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?
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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

  • Mr.PotatoesTomatoes on October 28, 2013, 4:00 GMT

    Well written,and I agree with the author's views on the subject.There's been a feeling among cricket fans from Pakistan in particular,and the subcontinent in general,that there are two rules for offenses in cricket-one for players from the region and another,perceptibly more lenient,for those from the other test-playing nations.And the present episode has served to confirm the existence of a partisan attitude in ICC officials. What is especially difficult to take is how the match referee chose to ignore the manner with which Faf proceeded to scratch the ball.It was clear from the casual nature of scraping the ball that the player was in the habit of performing the task,and this wasn't an aberrant act.Apart from the issue of bias against Pakistani cricketers,I believe this incident should also raise questions regarding fixing responsibility for ball tampering offense,which invariably involves the captain of the side,but who as per extant rules holds little responsibility in the matter.

  • 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

  • Zahidsaltin 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.

  • drnaveed 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 .

  • Cricket_Blues 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.

  • 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...

  • akkers5 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.

  • 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.

  • pjd_Howzat 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

  • Mr.PotatoesTomatoes 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.

  • Mr.PotatoesTomatoes on October 28, 2013, 4:00 GMT

    Well written,and I agree with the author's views on the subject.There's been a feeling among cricket fans from Pakistan in particular,and the subcontinent in general,that there are two rules for offenses in cricket-one for players from the region and another,perceptibly more lenient,for those from the other test-playing nations.And the present episode has served to confirm the existence of a partisan attitude in ICC officials. What is especially difficult to take is how the match referee chose to ignore the manner with which Faf proceeded to scratch the ball.It was clear from the casual nature of scraping the ball that the player was in the habit of performing the task,and this wasn't an aberrant act.Apart from the issue of bias against Pakistani cricketers,I believe this incident should also raise questions regarding fixing responsibility for ball tampering offense,which invariably involves the captain of the side,but who as per extant rules holds little responsibility in the matter.

  • 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

  • Zahidsaltin 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.

  • drnaveed 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 .

  • Cricket_Blues 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.

  • 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...

  • akkers5 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.

  • 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.

  • pjd_Howzat 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

  • Mr.PotatoesTomatoes 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.

  • Romanticstud 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?

  • orangtan on October 28, 2013, 10:02 GMT

    I agree 100& with the writer. This is blatant discrimination; most definitely, if it had been a Pakistan player caught red-handed, he would have got a 2-match ban and the captain too would have been penalized or at-least strongly reprimanded. Yet, here duPlessis gets away with a fine, Smith lauds his team for its superb record and deVilliers has the gall to say that there was no wrong-doing.

  • on October 28, 2013, 8:09 GMT

    totally agreed with article many instances where players from big teams got away with it.

    i dont care about penalty. to me more important is what match refree said that it was not intentional. thats is surprise to all of us. how he reached this decision is very strange.

    agree that nobody said a word that faf or ab defending him has brought shame in sa. wherwas if it was a pakistani then they start saying oh whole team was involved not the player.

    double standards really.

    icc should be issuing an explaination for this. if they can explain run outs or lbw calls made by umpires then why not this?

  • on October 28, 2013, 8:03 GMT

    i dont know why we compare afridis case with faf? afridis was total wrong. he can not hide behind rubbing ball.

    but there is very similar case of shaoib akhter who was banned for 2 matches for scratching the ball. penalty may not be important but the most important issue to me is that match refree gave clean chit to faf by saying it was not deliberate attempt.

    icc should explain how he came to this decision? what evidence he has seen because whole of world has 1 video which clearly shows he rubbed the other side away from zip then stretches the trouser to brought zip out and rubbed rough side over zip with his face right infront of it. ab's comments means it was team strategy?

    we have seen icc explaining on fields impiring decisions or drs use by 3 rd umpire so nothing wrong in asking an explaination about it.

    if match refree had said that yes faf did it but penalty is only less for whatever reason then it would have been ok. but he gave a clean chit.

