Cape Town – Expect a stream of righteous, and perhaps also some rightful, indignation for a couple of days after South Africa – with Faf du Plessis in the fiercest spotlight glow -- were seemingly caught red-handed ball-tampering in the second Test against Pakistan at Dubai International Stadium on Friday.
Pak v SA Day 3 as it happened
Yes, you are forbidden by law to artificially affect the condition of a cricket ball, just as you are also not supposed to creatively inflate your travel and dining expense claim to your boss by 20 percent, or throw that day’s sickie when you have a tickle in the throat, or fail to pick up your dog’s doo-doo when you visit the park just because you think nobody is watching.
I suppose we should not get too flippant, as many of cricket’s complex array of rules and regulations are designed very purposefully to protect the game’s good order and standing, and plain old fairness in battle.
This is, they say, a “gentlemen’s game” (though women play it, too) and ball-tampering is widely deemed morally repugnant – though get someone into an argument about why it is necessarily worse than a batsman not walking after nicking it behind, and you mostly just create a haze of confusion.
Like it or not, scuffing up the ball by means borderline fair or borderline foul has been a feature of cricket for almost as long as it has existed: it is one of those “crimes” that earns guffaws in the dressing room if you are the unlucky perpetrator nailed, and as much hilarity if you can get away with some novel new method of skulduggery.
Flashpoints are hardly in short supply; here are just a few that come to mind in reasonably modern times:
*In 1994, England’s Mike Atherton was fined over the “dirt in his pocket” episode against South Africa, despite his defence that he was using soil to dry his hands and not to affect in any way the aerodynamics of the ball
*In 2001, even the saintly Sachin Tendulkar was suspended for one match in South Africa for scuffing the seam
*In 2010, Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi (the same player exposed for shamelessly scuffing the pitch with his boot while others’ attention deviated to a gas-bottle explosion near the boundary in a game against England) was banned for two Twenty20 internationals after being caught remarkably biting the ball – he quirkily said he was only trying to “smell it”
*In 2012, cameras caught Australian paceman Peter Siddle seemingly picking at the seam of the ball in a Test against Sri Lanka at Hobart, although he was later cleared.
At the time of writing, it was not yet known whether Du Plessis (caught rubbing the cherry vigorously on the zip of his trouser pocket) would face further, more personal sanction after the Proteas were nominally penalised five runs – hardly a mortifying outcome, that one! – and the ball was replaced after the hullabaloo at the start of the 31st over of Pakistan’s second innings.
The possibility existed that his match fee would be detrimentally affected, whilst a ban of a game or two is also not beyond the bounds of possibility in such instances.
Whatever happens, the incident has provided some embarrassment (methinks pretty short-lived) for the No 1-ranked South Africans: it is always preferable for “them” to be exposed for the practice rather than “us”, isn’t it?
A question that certainly begs answer, though, is precisely why the Proteas felt the need to resort to the devious practice with Pakistan so notably on the ropes anyway and not showing any special likelihood of survival for a draw with two full days’ play left.
There’s a time and a place, as they say.
If nothing else, Fafgate may just spark a statutory tweak to the parameters of cricket apparel, with zips on pockets declared verboten henceforth.
Of course that could provide the associated minor inconvenience of fielders’ peppermints and the like tumbling out.
But oops, maybe that only opens a whole new can of worms ...
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