TELFORD VICE, Melbourne
FAF du Plessis isn’t the biggest of cricketers, but he was the elephant who wasn’t in the room at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Friday.
Even as Hashim Amla, backed by the rest of the South African squad, mounted an impassioned and unsolicited defence of South Africa’s captain to a startled media, Du Plessis himself stood several metres away.
Less than two hours after Amla spoke the International Cricket Council (ICC) confirmed Du Plessis had been charged with ball-tampering.
“The alleged incident happened (during the fourth day of the second test between Australia and South Africa at Bellerive Oval in Hobart) 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,” the ICC release said.
Law 42.3 states that the ball may be polished “provided that no artificial substance is used”.
Although illegal, applying sugar-soaked saliva to a ball is a tactic used to make its shine last longer.
As he has been charged with a level two offence, Du Plessis could be fined between half and his entire match fee and be docked up to two suspension points and three or four demerit points.
Two suspension points or four demerit points would mean being banned for one test.
Details of the hearing still have to be released, but it seems unlikely to be held before the third test in Adelaide – which starts on Thursday – because legal counsel will have to be summoned from South Africa.
But Amla had not come to split legal hairs on Friday: “The reason everybody is here is to stand together to show solidarity for something that we thought was a joke.”
“It’s not April but the allegations against Faf were, for us, a really ridiculous thing, and as a team we’re standing strong.
“We’ve done nothing. For us it’s basically a joke. Our boys are here and we’re standing strong.”
Told the ICC were investigating, Amla said: “Is it? Whether it is or not we’ve done nothing wrong.
“Faf has done absolutely nothing wrong. I mean, I chew bubblegum while I’m fielding. Do you want me to brush my teeth after lunch every time I come onto the field?
“You’ve got to be pretty logical about this. Commonsense, surely, has got to prevail.
“If we’re standing in the field for two hours you don’t want us to have some biltong in my pocket, some nuts or something? There was no malicious intent whatsoever.”
Amla said he did not know that the measure could be used to preserve the ball’s shine: “Is that a tactic? I don’t know. I’m not aware of it.
“Is it proven or what? It’s something that’s new to us.
“I’ve had sweets in my mouth, bubblegum in my mouth, biltong, nuts.
“I’m not sure what’s the big deal. To a lot of people this is sounding more like sour sweets, maybe in their heads, that we’ve played really good cricket. The timing of it is a bit weird, too.
“I’m just clear what we think is an absolutely wrongful allegation made about our captain.
“We are standing in solidarity with our captain, who has done absolutely nothing wrong.
“If there was any doubt whatsoever we wouldn’t have the full team here.”
That the South Africans are upset that their captain, who has played a major role in them winning the test series, has been tainted in this way is understandable.
But that they should chose to draw attention to the issue so boldly will not do them any good.
In fact, it is not inconceivable that Amla himself could be dragged onto the carpet on a charge of bringing the game into disrepute for using words like “joke” and “ridiculous” to describe something that the ICC are taking clearly taking seriously.