Monday, 21 November 2016

Cricket: How Credible Are The Latest Ball Tampering Charges?

by Oliver Wright

The South African stand-in captain Faf du Plessis has been charged with ball tampering during their 2nd Test victory against Australia at Hobart. The International Cricket Council (the ICC) have stated Du Plessis was in breach of Article 2.2.9 of the ICC Code of Conduct, in relation to ‘changing the condition of the ball’ using an artificial substance. Their statement said: ‘The alleged incident happened on Tuesday morning when TV footage appeared to show du Plessis applying saliva and residue from a mint or sweet, an artificial substance, to the ball in an attempt to change its condition’. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is seeking legal advice to contest against them. Consequently there will be a hearing in front of match referee Andy Pycroft, but a date for the hearing has not yet been set. If found guilty, du Plessis’ level 2 breach of the Code of Conduct could carry a fine of 50-100% of his match fee, and a one Test Match ban.

Due to the severity of the punishment, you could be forgiven for thinking that du Plessis’ actions were obviously and horrifically in breach of this law, however, the video evidence is ridiculous. All that can be seen is du Plessis licking his finger to shine the ball, whilst eating a sweet. It is almost laughable. So much so that Hashim Amla has stated in a press conference, with the rest of the Proteas squad standing behind him, that the team believed the allegations to be a ‘joke’. He continued in saying ‘It's not April, but the allegation against Faf was a really ridiculous thing. As a team, we're standing strong, we've done nothing wrong, I chew bubblegum while I'm on the field - you want me to brush my teeth after lunch? We're standing out on the field for two hours... there was no malicious intent whatsoever. I've had sweets in my mouth, bubblegum in my mouth, butong, nuts. I'm not sure what the big deal is. To a lot of people, it's sounding more like sour sweets.’

Injured South African paceman Dale Steyn gave his thoughts on twitter ‘Beaten with the bat. Beaten with the ball. Beaten in the field. Mentally stronger. Here's an idea, Let's blame it on a lollipop, #soft’. Steyn did later try to clarify his comment with another post. ‘Just so we clear, I'm not blaming the aussies, but I won't let a fantastic series win be tarnished by some lollipop fabrication. 3-0 mission.’ This demonstrated the annoyance and disbelief the decision caused in the South African camp, which would have otherwise been buzzing from their securing of the Test Series against Australia. Many more esteemed cricketers such as ex-Australian opening batsman Matthew Hayden and ex-South African Captain Graeme Smith believed that these allegations were merely an ICC attempt to take the attention away from a sublime South African performance and a dismal Australian batting display.

You would be wrong in thinking that it was the Australian team who made the original claim of ball tampering, it was in fact ICC chief executive David Richardson who did. This, whilst also causing the Australian team to be unfairly accused of making excuses for their poor performance, did highlight the lack of clarity surrounding the laws on ball tampering. This is important as at the moment there is no way of determining what is classed as ‘changing the condition’ of the ball using an ‘artificial substance’. This is an obvious grey area as the onfield umpires did not take note of it. Admittedly, there are examples of ball tampering that are more clearly wrong, for example, Faf du Plessis using his trouser zip on the ball against Pakistan in 2013, or Shahid Afridi biting the ball against Australia in 2010, however, surely as Hashim Amla suggested, eating a sweet whilst playing has no ‘malicious intent’, it’s merely a way to pass the time in the field.

There are also arguments that du Plessis was wrong in his actions. Former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly stated to ESPNcricinfo ‘In the past there were people having chewing gum or sweets in the mouth and they kept putting the saliva (on the ball) because the ball ‘shines’ that way. Also what it does is the sugar which sticks on the ball makes it heavier and therefore you can swing with the old ball. So from that point of view it was pretty apparent. I’m sure he has done that before but done it in a much ‘polite’ way so that it isn’t apparent on TV. But I think they have pulled him for the right reason’. Furthermore, du Plessis has previously been found guilty of ball tampering against Pakistan in 2013, for scuffing the ball on his trouser zip. This, whilst being a more obvious method of manipulating the ball, does demonstrate that he has breached the rule before, and is capable of cheating in this way.

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