, Jadeja went on to complete that over without any complaint or call for help, but later reported of dizziness in the dressing room. As per the news reports, the team medics after examining the player suspected of concussion hence sought concussion replacement.

The team medics seem to have duly followed the ICC Rules on their part by completing the required formalities. Match Referee, David Boon who approved India’s concussion substitute had an animated conversation with Justin Langer followed by outbursts from certain Australian players and the decision being questioned by Cricket experts and scrutinised by the media. 

ICC Rules & Guidelines on Concussion Replacement:

Well, to lay rest to these speculations and determine if the Indian team subverted the rules, it is important to look at the International Cricket Council (ICC) Rules and Guidelines concerning concussion replacement. The concussion rules were implemented to restrict a player from being unduly exposed to health risks and also to save a team from being disadvantaged if their player is concussed.

The concussion replacement issue is dealt with under Rule 1.2.7 of the ICC Men’s Twenty20 International Playing Conditions which was introduced in July 2019. The Rules allow a ‘like-for-like’ replacement in case a player is concussed, i.e., an injury is caused to the head or neck during the course of the match and the incident had occurred within the playing area.

The team medical representative is responsible for diagnosing the player and submitting the request for concussion replacement to the Match Referee. Rules 1.2.7.1.3.4 mandates that the concussion replacement request shall be a like-for-like for the player who has sustained the concussion or suspected concussion.

As per Rule 1.2.7.3, the ICC Match Referee should ordinarily approve a Concussion Replacement Request if the replacement is a like-for-like player whose inclusion will not excessively advantage his team for the remainder of the match. Further, the ICC Match Referee should consider the likely role the concussed player would have played during the remainder of the match, and the normal role that would be performed by the nominated Concussion Replacement. The decision of the match referee in this regard is final and cannot be appealed. 

Did India and the Match Referee follow the Rules?

Let us analyse the core issues which became the point of discussion and disagreement and caused the stir.

a) Player Assessment     

The major issue was that the player was not assessed after he was hit and hence there was a breach of protocol by team India. Let us look at the ICC’s concussion management guidelines and refer to section “Clear and immediate diagnosis of concussion” which reads as:

When should a team doctor/physio run out for an on-field assessment?

  1. If called on by the umpire;
  2. If a player is down and players are calling for assistance;
  3. Immediately, if there is a head knock and the player is unable to resume after 3 to 4 seconds;
  4. If a player calls for a new helmet following a head injury; and
  5. At the end of the over, if the player resumes play after having sustained a blow to the head.

Analyzing, the above guidelines team India does not seem to have breached any protocol as the player was attended and assessed in the dressing room by the team medics immediately after the (final) over in which he was hit, therefore falling under the fifth scenario. Hence, the objection of an unfair advantage being taken solely on this ground cannot be sustained. Moreover, given the medical expertise and sensitive nature of the injury, the opinion of the medics can also not be called into question or be disregarded.

b) Like-for-like replacement:

The second issue, which caused much furore was whether the replacement player (Yuzvendra Chahal in this case) could be considered a ‘like-for-like’ replacement (Ravindra Jadeja) where Jadeja is considered a bowling all-rounder while Chahal is purely a leg-spinner.

Rules 1.2.7.3 – 1.2.7.5 sets out the guidelines for Match Referee to address the issue of concussion replacement. As per the Rules, the Match Referee should assess the likely role the concussed player would have played during the remainder of the match and the normal role, which would be performed by the nominated replacement. It is not necessary that a player should be a ‘like-for-like’ replacement in terms of ability and standing. Such an interpretation would render the concussion rules infructuous as no two players are alike and no team can be expected to carry a squad containing an exact substitute for each of its players. The assessment is to be done on the basis of the ‘likely role’ to be played.

Moreover, if the Match Referee believes that inclusion of the replacement would excessively advantage the team, the Match Referee is well within his rights to impose conditions upon the identity and involvement of the Concussion replacement, to neutralize any advantage being accrued. In the instant match, being an all-rounder, Jadeja was likely to complete his bowling quota. Since the replacement happened at the end of the batting innings, Chahal could be considered a ‘like-for-like’ replacement, as he would have played the role of Jadeja, which is to bowl his quota of four overs. 

Conclusion:

An in-depth analysis of the ICC Rules & Guidelines and the subject issue of concussion replacement do not hint at any unfair or mala-fide intention neither on the part of the Indian cricket team nor the match referee. Another perspective; had Chahal not bowled the Indian team to victory and bagged the man of the match award, this issue would not have seen the light of the day. The whole matter seems to be no more than a tempest in a teacup.


Image Credits: Photo by Aksh yadav on Unsplash

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