October 27, 2013

Why the inconsistency in penalising tampering?

Faf du Plessis was fined for using a zipper to change the condition of the ball, while Afridi was banned for biting it. Why the double standard?

The South African cricketer Faf du Plessis wears trousers with zipper-lined pockets. The ICC does not favour such on-field attire and has decided to phase it out. Yet for reasons that have become the subject of much ado, du Plessis remains partial to them. Certainly these were the trousers in which he was clad during the Dubai Test, when he chose to scuff the ball up on said zipper. Television close-ups revealed him forcibly and repeatedly rubbing one side of the ball against the zipper's tab. His action has violated the rules of cricket and earned du Plessis a fine from the match referee. These are the facts, and they are not in dispute.

What is, however, in dispute - and this is where it gets interesting - is whether the official outcome of this case would have been any different had the player at the centre of the infraction not been South African but Pakistani. Of course there is no way to conduct this experiment, and we can never know for sure, but certain inferences can be drawn from historical comparisons.

The sentence meted out to du Plessis - a fine of 50% of his match fee with no other penalties - has drawn outrage in Pakistan. The punishment seems unduly lenient when compared to what some Asian players have had to put up with, and that has left everybody, including the PCB, fuming and frothing. The reference case on everyone's mind is Shahid Afridi's notorious ball-biting incident during Pakistan's tour of Australia in 2010, which earned him a ban from two international games.

The video footage of Afridi, though bad enough, was not as incriminating as du Plessis'. Afridi held the ball up to his mouth, cupped it in both hands, and closed his lips around it. When interrogated by the match referee, he admitted to sinking his teeth into the leather, although on television you never actually see that. All you see is him holding the ball up close to his mouth. Afridi could have argued that he was just giving the ball a good lick (which is perfectly legal). Yet he chose to admit his misdemeanour and come clean, accepting the two-match ban and apologising to the fans. No one in the Pakistan camp made any attempt to spin or defend the incident. Intikhab Alam, at the time the Pakistan coach, publicly said that Afridi's action was "unacceptable".

South Africa's handling of the du Plessis controversy has not been as forthcoming. The visual evidence showing one side of the ball getting vigorously scraped leaves no doubt about the intent to cheat, yet du Plessis' team-mates have defended him. AB de Villiers, in his press conference following the day's play, said his team had done nothing wrong, and even went on to add that du Plessis had done a "very good job" of shining the ball. This has to rank up there with the most blatantly ludicrous claims of innocence, almost at par with Bill Clinton claiming that he did not have an affair.

Du Plessis is not the first cricketer to benefit from the compassion of the ICC. During the Cape Town Test in early 2010, England seamer Stuart Broad was caught on camera digging his shoe spikes into the ball. His action caused a tear in the ball's surface, and he then tossed it to James Anderson, who picked at the spot. No official penalty resulted; in fact there was not even a warning or a reprimand. Discussing the incident in his newspaper column, former England captain Michael Vaughan wrote: "had this been a game involving Pakistan, and Shoaib Akhtar or Mohammad Asif had been pictured using their fingers on the ball, there would have been uproar".

Is there a subterranean discrimination operating in world cricket? Many people think this to be the case, but hardly anyone expresses it in mainstream discourse

Vaughan's sharp comment makes you wonder: is there a subterranean discrimination operating in world cricket? Many people think this to be the case, but hardly anyone expresses it in mainstream discourse. It is the proverbial elephant in the room. Only occasionally do we come across someone in a position of some authority, like Vaughan, who has the courage to point it out.

Beyond the discriminatory judgements from the ICC, there is also the question of the memes and larger narratives that emerge from such incidents. Pakistan cricket has been through the wringer in recent years, and each indignity has somehow carried the sentiment that not just the player or players at fault but Pakistan's cricket ethos, and perhaps even Pakistan's stature as a state and a nation, have been dishonoured. This is not just paranoia or undue sensitivity on the part of Pakistan's cricket establishment and fans; this is how the circumstances get described. For example, when Pakistan arrived in England for the Champions Trophy earlier this year, scribes raked up the spot-fixing scandal of 2010 and referred to it as having brought shame on Pakistan cricket.