  • Ali752 on October 28, 2013, 6:11 GMT

    Good article but you for forgot to mention Vernon Philander scratching the ball with his nail as shown in the video footage. How come nobody mentioned him? he should have been fined too. Also the ball was reversing suspiciously early in the innings so this isn't fair, the whole match wasn't fair! South Africa just cheated to get swing and win the match. The officials should have looked into this and canceled the match or simply handed the victory to Pakistan. This is shocking that nothing much has been done about this.

  • Test_nut on October 28, 2013, 5:26 GMT

    "[…]no one asks if du Plessis or de Villiers have brought shame on South African cricket". Well they have. Having watched this team become world-beaters is now all but tainted. They are clearly good enough to beat any other team, so why they feel the need to cheat (let's not dress it up any other way) is beyond me. Especially when you are in such a commanding position - a Protea-victory was the only realistic result in this test. Yes, us South African fans can be fickle (how many of us have been after Smith/Kallis' heads over the years), but we deserve better than this. Shame on you. I trust that CSA will take additional action against the offenders as the ICC was too lenient in my view. If we want to come out of this any shred of dignity intact, there must be further action taken. We have set the standard on the field in recent times. Now that we have let ourselves down, we should set the standard off it.

  • on October 28, 2013, 4:56 GMT

    Damn well written, and a true picture of whats going on in the minds of all the Pakistanis about this incident, we all are thinking on the same lines of what happened, how AB de villiers responded to it and what action ICC took for it. dont know why they about talk about cleaning the game from cheating and corruption, if they have double standards on the same issue. The ICC should be really ashamed of it. Thanku for writing it down so beautifully. I know nothing will change, but at least there are some people who write and say against whats wrong. Keep up the good work.

  • Vishal_07 on October 28, 2013, 4:41 GMT

    I know y'all have questioned BCCI umpteenth times in the past, and if not for BCCI wielding its stick it could have been even worse for the Asian boards!

  • Zaheerahmed on October 28, 2013, 4:24 GMT

    Excellent work Saad and brave effort too. You have given nicely chosen words to thoughts of all sane and impartial cricket fans. It looks ICC is an extension of UNO where some members are more equal than the others.

  • on October 28, 2013, 4:20 GMT

    I think this penalty is according to new laws effective Oct.1' 2013, and that is the reason of different penalty.

  • sudhir98 on October 28, 2013, 1:51 GMT

    Any sub continent player would have been banned, shamed and vilified. You all know that's true. Remember dennes vs tendulkar? This is why I don't mind BCCI behaving the way it does vis a vis ICC. I still remember the times when umpires used to treat sub continent players like school children and others as their equals. Sad but true.

  • on October 28, 2013, 1:15 GMT

    In today's world of cricket, if you are from the big 4, nothing is too big for you....big 4 being England, India, Australia and S Africa. Instead of these players being held to a higher standard because of all the limelight they carry.......it looks like they are treated like royalty who can do no wrong. I wish some media folks ask AB de Villiers in the next post match conference if he still feels whatever he said about Faf du Plessis the other day to be his opinion.

  • SaleemHatoum on October 27, 2013, 20:50 GMT

    The ball shockingly started reversing after the 20th over in the first innings. The video footage of the entire first innings of South African bowling should be closely scrutinized to check if tampering was done in the first innings too.

    The crux of the issue over here is that the South Africans got caught in real time. The ICC (bunch of panizies) should review last ten South Africa played and watch closely if their players were involved in adulterating the ball. If found guilty the South African should be banned from international Cricket for one calender year.

  • gandabhai on October 27, 2013, 19:02 GMT

    Hi gusy , i'm a British Indian and i have been watching cricket for the last 20 years and i am appalled by how the sub continental teams get the worst of decisions by the umpires,so much so that i support Pakistan when they play against Eng,Aus,Saf,NZ. Someone MUST do an honest analysis to show which teams get the benefit of the doubt the most . I'm shure i am right .

