Mind Games: Ball tampering sours Proteas win

2014-07-27 15:00

By all accounts, South Africa’s new test cricket captain, Hashim Amla, is a genuinely good guy.

He is invariably described as being cut from high moral fibre. He is respected, respectful, honourable, ethical, pious, humble, a gentleman and a true sportsman.

It’s sad then that there should be a bad taste in the mouth over Amla’s feat in his first test in charge of reversing a historic trend by leading his Proteas team to victory over Sri Lanka in Galle.

South Africa won well, by 153 runs, but what soured the victory was that bowler Vernon Philander was fined 75% of his match fee because he was found guilty of ball tampering.

In other words, he attempted to alter the surface of the ball in a way that the aerodynamics are changed, causing it to divert or “swing” in the air to the consternation of batsmen.

Given that the laws permit players to shine or dry the ball by rubbing it on their clothing, actual tampering is a grey area.

It does more damage to the red leather surface than normal wear and tear and is said to be as old as the game itself.

Shining is one thing, but tampering is another and there have been incidents of players with cool drink bottle caps or gritty sand in their pockets to scuff up the ball.

Philander was not accused of such chicanery; the umpires believed he had been trying to dig his nails into the ball.

It was even admitted that the ball had not been damaged, but it is inescapable that a charge of tampering is tantamount to being accused of cheating.

Most comments absolved the bowler of serious wrongdoing; he did not take a wicket in the test, and it transpired that he had pleaded guilty and accepted the fine for fear of being suspended from the next test.

What drew more attention to this incident was that South Africa were involved in a similar incident against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in October, when TV coverage showed Faf du Plessis rubbing the ball on the zipper of the pocket of his trousers.

However, what tainted this affair was the reaction of Cricket South Africa (CSA) and coach Russell Domingo.

They not only defended the issue by invoking the disingenuous defence that “everyone does it and we’re not the worst culprits”, but also allegedly attempted to bully the TV broadcaster into suppressing footage of Philander fiddling with the ball.

They implied that the Sri Lanka television producers were trying to surreptitiously assist the home team.

It was claimed that South Africa’s SuperSport?–?just as they had when newspaper websites were denied video footage of the Du Plessis incident?–?were aiding efforts to suppress the clip.

It was eventually shown because of the intervention of the home broadcaster, but attempting to suppress the footage to manipulate the truth is devious and there can be no doubt that CSA and the team let themselves down.

Instead of admitting the error, a stigma has been allowed to be attached to the Proteas team that is not in keeping with the dictum in the laws that “cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its laws but also within the spirit of the game”, and it is certainly at odds with the spirit of fair play that Amla espouses.

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