TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE bad news for Faf du Plessis is that he has lost his appeal against his ball-tampering conviction in Australia last month.
The good news, for him as well as South Africa’s supporters, is he has not been banned for the first test against Sri Lanka at St George’s Park on Monday – which could have been his fate.
Instead, Du Plessis’ original punishment of a fine and three demerit points has been upheld.
It took Michael Beloff (QC), the judicial commissioner appointed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to hear Du Plessis’ appeal, 14 pages and 6720 words to say exactly that in his findings, which were released by the ICC on Wednesday following the appeal hearing on Monday.
Perhaps the pithiest of Beloff’s many words were these: “Polishing the ball with an artificial substance is clearly an offence … A bright line is drawn in between polishing with a natural substance (e.g. sweat or saliva), which is permitted, and with an artificial substance, which is not.
“The saliva/mint or the combination thereof was an ‘artificial substance’ (although the saliva per se is not).
“If the drinking of gin is prohibited it is not a defence to say that it was mixed with tonic.”
Beloff’s decision found favour with the man who laid the charge, ICC chief executive David Richardson, who was quoted as saying in a release, “Although it was not picked up by the umpires at the time, when the incident came to our attention subsequently we felt it was our responsibility to lay a charge in this case because the ICC can’t let such an obvious breach of this law pass without taking any action.”
Du Plessis has been in trouble since television footage emerged of him polishing the ball using fingers taken from his mouth, in which a mint looms large as life, during the second test against Australia in Hobart last month.
Match referee Andy Pycroft took his entire match fee and left him one point shy of a ban.
“The consequence of his action was to alter the condition of the ball (or was likely to do) in the relevant sense, that is to say, it altered the status quo ante of the match ball (i.e. 12 its condition prior to the polishing),” Beloff wrote.
“Whether that can be described as maintenance (i.e. restoring the ball to its pristine condition) or enhancement, (i.e. improving its condition from what it was prior to shining), matters not.”
In his first hearing Du Plessis admitted using sugar to shine the ball.
“Basically, we use sweets for two reasons,” Beloff’s findings quoted the transcript of Du Plessis’ testimony. “One was that my mouth was very dry and I wanted to try and get a bit of saliva going.
“And the second is to make sure that you can keep the ball as new and as shiny and preserve that shine for as long as possible.”
Du Plessis was adamant, Beloff wrote, that he “was not trying to change the condition of the ball, but merely to preserve its condition”.
Beloff found that Du Plessis had “applied the substance to the match ball and did so intentionally”.
But he differed with Pycroft on an important point, and that may have spared Du Plessis a ban.
“I disbelieved the evidence of the player in favour of the umpires that he did not know or believe that what he was doing was likely to alter the condition of the ball and so was illegal,” Pycroft wrote in his decision.
Beloff did not concur: “Had I concluded as did the match referee, that the appellant was not telling the truth when he claimed that he believed that his actions were compatible with the code and the laws, I would have given serious consideration to the imposition of suspension points, not least because of the special responsibility imposed upon a captain, especially of a test match side.”
For 24 months the threat of a ban will hang low over Du Plessis, who could earn a fourth demerit point – which would trigger a suspension – for being found guilty of a level two offence.
These are covered in 13 clauses in the ICC’s code of conduct for players, and deal with everything from “conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game”, to “using language that is seriously obscene”, to showing dissent at umpiring decisions, to ball-tampering, time-wasting and match-fixing.