  • jever03 on October 27, 2013, 18:41 GMT

    I am a German and therefore competely unbiased in Cricket matters but I must say that I expected a harder punishment for Du Plessis. There needs to be a catalogue for punishments, so that the Faf, Afridi and Broad incidents are treated equally. If there is television proof hand out one warning and then deduct the total of the teams total by 10 %.

  • on October 27, 2013, 18:13 GMT

    U trurely are a great ambassador to the game as well as to the pakistan cricket. Hats off to the writer.

  • on October 27, 2013, 17:41 GMT

    Hats off Saad Shafqat for speaking out the truth and writing such a bold yet absolutely true article.

    I have been following Pakistan cricket since 25 years and always felt there is an element of discrimination every now and then. But some how ,our lake of administrative skills have not done much to highlights this problem at international level.

    You are doing an amazing job.

  • thE_baCk_beNcHer on October 27, 2013, 15:54 GMT

    THANK YOU MR.SAAAD THANK YOU MUCH. That's what I wanted to say and You said it beautifully !!

  • aks1987 on October 27, 2013, 15:43 GMT

    Thank God someone wrote about what AB de villiers said. Had the same thing was said by a Pakistani player, media all around the world would have wanted ICC to ban him into oblivion.

    P.S whoever chose the picture chose it well.

  • jaymonj on October 27, 2013, 15:29 GMT

    Agree there have not been consistency in the punishments handed out. But please don't project Afridi as a saint.

  • wrenx on October 27, 2013, 15:21 GMT

    Thank you Saad for the best writing on this site once more. Only you seem to be able to tackle complex topics with insight and integrity.

  • on October 27, 2013, 15:13 GMT

    Thank you Saad for stating in public forum what really needed to be said!!

  • on October 27, 2013, 14:46 GMT

    Saad Shafqat you ought to cash ur gratuity fund in the coming days ... wrath of the powerful is unto you :D

  • on October 27, 2013, 14:46 GMT

    Saad Shafqat you ought to cash ur gratuity fund in the coming days ... wrath of the powerful is unto you :D

  • on October 27, 2013, 15:13 GMT

    Thank you Saad for stating in public forum what really needed to be said!!

  • wrenx on October 27, 2013, 15:21 GMT

    Thank you Saad for the best writing on this site once more. Only you seem to be able to tackle complex topics with insight and integrity.

  • jaymonj on October 27, 2013, 15:29 GMT

    Agree there have not been consistency in the punishments handed out. But please don't project Afridi as a saint.

  • aks1987 on October 27, 2013, 15:43 GMT

    Thank God someone wrote about what AB de villiers said. Had the same thing was said by a Pakistani player, media all around the world would have wanted ICC to ban him into oblivion.

    P.S whoever chose the picture chose it well.

  • thE_baCk_beNcHer on October 27, 2013, 15:54 GMT

    THANK YOU MR.SAAAD THANK YOU MUCH. That's what I wanted to say and You said it beautifully !!

  • on October 27, 2013, 17:41 GMT

    Hats off Saad Shafqat for speaking out the truth and writing such a bold yet absolutely true article.

    I have been following Pakistan cricket since 25 years and always felt there is an element of discrimination every now and then. But some how ,our lake of administrative skills have not done much to highlights this problem at international level.

    You are doing an amazing job.

  • on October 27, 2013, 18:13 GMT

    U trurely are a great ambassador to the game as well as to the pakistan cricket. Hats off to the writer.

  • jever03 on October 27, 2013, 18:41 GMT

    I am a German and therefore competely unbiased in Cricket matters but I must say that I expected a harder punishment for Du Plessis. There needs to be a catalogue for punishments, so that the Faf, Afridi and Broad incidents are treated equally. If there is television proof hand out one warning and then deduct the total of the teams total by 10 %.

  • gandabhai on October 27, 2013, 19:02 GMT

    Hi gusy , i'm a British Indian and i have been watching cricket for the last 20 years and i am appalled by how the sub continental teams get the worst of decisions by the umpires,so much so that i support Pakistan when they play against Eng,Aus,Saf,NZ. Someone MUST do an honest analysis to show which teams get the benefit of the doubt the most . I'm shure i am right .