TELFORD VICE, Colombo
You would think it would be bad enough that one of your bowlers had been done for ball-tampering. You would also think the embarrassment that would have caused would curb any arrogance you might succumb to in making demands you had no right to make of people who are under no compunction to do your bidding.
If you were part of South Africa’s touring party in Sri Lanka, you would be wrong on both counts.
The South Africans have not shown the faintest glimmer of contrition for Vernon Philander being found guilty of illegally “changing the condition of the ball” on the third day of the first Test in Galle on Friday. Instead, they have brazenly said that Philander believes he is guilty of nothing more than cleaning the ball, and that they did not contest the charge because that could have led to a heavier sentence than the fine of 75% of Philander’s match fee that was levied by match referee Jeff Crowe.
In other words, the South Africans do not have a scrap of respect for the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) code of conduct. They do not believe their man did anything wrong, but they could not be bothered to say so. Instead, they allow an untruth – an admission of guilt – to go on record because that serves their expedient ends.
Worse yet, they have done this before: when Faf du Plessis was caught rubbing the ball over a zip on his trouser pocket during the Test against Pakistan in October. The charge was not contested, but Du Plessis’ teammates and the side’s management saw fit to mount a clumsily haughty defence similar to what they have done for Philander. This time they have not committed that stupidity, at least not without prompting.
But they have not managed to avoid their other major failing from the Dubai debacle. Then, the broadcasters, Ten Sports, were threatened with having their requests to interview South Africa’s players denied and even with the revoking of their broadcast rights in South Africa – for which they had paid a pretty penny.
And what was Ten Sports’ crime? Doing their job properly by airing the footage of Du Plessis transgressing the laws of cricket.
The same threats were levelled in Galle, which explains why it took almost 48 hours after the cameras spotted Philander clearly tampering with the ball for the film to make it onto the air. That it did so at all was only thanks to the intervention of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).
That SLC ordered the footage broadcast was as bad as the South Africans demanding that it was not and is nothing to celebrate, but who is going to get in the way when one bunch of powerful people beats up another?
This sorry saga also tells us how dysfunctional the relationship between cricket boards and television broadcasters has become. Because the boards have something the broadcasters are willing to pay money to acquire, the boards think it is their place to treat the broadcasters as they would servants. But the broadcasters are in fact the customers and should be accorded the respect that status deserves.
What is wrong with this picture is aptly captured in the joke about the sex worker who glances around the brothel at the waiting customers and says, “Makes you wonder who the real prostitutes are.”
These are not the only instances of South African officials showing their disregard for media freedom and independence. In October, they tried to suppress the publication of a statement by David Becker, a former ICC head of legal and then a legal advisor to Cricket South Africa (CSA), in which the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Narayanaswami Srinivasan, was damned a corrupt control freak.
CSA’s chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, admitted as much to an ICC investigation into his conduct in the affair but somehow got away scot free.
Reporters who did not take CSA’s bait of withholding publication in return for interviews and went ahead with putting Becker’s views where, for better or worse, they belonged – the public domain – are still being victimised by being denied interviews, notification of press conferences and comment on stories when it is requested. I am one of them. Others have had CSA officials asking their editors to fire them.
I have written it before, I am writing it now, and I fear I will have to write it again: who the hell do CSA think they are?
But who they think they are does not matter as much as what they have exposed themselves to be – a disgrace to cricket. CSA’s board and their executives should resign. It’s called quitting while you’re behind.
Even that happy event would not cure this disease. It would seem to have infected the players, also.
“Tomorrow it will say in the paper that we won this game regardless,” was almost all Dale Steyn had to say on the Philander affair after the match on Sunday.
When Marie Antoinette suggested the peasantry eat cake that they could not afford instead of the bread they needed, they had her head. Steyn will keep his because, unlike royalty, he has earned his success.
But at what cost to himself, South Africa and the game?