Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, Galle, 4th day

SA's tampering offences expose lenient laws

South Africa have been associated with three ball-tampering offences in nine months. That all incidents have passed with little fuss shows that the ICC needs to enforce stricter laws to prevent it from recurring

Firdose Moonda in Galle

July 19, 2014

Comments: 11 | Text size: A | A

Vernon Philander was on song at Newlands again, South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 2nd day, February 15, 2013
South Africa have found themselves in three ball-tampering allegations in the last nine months © AFP

South Africa's two previous transgressions

  • Case 1: Dubai, 2nd Test v Pakistan, October 2013
  • Down 0-1 in the two-Test series, South Africa were pushing for an innings win. The incident occurred two overs after tea on the third day, with South Africa in a position of control. Dale Steyn had begun to find reverse swing, evident in the 29th over. Before the start of the 31st over, television visuals of Faf du Plessis rubbing the ball near the zipper of his trouser pocket were broadcast.
  • The television umpire Paul Reiffel brought it to the attention of the on-field umpires who examined the match ball. Then South Africa captain Graeme Smith was summoned for a chat, the ball was changed and a five-run penalty awarded against South Africa.
  • AB de Villiers insisted South Africa were "not a team that scratches the ball," and although du Plessis' responsibility was to shine the ball, he was "the last man on the field who will try anything like that."
  • The next day, du Plessis pleaded guilty to the charge of ball-tampering and was fined 50% of his match fee. Further television footage had also shown Vernon Philander scratching the ball but no action was taken against him.
  • South Africa's team manager Mohammad Moosajee explained that du Plessis had not contested the charge because "a full hearing could lead to a more severe punitive measure which could include a heftier fine or even a match ban," but insisted South Africa considered du Plessis innocent. When Smith was asked if he thought South Africa's win was tainted he had a one-word answer: "No."
  • Case 2: Port Elizabeth, 2nd Test v Australia, March 2014
  • Down 0-1 after the first Test, South Africa had set Australia 448 to chase and the visitors had slumped from 152 for 1 to 156 for 4. Rain threatened to wash out the final day but Steyn bowled a match-winning spell of three for 10 in four overs to ensure the match ended in four days itself. Reverse swing was noticeable from around 30 overs.
  • David Warner all but accused South Africa of tampering in order to achieve the movement Australia could not manage. Warner hinted Australia would take it up with match officials. It was Warner, however, who was reported to the officials for breaching article 2.1.1 of the ICC's code of conduct which relates to public criticism and inappropriate comment. ICC match referee Roshan Mahanama laid the charge and Warner was fined 15% of his match fee.
  • South Africa dismissed Warner's comments as nothing more than "sour grapes." Coach Russell Domingo said South Africa prided themselves on "playing cricket honestly," while Moosajee said Warner's remarks were "disappointing and discouraging."

The unpredictable nature of sport is the reason why many of us are drawn to it. Almost anything can happen once without arousing suspicion. But when something unusual happens more than once, we speak of it with wonder. Twice is like once, just double. This is the third time in the last nine months South Africa have been associated with ball-tampering and we are now forced to look at it more critically. When do they do it? Why do they do it? How do they explain it? And should they be doing it? Maybe there will be answers if we begin where it began - by looking over the recent incidents (see Sidebar) featuring South Africa and ball-tampering.

The most recent has come about in the ongoing Test in Galle, South Africa's first Test series of the post-Smith era, when South Africa had the upper hand. On a flat pitch, they scored 455 in the first innings. Sri Lanka threatened in periods with the bat but their challenge was chopped in half by a sensational post-tea spell on the third day from Steyn. Steyn admitted it was one of his finest performances because of where it was achieved - in "a tough place to play cricket." This was in the same country in which South Africa last lost a Test series on the road, and a series win was needed to reclaim the No.1 ranking they lost in March.

Five-and-a-half hours after Steyn spoke, the ICC made public that Philander had been fined 75% of his match fee for ball-tampering. The incident was not shown on air but was reviewed by the match officials after the day's play. The release said it took place "in the afternoon," and showed Philander "scratching the ball with his fingers and thumb." The charge was laid by the officials, Philander did not contest it and the matter was regarded closed.

It was later discovered that the match referee knew about the incident during the day's play but did not take immediate action because it is up to the on-field umpires to report any questionable events. The on-field umpires had had no problem with the ball, even though South Africa used it well after the new ball became available. The original ball was in play for 97.2 overs.

