Cape Town – Specifically as far as South Africa are
concerned, the permanently vexing issue of ball tampering, and what is right
and what is not, ought to go away for a long time ... they would be mightily
stupid if they failed to ensure that.
And in the meantime, if the Proteas do indeed become very conscious
paragons of ball-management virtue, be pretty sure that the issue will flare
somewhere else in the world: it always does, and virtually no team is or has
been genuinely immune.
But right now, considering the awkwardly limited passage of
time between the Faf du Plessis “zipper” furore against Pakistan in the United
Arab Emirates in October and the current Vernon Philander flashpoint, South
Africa will be deemed by many as standout, serial offenders.
Some journalists have even added to South Africa’s perceived
dossier of recent indiscretion, if you like, David Warner’s suggestion that
Proteas wicketkeeper AB de Villiers illegally “wiped the rough side every ball
with his glove” during their Test victory over Australia in Port Elizabeth in
It is indicative of a certain, dubious righteousness you
tend to find in these affairs that Warner is hardly some torch-bearer for the
spirit of cricket, even if his shortcomings manifest themselves in different
Remember also that the Proteas’ current foes, Sri Lanka, weren’t
too long ago pointing fingers at the Baggy Greens’ Peter Siddle for allegedly (though
nothing ever came of it, mind) picking at the seam in a Hobart Test in late
Be that as it may, “regular offenders” is not a mantle many
in the SA Test team’s traditionally proud and ambitious ranks will wish to wear
nonchalantly or comfortably.
As former national captain Kepler Wessels said in his
SuperSport column: “The Proteas certainly don’t need to do anything untoward to
the ball. They are too good a team to have to resort to those questionable
It is difficult to imagine that a ringing endorsement of
that theory won’t swiftly permeate the team.
Already Hashim Amla and his Test charges should have noticed
with some sense of discomfort that their otherwise imperious triumph over Sri
Lanka in Galle has been branded as “tainted” in reportage on their 153-run win.
Frankly, that’s difficult to too passionately dispute – even
if the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, in their clinical and intense second-innings
demolition job well after Philander-gate had been revealed, almost appeared to
adopt Wessels’ advice with special urgency, simply confirming their mettle
within the parameters of sound practice.
To what extent you can or should be allowed to artificially
manipulate the aerodynamics of the ball is one of those “how long is a piece of
string?” debates ... one on which finality or agreement will probably always
prove elusive under present laws.
Some reasonably distinguished observers even believe that
the boundaries of legality (it is fine, for instance, to employ saliva on the
ball, throw it in on the bounce and shine it on trousers) should be broadened,
so that some manner of scratching or seam-picking is actually made permissible.
They argue that it would restore a better balance in the
contest between bat and ball, given the perception that cricket is generally
tailor-made these days as a “batsman’s game” and that if exaggerated reverse
swing with an old ball comes into greater play as a result of more relaxed
stipulations, then so be it.
But here’s something else to consider: if the Proteas find
themselves at some point in the near future suspecting ball impropriety by a
rival team placing them notably under the cosh at the crease on a wearing pitch,
they will be aware their cries may well be pooh-poohed as “a bit rich coming
Whatever the rights and wrongs on ball tampering, South
Africa have surrendered any claims to moral high ground on the topic for the time
They’ve got to be much more careful, not to mention
increasingly conscious that the television cameras truly don’t miss much.
The words “squeaky clean” come to mind; it’s just the way
it’s got to be.
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing