Time for cricket to tamper?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Adelaide

SHOULD cricket ease the regulations around ball-tampering, or should cricketers ease up on the illicit but implicitly accepted practice?

After everything that has happened in Hobart – where Faf du Plessis used sugary saliva on the ball during the second test – and Adelaide – where he was punished for doing so – the fuss boils down to exactly that.

“It’s been part of our game, something that’s been almost an unwritten rule – how you do it, what you do,” Du Plessis said this week after he had been fined 100% of his match fee and come within a single demerit point of being banned.

“There are so many things out there. Some people use sunblock to shine the ball, I know of people who carry lip (balm) in their pocket and shine the cricket ball, gum, there’s just so many things.

“It’s so difficult to say what is right and what isn’t. To say that when you have a sweet in your mouth it’s wrong, but when you have a sweet in your mouth and the camera doesn’t pick up on it, it’s OK (makes it) a really massive grey area.”

That wasn’t the case for International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Dave Richardson, who had a one-word answer when he was asked whether he agreed with Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) assertion that the regulations around what constituted an “artificial” – and thus banned – substance were vague.

“No,” Richardson said with a firm shake of his head.

But he and Du Plessis would not have disagreed about how few undoctored balls were whizzing about the world’s cricket ovals.

“This has always been an issue that’s quite difficult to police,” Richardson said. “Even before we spoke about using mints and sweets, we’ve been using lip-ice and sunscreen on our faces for years.

“We understand that, inadvertently, in shining the ball there’s the potential for it to get onto the ball.”

That didn’t mean every ball randomly smudged with sunblock would be presented as evidence at a hearing.

“We’re not going to go around wildly accusing players of cheating using lip-ice, sunscreen or sweets,” Richardson said.

“We’ve taken the approach that we will only really charge someone if it’s obviously being done for that illegal purpose.

“There are two examples from the past. One was Rahul Dravid (in a one-day international against Zimbabwe in 2004), where he actually took the sweet and rubbed it on the ball – you probably couldn’t get more obvious than that – and in our opinion this (Du Plessis) instance.

“If anyone does something similar we will, hopefully, if we get to see it, treat him in exactly the same way as we’ve treated Faf in this case.

“These decisions were not taken lightly. It was because it was so obvious a breach of the current laws that we thought we had to report it.”

What are the chances of law 42 being changed to keep pace with reality?

Promising, according to CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat: “We will pick up this topic with the ICC and I also understand that the cricket committee had already earmarked this discussion.”

Not quite, said Richardson: “I think he jumped the gun in saying it’s on the agenda. But I think that in light of this incident and of other comments being made by other players around the world, it’s fair to say it should be discussed by the cricket committee going forward.”

Other players like Australian captain Steve Smith, who admitted that, “We along with every other team around the world shine the ball the same way.”

What Du Plessis did was against the laws of cricket and therefore deserving of punishment. But should it remain so?

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