The incident was brought to the attention of the umpires after play ended. A source said there was "compelling evidence of Philander's intent to change the ball," but that footage was not broadcast. No reason was given for why the television production company - which is run by Ten Sports who have signed a R1.5 billion broadcast deal with CSA in September 2011 - did not show the incident on air. Incidentally, Ten Sports was the broadcaster for the series in UAE as well where the first incident against Pakistan took place.

Although CSA did not make any official statement about Philander, a source confirmed the reason they did not contest the charge was the same as it was nine months ago: they did not want to put up with the possibility of greater sanctions, so opted to accept the punishment and move on. Despite this approach, however, South Africa did not, the insider said, believe they had done anything wrong and said Philander was only cleaning the ball.

In the aftermath South Africa have had to deal with a barrage of accusations from fans to fellow players, including Ryan Harris. The Australian bowler, who was part of the March series, said he regarded ball-tampering as "the same as match-fixing." The cost in credibility terms, not cash, could affect South Africa going into the future. Their star bowler, Steyn, whose spell drew so much praise yesterday, could well have a cloud of suspicion hanging over him.

Which leads us to the next strand of this story. Based on their insistence about the team's innocence, South Africa's natural response would be to head for the match referee's room to clear Philander's name. But they did not do so. This could well be because the sanctions currently in place are applied relatively leniently to most players who admit guilt, that is easier to stomach them than try to clear your name or save face.

In Philander's case, he will lose around R22,500 (US$2,250) which would be considerable for the common man but can be made up fairly easily for a professional cricketer. The cost to character is far too nebulous a concept to worry about.

Managing the ball - as tampering is described euphemistically - could well be something all teams do and South Africa have just been careless enough to get caught twice in a short space of time. Some even argue that the practice should be something all teams are allowed to do in order to close the gap between the advantage batsmen have when compared with bowlers.

That though a separate debate because what matters now is that changing the condition of the ball is an offence and if the ICC want to keep it that way they will have to find a more effective deterrent. That's what the three cases have told us.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by JaranNirsi on (July 22, 2014, 4:28 GMT)

A very timely and well written article by Firdose Moonda. Courageous, too. Bravo! I think what Philander did was quite disgraceful, and the punishment meted out grossly insufficient. He deserved a ban for the rest of the series, with a warning that a similar offence would earn him a lifetime ban. As for SA, I had always believed that they played hard, but fair.

Posted by LegSpinBowlr on (July 21, 2014, 16:58 GMT)

i think tampering should be made legal to make the batsmen play quality stuff, otherwise it becomes difficult for bowlers to take 20 wickets on flat pitches

Posted by SLMaster on (July 20, 2014, 11:55 GMT)

Philander offense cost a SL a match. Should have stricter penelty, including match abundon or change the law so that both side can do it openly.

Because SL better swing bowler than SA. Kulesakara blew out AUS in Australia without any ball tampering.

Posted by   on (July 19, 2014, 15:39 GMT)

An incident of ball tampering should be considered a major event, and the match referee should have immediately informed the umpires and remove the offending player with no substitute for the rest of the match.

Posted by buddhikapm on (July 19, 2014, 15:34 GMT)

interestingly many are now talk about changing the law..rather than giving a reasonable punishment to the offender

Posted by Psimondo on (July 19, 2014, 15:14 GMT)

Tampering is not very clearly defined. If someone tampers with the ball with a foreign object (zip, bottle top, sand etc) then I'd say that's a much bigger deal than doing something with your fingers. Using your fingers you could be picking sand or grass off the ball and you can't do a whole lot with your hands anyway, although scraping the ball with your nail could I suppose. Anyway, I think the law could do with some additional clarity.

Posted by android_user on (July 19, 2014, 14:51 GMT)

Kudos Firdose, for being forthright

Posted by   on (July 19, 2014, 14:34 GMT)

should be same penalty to all and at least 1-2 games ban. in this age of ipls ,other leagues and high match fees , this fine is nothing. At this level each player should know what is the border line. intentional or unintentional there should be strict penalty in shape of match ban so that whole team pay the price of this. .

Posted by heathrf1974 on (July 19, 2014, 14:29 GMT)

Players who are found guilty of ball tampering should be suspended for at least 6 months from all international and first class cricket.

Posted by   on (July 19, 2014, 14:22 GMT)

It's time to put an end to ball tampering once and for all. Tampering can tilt the game very much in favor of a side. A mere fine and 5 run penalty won't stop persons from taking the chance. Once a player has been found guilty with evidence, he should be red carded; not allowed to bat, bowl or field. Such a significant disadvantage would surely deter players and teams from attempting this heinous act. This also brings into question Philander's phenomenal rise as a player in such a short time.

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