Yet no one asks if du Plessis or de Villiers have brought shame on South African cricket. Nor, for that matter, has anyone asked if someone like Mike Atherton, with that dirt in his pocket, or Shane Warne, with his doping and sexting, have dishonoured England and Australia. The world of cricket is changing as ever-improving technology brings unprecedented levels of transparency and fairness, so there is no doubting that truth and justice will eventually prevail. Until then, however, it appears there is a certain quota of shame and punishment to be doled out in international cricket, and its distribution is rather uneven.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi. His latest book is Breath of Death, a medical thriller

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 29, 2013, 22:18 GMT

    "These are the facts, and they are not in dispute."

    Did not know this was a court of law and did not know that the facts are as clear as you assume them to be?

    You saw a zipper - on very vague pictures You saw a ball - on very vague pictures You saw a ball being rubbed on trousers - on very vague pictures

    Which side was the shiny side - which side was not? Did the zipper really damage the ball? Can such a flimsy zipper really damage a ball? Has this been tested?

    So I ask again, how can this be the facts.

    the only facts are: - Pakistan was in a loosing position. - SA was in a winning position - SA was penalised. They accepted their penalty. the game continued. - what would have been the motive to damage the ball?

    I am interested to hear your response, from one biased person to another

  • shahid on October 29, 2013, 0:37 GMT

    @Romaticstud, Laws of cricket do not describe the methode of altering the shape of the ball. Irrespective of the methodes used, offence is punishable with equal penalties.

  • syed naveed on October 28, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    an excellent article, i wonder how cricinfo published it ,as it doesn't publish my posts atleast , that frequently. well said saad, but still nothing will be done,as Pakistan is on the receiving end this time .had it been done by any of our player ,the whole world would have been shouting at us .

  • Irfan on October 28, 2013, 18:37 GMT

    Why has this article been consigned to the margins of Cricinfo webpage? A reader has to look for articles under the relevant series to find this gem. I'm sure more people care about this issue than "What Mitch Does" or Matt Prior's desired batting average.

  • Dummy4 on October 28, 2013, 18:15 GMT

    not just in ball tampering cases.... in various cases WHERE CODE OF CONDUCT has been violated..... teams from subcontinent have faced harsher punishments as compared to those involving England or Australia...

  • Hanif on October 28, 2013, 17:36 GMT

    Why does a player need zips on cricket trousers? I have bought many cricket trousers over the years but never seen one with zips.

  • Dummy4 on October 28, 2013, 17:16 GMT

    This is sad. As a SA fan, I am disappointed, especially since SA were so far ahead of Pakistan in the game. There was no need for such antics to win the game. One thing that has come to mind- where is ICC's comment on the who issue? I have no yet heard what they think of the difference.

  • Phillip on October 28, 2013, 11:49 GMT

    How do you prove this was intentional. Have you actually watched the footage or are you commenting on what you have heard about the footage.

    And if this was intentional, why has the ball not been deliberately damaged before - if it was the umpires would have noticed this before. The same umpires have precided over the South African team before and if you assume they are consistent in their interpretation of the rules of cricket, why then did they never before comment on the ball or called South Africa for an explanation.

    Innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt

  • Saurabh on October 28, 2013, 11:40 GMT

    @Romanticstud- What was wrong with conditions in Dubai?Didn't spinners on both sides reap rich rewards of bowling disciplined lines and lengths?Didn't the pacers who were willing to bend their back bag wickets?I know the rules in limited overs cricket are set heavily in favor of the batsmen and against the bowlers,but in test cricket with no fielding restrictions and the red ball which provides lateral movement for much longer than the white ball used in ODIs and T20s,bowlers aren't at any particular disadvantage.I believe what happened in Dubai was impatience got the better of the Proteas,whose bowlers have become accustomed to bowling oppositions out for paltry scores and wouldn't have liked the prospect of spending long,tiring hours in the searing Dubai heat.If that indeed was the case,you have to say that it was sportsmanship at its worst.As a team,or as a player,playing professional sport,you are bound to walk into unfavorable situations,but that shouldn't mean you play unfairly.

  • Andrew on October 28, 2013, 10:57 GMT

    Which is more damaging to the game ... biting the ball ... rubbing the ball ... standing on the ball ... Maybe one should outlaw the enhancement of the ball all together ... leaving the ball worn naturally ... no spit, no sweat, no nothing ... just normal wear and tear ... Maybe then you will find the ball will be rough all over ... and the spinners and pace bowlers alike will have no aid for reverse swing and drift ... Maybe the spinners and pace bowlers will get more variable bounce ... batsmen are already benefiting from shorter boundaries, heavier bats and other factors ... Give the bowlers a bit more in order to even out the contest ... maybe unlimited use of bouncers to the top 6 batsmen ... Now what will you do?